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Do I Need A Special Screen for a 3D Projector?

Modern technology seems to be continually improving. Today’s home theater options go far beyond what was available to families even just 15 years ago. When I started looking into investing in a projector for my home theater – the 3D models had only just come onto the market. With more movies and shows being made available in 3D format, this style projector caught my eye instantly. However, after figuring out the most important specifications and doing tons of research on the type of 3D projector I wanted – I realized I forgot to consider one more thing: the screen.

Do I need a special screen for use with a 3D projector? You do not need a special screen in order to view images from a typical 3D projector. While some features may help enhance the image, a special screen is not required when using a 3D projector. If you have a dual 3D projector system, however, you will likely need a polarized screen.

Finding the right information can be hard as there are a plethora of opinions, marketing strategies, and more to convince you that your set up requires this or that. Below, I answer one of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to home theater projectors and more.

The 3D Image: Why a Special Screen Is Unnecessary

3D Image on a Projector Screen

For those who enjoy 3D movies and images, having a projector installed as part of your home theater set up will provide beautifully crisp, scalable images that will fully enmesh you and your fellow audience members in the featured entertainment.

While you will be required to wear specialized glasses to view your 3D images, you do not necessarily need a special projector screen. Why? Let’s take a look at the two types of 3D projector setups for a more in-depth explanation.

Standard 3D Projectors

The most common 3D projector set up involves the use of a single device. A 3D projector can project images in one of four ways: frame sequential, frame packing, side-by-side, or checkerboard. (If you want more information, then take a look at my in-depth explanation of how 3D projectors work.)

In essence, a single 3D projector set up presents two different images, targeting each eye individually, in order to create the 3D image you see. Because of this, the screen material becomes irrelevant; the 3D image comes from the projector and is independent of the screen you use. In fact, some home theater projector owners may prefer the use of a blank wall.

Dual-Projection 3D Systems

A duel-projection 3D system, however, is a bit more advanced and complicated. They often require the use of a screen that helps preserve polarization.

Dual-projection 3D setups involve the use of two projectors; each projector in this type of system will target a specific eye. Dual-projection 3D systems overlay two differently colored images over one and other in order to present a single, 3D picture.

Because of this, dual-projection 3D systems typically work best with screens that have a higher gain. Gain is the specification that refers to the level of light reflected by the screen when compared to a Lambertian surface. (Fun fact: a Lambertian surface is solely a reference point; this is a uniform reflecting surface used to provide reflectivity controls for comparison.) Higher gain is often recommended for dual-projection 3D setups due to the diminished brightness displayed by these projectors.

Screen Overview: The Things You Actually Should Consider When Investing In a Screen

Now that I have explained when you do and do not need a special screen for your 3D projector, I think it is important to explain the factors you should consider when investing in a home theater screen. Take a look at our recommended projector screens if you haven’t made a decision on a screen quite yet.

Projector Screen Material

Most people imagine a single, white screen when it comes to projecting images. However, this is no longer the only option available to home theater owners. In fact, color, gain, and other factors can dictate the best type of screen for your home theater projection needs.

  • Color: Screen still does come in white, which is perfect for rooms that have controlled minimal ambient light. However, screens also now come in silver, grey, and black. Images projected onto white screens in a lit room can become washed out.

    In other words, as the light level increases, your images can become harder to see. Silver, grey, and black screens help to reject ambient light – helping to increase image clarity in a room that cannot be made entirely dark.
  • Gain: Gain sounds great, but when it comes to projector screens, it is almost the complete opposite. In a dark room, lower gain will help to ensure your image is as crisp as possible.

    Higher gain, however, can create what is known as “hot spotting.” (“Hotspotting” occurs when the center of the image is bright and becomes dimmer as it radiates outwards towards the edges.)
  • Other Factors: Things like rear projection, perforated screens versus woven screens, and more can affect the screen options best suited to your needs.

Projector Screen Aspect Ratio or Shape

Your projector has a very specific aspect ratio. Make sure you buy a screen that matches the projector’s aspect ratio. The two most common screen ratio shapes are 16×9 and 2.4:1.

When it comes to ratio, the content you plan on watching/viewing should be the driving factor. Movies, for example, are best projected onto a screen with a 2.4:1 ratio. TV shows, sports, and video games, on the other hand, are best displayed on a 16×9 screen.

Screen Size

You need a screen that matches the intended size of the image you wish to display. (I recommend purchasing a screen that matches the largest image possible for your particular projector just in case you decide to maximize your projection at some point.)

You also need to consider the size of the wall and viewing distance. Measure the space you plan on installing your screen against prior to purchasing your model. After all, if you have two windows that are only 9 feet apart and you buy a screen that is 10 feet wide – you are going to have an issue.

Remember to account for ceiling height, as well as the screen’s frame, when you do these calculations to ensure viewing is comfortable. (If you invest in a screen that will be lower to the ground, your viewers may not be able to see the bottom of the screen clearly.)

Screen Style

There are two options when it comes to screen style: fixed or retractable.

  • Fixed: As the name indicates, fixed screens are those that are permanently held in place. They are fully extended and pinned in place at all times. When installed correctly, these screens are able to hold the proper tension that makes for a smooth, flat surface on which to projector your image.

    Because they are fixed in place, these screens do not need additional power supplied to them. Additionally, these types of screens are typically cheaper than their retractable counterparts.
  • Retractable: For many who are installing their projection system in a multi-purpose room – a retractable screen makes for a very attractive option. (Do your young children enjoy playing in the same room you will use for your home theater? Ever watched a 4-year-old throw a matchbox car mid-tantrum? Your screen will not suffer the effects of an overtired child being told its nap time when they want to keep playing if it can be retracted when not in use!)

    If a retractable screen is ideal for you, make sure you invest in a model that is “tab-tensioned” or “tensioned.” This indicates that the model employs technology that keeps the screen perfectly flat when extended.