High Power The name says it all!
Over the years I've had the privilege of reviewing dozens of screens. It started out with my personal quest to get a screen for my own home theater environment and viewing habits, to now getting the best possible image for movie viewing.
If you've read my original High Gain review, you would have seen how important viewing angle is when dealing with higher gain screens. The constant challenge is how to get a big bright robust image from a dim sub 1000 lumen projector. When I talk big, I'm referring to screens 9 feet wide and up. The answer: higher gain. The second part of this challenge is how to get a great image at most viewing angles. This is where things start to get tricky. As you know, the more light you reflect back in a certain direction the less light you get reflected off to the sides. A perfect lambertian screen diffuses light equally in all directions. Low gain is ideal for good brightness uniformity across the screen and the best for really wide viewing angles. This is fine if you have a high lumen projector. Unfortunately, the manufacturing trend over the last few years has kept the best image and affordable projectors in the 400-800 lumen range. If you're interested in a big bright screen you have to go with higher gain. As with any screen, there is always a tradeoff. With higher gain screens there are even more! But if you can live within these limitations you can achieve images beyond what any other screen can do.Why high gain?
Many people discount the benefits of high gain. These are usually people that either can't look past the drawbacks of a higher gain screen, or don't want to take the time to consider how higher gain can be your friend. I love to talk about higher gain screens, because that's where the performance is! Many sit around pondering the difference between 1- 1.3 gain screens; but the reality is that hardly anyone can tell the difference between any of them at normal viewing distances. Throw up the brightness performance of a 2.8 gain screen and everyone will know there's a noticeable difference. People love brightness! It's very seductive, and like someone living with a gutless car for years and then going to a car with plenty of power, they are not going back. It's all about the power. High Power!What are the benefits?
- Higher brightness
- Increased perceived contrast
- Ambient light rejection
Yes, higher gain screens can take a dim projector and make it a real performer on a big screen. But it's more than that. You can use a higher brightness screen to get more performance out of your image! With some projectors, longer throws yield better contrast, but at the expense of lower brightness. Problem solved with the high gain screen. Many projectors also have lower bulb setting or economy modes. The high gain screen allows you to deliver a bright robust image in economy mode, lengthening the life of your bulb and still giving you the image you like. Finally, an additional benefit of having brightness to spare is through the use of neutral density filters. You can get these at most camera shops for fairly cheap and then use them to deliver a consistent light output from your projector over the life of your bulb. Put a neutral density filter on your lens when the bulb is new, and then remove it later when your bulb has aged and you can still achieve the same light output you started with.Increased perceived contrast
A screen does not change the contrast ratio of an image. This on/off ratio doesn't change, even with ambient light in the room. But there are many things you can do to allow your eyes and brain to think you are seeing more contrast. Masking, painting your walls darker, and backlighting are a just few of the tricks that people use to accomplish this; however, the easiest is to just use a higher gain screen. No, its not going to help your absolute black levels, but when you increase everything by a multiple of around 2.8, like with a high gain screen, the whites are so much brighter that your blacks, or grays, look even darker. Finally, this isn't just beneficial from the top end to the bottom end. If you increase this separation from the top end to the bottom end you also get larger and more noticeable separation in your gray scale increments. What can this offer? More detail. The lower the gain screen, the more detail you lose in this area because the whole gray scale is compressed together. The more gain you have the more gradation you are generally able to distinguish because it's spread out. It should all still be there, but being able to see this separation with a brighter image becomes much easier.Ambient light rejection
The reality of front projection is that ambient light needs to be controlled. The more you can do this, the better the image. Unfortunately, a pitch-black environment isn't always the best for hanging out in, unless of course you love caves. So with even a little bit of ambient light in the room, it's important to come up with ways to minimize its effects. Often, we try to solve this problem at the screen. Unfortunately, there simply is no miracle cure. But there are screens that do a noticeably better job.
The Da-Lite High Power
Da-Lite has come up with one heck of a solution for the most demanding environments. Originally designed for boardrooms and business environments, the High Power does an amazing job of reducing the effects of ambient light. First, it's high gain, so it reflects the light back to a controlled location. Second, it's retro reflective, so it reflects its light back to the source; thereby, reflecting other light away from the viewer. If you keep these things in mind when setting up your system, you can reap these amazing benefits. To do this, you simply focus the projected light to your viewing area, and reject the light that doesn't come from the projector. Unlike angular reflective screens, this ambient light rejection ability is only available from retro-reflective surfaces.Angular reflective vs. Retro-reflective
Which is best? It depends on your setup and viewing environment. Most screens are angular reflective.
Although angular reflective screens work well in a wider variety of conditions, they generally also have less issues at lower gains. Lower gain screens are ideal, because they are very good at diffusing light uniformly. When you get into the higher gain angular reflective screens you need to start thinking not just about the reduction of viewing angle, but also uniformity issues. This is called hotspotting. Hotspotting is caused when the screen surface can't diffuse the light evenly, so you get a brighter image near the center of the screen, or where the angle of the bounce matches up directly with your eyes. The larger your screen, the more you will have to contend with this. Angular reflective screens with optical coatings have a high tendency to hotspot. The more the gain, and the bigger the screen, the more this may affect your viewing. If you're planning on going big, this is something you definitely need to consider. How can we solve this? Retro-reflection.
With a retro-reflective screen, you can have a high gain, large screen and nearly eliminate all possibilities of hotspotting. Because retro-reflective screens bounce the light back toward the light source, they're able to eliminate many of the issues that surround angular reflective screens with coatings.
