How To Choose The Right Projector Screen

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Steve Scott

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If you care about picture quality, then you'll care about the type of screen you'll get for your projector. Please don't make a mistake many people make by using their wall as a projection surface.

It would be a massive waste of money, investing so much in a device, and then not getting the most out of it. What a waste.

But, don't just pick any screen! Always go with one that fits your needs best. Read on and find out which type of projection screen is perfect for you.

See related: Projector Maintenance Guide

Why is a Screen Better Than a Wall?

Anyone who's ever owned a projector knows that it's not the only thing in the equation that makes a good picture. Naturally, it's an essential ingredient, but a screen also plays a rather significant role.

Now, the mistake that many first-time projector owners make is avoiding getting a dedicated projector screen. Most of the time, this is due to the urge to save a bit of money, but also because they don't feel the need to do so.

Many people feel that a wall will deliver similar, if not the same results. But, it's far from the truth!

To be honest, getting a quality screen will take up a significant chunk of your budget. On the other hand, the image quality is literally incomparable. 

Although a wall can be enough for some, it simply cannot create such an immersive experience and enjoyment.

After all, these dedicated screens are designed and made with viewers' pleasure in mind. They are made out of special materials and coatings that ensure a smooth and polished image.

Such materials have a positive effect on things like brightness, black levels, or contrast. All of which you can't expect from a simple wall.

Check out our guide on most common home theater problems.

What Screen Size Do You Need?

Similar to when getting a TV, your first inclination might be to check the screen size. When it comes to TV, the main course of action would be to get the biggest TV you can get, that could also fit your dedicated space.

But, it's not so simple with projectors and their screens. Sometimes the screen size can present an obstacle.

Seeing that the price difference between two different screen sizes is not so steep, like with TVs, you should take other things into consideration as well.

So, resist the urge to go with the biggest screen available. The effect might be quite the opposite. 

You might end up with not so satisfactory brightness or noticeable pixelation, which definitely ruins the whole experience.

One of the main factors that will influence your decision about screen size is the space where you'll use the projector. Some areas are just not meant for optimum viewing.

If you have a small room, but also a big screen, you simply won't be able to get a decent picture out of it. For instance, if the diagonal of your screen is 10 feet, you generally need a projector distance of about 1.5 times bigger, which makes it 15 feet.

That being said, you can put an exact number on ideal viewing distance. Like in a theater, most of us have different preferences where we like to sit, or which angle suits us best.

Fixed-Frame and Retractable

When we talk about projector screens, we can say there are two different types: fixed-frame and retractable. The first one requires a larger portion of the wall since it can be set aside, while retractables can be rolled up when necessary.

Fixed-Frame Screens

Fixed-frame screens are a nice solution for dedicated home theater rooms. They are usually stretched across a sturdy frame and held tight so that the projection surface is always perfectly smooth and straight.

fixed projector screen

What also makes them great is the fact you don't need to power them, but simply mount them on a wall.

Most of these screens come with a thick, black frame that serves different purposes. First, such frames help accentuate the contrast between the image and the screen, Second, the frame helps to reduce the image overspill, which is bound to happen sometime, because setting up a projector isn't easy.

Nowadays you can also find screens with really thin frames. This is not only a great visual solution, but it also reduces weight substantially. But, without a visible frame, you'll have to pay extra attention to adjusting the image properly.

Retractable: Motorized and Manual

For those who don't want to keep a screen on their wall at all times, or don't have the room to spare, there's also a solution. Retractable screens are designed to allow for a multi-purpose space.

Therefore, when you want to watch a movie, you simply drag the screen down, and when you don't need it anymore, you just pull it back up. 

Be advised that there are two retractable screen subgroups: motorized and manual. Motorized screens are probably the most elegant and user-friendly solution between the two.

It would be best if you simply mounted the screen onto a ceiling or a wall. With just a simple push of a button, the screen lowers and raises silently whenever you need it to.

retractable projector screen

If you're going with a motorized screen, try to choose a tab-tensioned one, since such a screen will provide a firm and smooth surface.

Then again, most of these screens are non-tensioned, which means the surface is not always the straightest one, and you can notice certain imperfections.

On the other hand, you could try the cheapest and most accessible option - a manual retractable screen. It acts like a regular window shade. When you pull on it, it goes down and up.

They've found their purpose in schools and offices, but you could give one a go if you don't want to break the bank for a screen. Just don't expect anything grandiose, and you're good to go.

Screen Material

Last but not least, we come to screen material. There are several issues or factors to consider when talking about material, and those are gain, color, and texture.

Screen gain

Gain is the amount of brightness that is thrown back from a screen at the viewer. So, if the gain is high, then the image is brighter, and more light is reflected. 

projector screen gain

This can be achieved by using different materials and coatings. High gain is especially neat for large screen sizes or for spaces with more ambient light.

Gain also affects the viewing angle. The higher the gain, the smaller the angle, since high-gain screens project image in a more narrow field.

Screen Color

Another thing that significantly influences the quality of the projected image is screen color. The most usual color used is white. It has become an industry standard.

However, gray screens are more adept at handling contrast and darker scenes. They are also better at handling the ambient light since they don't reflect as much light as white screens. 

But, to get the most out of the gray screen, you'll need a more powerful projector.

Screen texture

Let's be honest. Most, if not all, screen surfaces provide a smooth texture that allows fantastic image reproduction. 

But, specific projectors, like 4K or similar, need an even finer screen than that to showcase their abilities. That's why there are screens nowadays with texture up to 9 times finer than most regular ones.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, now you see what makes a projection screen an invaluable asset of any home theater. Take your time in picking the right one and drastically enhance your viewing experience.

My name is Steve Scott. Father of 2 and owner of Outdoor Movie HQ. I’ve been involved in the A/V industry for most of my life and built this blog to help people better understand projector technology. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.

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