If you’re setting up a home theatre, one thing you’ll need to find is an appropriate projector screen. Fortunately, the home theatre industry has come a long way in the past ten years, so you now have all kinds of options when it comes to this screen. But which one is the best?
Typically, a blackout cloth or actual projector screen is the best choice for your projector screen choice. Other materials will work, but with some reduction of quality. Blackout cloth is the best as it’s cost-effective and absorbs light from the projector, so colors stand out more.
A lot of this will depend on what you’re trying to get out of your viewing experience. If you don’t care about getting the best of the best, you may find that a cheaper screen alternative will work just fine. If you’re a cinephile looking for a top-of-the-line setup, a professional screen is what you’re probably looking for. We’ll walk you through some of your options here, so read on to find out more!
What Features Make a Good Projector Screen?
What really makes a good projector screen? It’s a common question that gets asked in-home theatre circles. The reality is that there are a lot of screen options on the market today; different materials, different colors, different shapes. All these qualities play a role in what might make a good screen. But other than that, here are some projector-specific variables you should know about:
- Screen gain — How well the screen works at reflecting light from the projector.
- Texture — Is the screen nice and smooth? This is best for viewing videos and images.
- Ambient light rejection — How well does the screen perform in ambient lighting situations.
- Acoustically transparent — If you plan on having audio gear setup behind your screen, you’ll need to find a screen with this feature.
- Rear projection — If you have a rear projection projector, you’ll need to source a specific screen to ensure the best quality image.
These are just a handful of the points you’ll need to consider when shopping for a projector screen. But of course, most people won’t need a screen with all these features. Where you set up, what kind of projector you have, and the lighting environment is all going to play a role in which screen you choose.
We should also note here that if you’re considering a Laser TV, this conversation around projector screen material also applies for those short-throw projectors.
But next, let’s consider materials.
What’s the Best Material for a Projector Screen?
When it comes to choosing the best material for your screen, you have quite a few options. In fact, there are so many that you may need to consider other variables like projector style and price to fully make your decision.
Both professional and more DIY cost-effective methods exist. At the end of the day, they all accomplish the same task — but some undoubtedly do the job better than others.
Below we’ll explore some of the most popular material options for projector screens. By the end of this article, you should have a firm understanding of which screen style is right for you and your specific usage.
If you’re looking for a fairly cost-effective option that still performs well, blackout cloth would definitely be a great choice. If you’re unfamiliar with the material, it’s basically a cotton-poly blend that is designed to block out light completely. Usually, they are used as curtains to keep out the sunlight. They do this very well too.
Blackout cloth is probably one of the better projector screen alternatives. Not only is it fairly cheap, but it’s flat and durable — making your movie viewing experience a bit less painless and more enjoyable. Usually, even though blackout is in the name, the surface of the cloth is matte white. Although, other colors are available.
Projector screen material, like this option (on Amazon), is essentially blackout cloth with a matte white finish already installed. For other options, you’ll need to apply a layer of paint; just make sure you do so evenly. Using a sprayer is a great way to accomplish this.
Screens vs. Paint
One of the more popular options to explore for a homemade projector screen is to use paint. For this, you’ll need to ensure that you’ve got a section of the wall that will be appropriate for video playback. Before you start breaking out the house paint, there are a few things to know about projector screens and paint.
First, you can’t just use any paint. You’ll need to source a projector screen-specific paint. Screen paint, like this Digital Image Ultra White (on Amazon), is exactly what you’ll need. You’ll need to determine which color is right for your environment before you make a purchase, though. But we’ll touch on that later.
Remember that you’ll need an even surface to project your video onto. If you fail to correctly apply the projector screen paint, it’s going to cause issues. Every single imperfection is going to create a shadow and will get annoying very quickly.
We recommend that you not only prep the site by removing any blemishes or imperfections before painting but also that you consider putting a primer coat on the wall first.
Again, you may want to use a paint gun for this job. That’s not to say you can’t tackle it with a few rollers or brushes, but unless you’re really good, you’re likely to end up with some trouble areas.
Will Using a Bed Sheet to Project on Work?
If you’re looking for a really cheap option, you may have your eyes on that extra bed sheet in your closet. You thought maybe it would make the perfect screen material. Well, of course, it will work in a pinch, but there are a few things that will make this option less than optimal.
One reason a bed sheet isn’t the best projector screen option is that bedsheets are usually quite thin. This is okay for getting a good night’s sleep but bad for projecting a video. The light from the projector won’t be absorbed by the sheet, leaving you with a bad-quality picture.
You also have to deal with the fact that the thin sheet will be hard to keep taut. All those creases will create shadows and distort the image even more. For a quick movie night with the kids, however, it won’t be that bad. If you’re looking for a permanent solution, however, a bed sheet isn’t recommended.
So, What’s the Best Material Overall?
So, we’ve explored some common materials for projector screens. Of course, there are a bunch more factors you need to consider before making your purchase. Where are you setting up the screen? Will you be able to set it up flat? What’s the lighting situation in the room? Is there a lot of ambient light to deal with?
While using a custom DIY projector screen can save you some cash, if you’re looking for a surefire option, why not just buy a projector screen? At the end of the day, projector screens are fairly specific and reliable pieces of equipment.
Sure, things like bedsheets and tarps may work, but you’re going to be sacrificing some quality.
A projector screen, like this 120 inch model (on Amazon), is fairly cost-effective and gives you the best chance of getting a clean and clear image. Compared to other methods, like projector paint, it’s actually one of the cheaper options on our list — if you don’t count, using a bedsheet.
Can Projector Screens Get Wet?
Here’s the thing, while some projector screen materials can get wet, there’s no way around it becoming damaged. Of course, elements like water will definitely cause damage over time. While you might be able to get away with it a few times, after that, it may start to cause problems.
While most people say the electronic portion of your setup is the most critical to keep dry, you still need to worry about the projector screen itself. If your screen is set up outside, and it starts to rain, make sure you immediately fold up your screen, dry it, and store it somewhere safe.
If you can’t dry it immediately for some reason, say you’re on a camping trip, make sure to unfold it and dry it as soon as you can. If you keep it wet and folded for too long, permanent creases may form in the material — which is no good for movie viewing.
Is a Black or White Projector Screen Better?
Okay, so there has been quite a bit of debate around this topic. The reality is that both colors have a specific purpose. To say one is better than the other would be undercutting the potential benefits of each. What you want to do is consider your environment before making a decision.
You see, when your projector puts out the light, the screen absorbs the light and creates an image. White is very reflective but can display colors quite well. Black, on the other hand, is very absorbent, but in the wrong conditions can make colors dull.
If you have a lot of ambient light in your viewing room, black may be a better choice. You’ll also need to remember that your projector doesn’t produce a natural black.
That means the absence of light creates the black you see. With a white screen, it’s almost impossible to create true blacks- which can be quite crucial if you’re watching something dark, like a horror or thriller movie.
Historically, white has always been the preferred color. But in recent years, black has also become a popular choice for the reasons listed above. Grey has also become a competitor as it can offer a little bit of both worlds.
So, which one is better? You’ll need to consider your lighting environment, the power of your projector, and viewing angles before you make that decision.