Last year at an excellent HT Meet hosted by Forum member Fugueness, both Mark Seaton and Keith Yates spoke in some detail about the advantages of AT (Acoustically Transparent) screens. Please excuse my dime store summation on this topic but essentially, our brains are capable of tricking us into believing sound is coming from one source when it actually isn’t (i.e. a ventriloquist). According to Mr. Yates, the HT audio experience is greatly enhanced if this trickery isn’t necessary. There is realism to the sound emanating from the image and that is the reason that all commercial theaters use AT screens. Keith and Marks comments stuck with me and as my room seemed a good candidate from a physical layout perspective I began to research the subject.
The first thing I noticed was the cost. Adding acoustic transparency to a screen seemed to nearly double the cost of a comparable non-AT screen. There seemed to be two basic approaches to AT screens with perforation of the screen material being the most common. Special woven fabric was the other approach with claimed advantages to each depending upon screen size and viewing distance. From reading reviews, requesting and testing samples and some in-person demos at dealers, I determined that the best option for me was the Seymour AV XD woven screen material. Interestingly, the relative low price of the Seymour actually made me more skeptical of its claimed performance, but drawing upon my experience with other AV equipment I decided that a higher price is no guarantee of better performance.
So with my outstanding non-AT Stewart StudioTek 130 (106” diag.) powered as a reference, I ordered a Seymour XD fixed screen (126” diag.). All time commitments were met and when the box it arrived it was a shocking 10’ X 18” X 9”. The box and contents were in perfect condition and the assembly was a breeze due to clever engineering and clear instructions. In fact, assembly of the screen took me about an hour and I did this alone using only the supplied allen wrench. The screen and frame were so well made that I actually enjoyed a job I would normally only tolerate.
The first thing I noticed is the Fidelio fabric used on the frame. Seymour claims this fabric is the most non-reflective available and I believe them. It is the blackest of black and actually beautiful. Everyone who has seen the screen has commented on the quality look and beauty of it. The woven XD fabric is another eye catcher. It looks very cool and show a pattern up close but this disappears as you move away. Unlike the perf screens (even micro-perf) I saw, there is no obvious indication of Acoustic transparency unless you look very close and yet, woven screen are (by testing) the most acoustically transparent. Interesting stuff this, but on to the setup.
I temp installed the screen by hanging it (via some heavy wire and hooks) from the ceiling in what will be very close to the final installation location. I left my Stewart screen in place and simple disconnected the 12 volt trigger from my projector. After installation, I went into the setup menu of my JVC projector and adjusted the image to the screen and focused it. With the much larger image and the woven fabric, the pixels seemed less crisp than with the Stewart but as I moved away it looked good so onward. Next, I re-ran Audyssey (I have to wonder if anyone has run Audyssey EQ more times than I have) and checked the speaker config and levels and set them to my preferred settings (Xover, distance and level check with SPL meter).
From my front row center (money chair) the first source I played was Cable (Comcast HD) and I quickly spun through some channels. The image quality was slightly grainier than with the Stewart but I attributed this to the increased screen size. To check the sound, I used the Jeff Beck Bluray (Live at Ronnie Scott’s). This is my favorite concert Bluray and the sound was every bit as good as before and perhaps a bit better. This is not a reference video bluray and but from my 13’ front row viewing distance the screen looked great and to my eyes, there was no sign of the screens weave or acoustic transparency. We had some friends coming over for dinner and a movie (Avatar) so I had to forgo further testing and get barbecuing.
So the first real test of my new AT screen was a full house viewing of the Avatar bluray. None of my guests had seen it and I had made my only commercial theater venture in the last 4 years to see it at IMAX (3D) so I was very interested in the PQ and SQ differences at home vs. IMAX. From the opening fanfare music (Fox I think) to the incredible imagery and sound it was as one of guests put it, the single best movie experience he had ever had. Avatar is a movie that if you buy-in, you can easily get lost in the images and sound this new AT screen combined with my industrial strength speakers and projection made it a truly spectacular 3 hours. The detail and colors were jaw dropping and the sound equally so.
I think you may have noticed that I kind of like the screen and will be keeping it. My primary use of the HT is movies and concert videos and on the rare occasion I will use it for sports I will probably move to the back row (approx 18’ to the screen. Chris at Seymour AV claimed that no-one has ever taken advantage of his generous policy and returned a screen and it looks like I will be keeping that record intact.
View from the back row