Some of the best properties of the retro-reflective screen are:- Virtually no hotspotting
- No seeing waves on the screen (if not perfectly flat)
- Great ability to shed ambient light
- Screen surface is invisible when viewing
BUTlet me caution you. You can achieve all these benefits with the retro-reflective screen, however, you must set it up properly. To achieve the maximum gain characteristics of the retro-reflective screen, you must position your projector so that the light path from the projector to the screen is near your eyes. The closer you can do this, the more gain can be realized. To achieve the maximum gain of the screen, you need to have a zero angle of incidence from this light path. Can this make setting up your system tricky? Sometimes, but it's not impossible. Either table mounting the projector in front of you or lowering the projector further from the ceiling both work very well. Some like to shelf mount their projector on the back wall closer to their equipment. When set up properly, the image from a retro-reflective screen is absolutely stunning. Okay, so who makes these screens and what's the best?
The Da-Lite High Power
The best example of a retro-reflective screen I've seen is the Da-Lite High Power. The first time I saw this screen material I was amazed. The High Power is simply one of the best emulsions available for a screen surface and also one of the best values in home theater. This screen material was made for high ambient light and a bright image. Although this screen is not marketed by Da-Lite as a home theater screen, it has become a darling of enthusiasts for those that are willing to set up their systems to match its properties. In some cases, people don't even set it up ideally and still rave about how much they love it!
The High Power is rated at 2.8 gain. Truthfully, I think its actually a bit more when viewed perfectly on axis. If using the High Power, I recommend trying to set up your system the best you can to capture its gain. If done properly, the images delivered from its surface are nothing short of spectacular. The screen surface absolutely disappears and all you see is what's coming from the projector.The Viewing Cone
Because of its high gain, this screen also has one of the narrowest viewing cones. The properties that make this screen so good are also what make it have limitations. Don't get this screen and expect to get awesome gain when viewing at 45 degree angles. Generally, you can get 2.5 gain or greater when sitting on a moderately wide couch. The further outside of this viewing area, the less gain you should expect to achieve. As I mentioned earlier, many set up their viewing conditions, even ceiling mount their projector, and are completely happy with the lower gain they get, even though it's not optimal. In some cases you may not want the maximum gain from the screen. Here's a graph I created for the High Power's viewing cone.
Another benefit of the High Power material is that it's not a tensionable material. This means you don't have to bother with expensive tab tensioning setups to get a flat surface. This allows you to get a cleaner looking screen whether it's a pull down like a Da-Lite Model B or the more deluxe Model C. If you want to take it to the next level and get an electric, there are a variety of options including the very cost effective Contour Electrol. This is what I have; and for a few hundred bucks more than the Model C, you'll definitely feel like James Bond without having to be Bill Gates. The fit and finish of the Contour Electrol, like all Da-Lite screens, are absolutely top notch. I'm very pleased with this screen and the Contour Electrol. Whether you're planning a top of the line recessed electric screen, or even a Model B, the High Power material is the most performance you can pack onto a roller. If fixed frame screens are your thing, the High Power material comes seamless up to 6 feet. So if you're thinking about going big, you may be interested in a 6 foot tall 14 foot wide Cinemascope screen. Simply awesome.How does the High Power do it?
The High Power is a glass-beaded screen. However, unlike the crunchy glass bead screens that are angular reflective, the high power uses micro beads. These micro beads are encased in an emulsion that allows it to be then be applied to a nice durable vinyl backing. The retro-reflective nature of this screen comes from these micro beads. The projected light enters through the front of the bead and gets slightly magnified and focused on the backside of the bead. The parabolic backside of the bead then reflects the light and redirects it back toward the light source. As it passes back through the front of the bead the light is then slightly diffused as it heads out toward the eyes of the happy viewer. This is the same kind of technology that is used in stop signs and road striping paint.
The trick is putting it together in an emulsion with the uniformity that is ideal for projection screens. Da-Lite has does this with the High Power, and with awesome results.Conclusions
I've been reviewing screens now for a number of years. Every professional screen I look at is very good; and I'm a big fan of companies that have the technology to develop surfaces with optical coatings and that take it to the next level of reflective performance. I personally tend to like higher gain screens and the brightness advantages you can get from them. Of all the screens I've reviewed, there's one screen material that has become my reference standard. That screen material is Da-Lite's High Power. If set up properly, this material can deliver the best images available. If you are able to set up your viewing situation properly you can expect to see an image that:Gives a robust high brightness image with real to life colors and whites
Provides greater perceived contrast
Has a clean uniform image so that the surface completely disappears
Has no hotspotting or visable waves
Has an amazing ability to shed ambient light
The High Power is simply an amazing screen. When I decided to go to a 12' wide 2.40 Cinemascope aspect ratio, I knew the only screen material that could pull this off and make me happy was the High Power. After having it up for a couple weeks, I could not be happier. The image is spectacular, and if you can set it up properly, you are sure to be happy. If you are thinking of going big, and your projector puts out less than 1000 lumens, there's simply one choice. High Power.
Stay tuned. Part 2
will feature the upgrade, Cinemascope and the secrets behind the choices.
A huge thanks to Blake Brubaker, the Systems Display Manager at Da-Lite for making this review possible. As another Home Theater enthusiast, he allowed me to see the light. I hope that I have been able to let you see it too!