Home Theater Screens - Understanding Home Theater Projector Screens
Update: November 30, 2012

Selecting Your Home
Theater Projector Screen

A step-by-step process to selecting the right projection screen
for your home entertainment

Selecting the right home theater projector screen is critical for an optimum viewing experience. Unfortunately, the vast range of projection screens available in all forms and prices makes the whole process rather intimidating for many newcomers to the fantastic world of home theater; the result is often an inappropriate projection screen for the job!

Unfortunately, you cannot just pick the first screen based on budget considerations alone; a projection screen designed for business use need necessarily perform at its best when used in the home theater.

This easy-to-follow guide aims at providing the necessary information to help you choose the right projection screen. The discussion focuses on four main steps, starting with the basics. We then move on to touch upon the issue of how to go about choosing the right screen surface for your projector setup.

Elite Screens EzFrame Fixed Frame Projection Screen, 16:9 - 100in (Cine White)

Elite Screens EzFrame Fixed Frame
Projection Screen, 16:9 - 100in.

Front Projection Screens
Selecting the best screen for your application

The large selection of projector screens available in all forms and in different projection screen materials is in itself a guarantee that there is always a suitable projector screen for your home theater needs.

Unfortunately, many simply opt for the first home theater projector screen they find that suits their budget without researching through the available products to find the best match for their application.

That is correct... you have to find the best match! Choosing the right combination of screen array and projection surface for your home theater is essential for optimum viewing results.

But not only...

It is one thing selecting a front projector screen for a business presentation, and another if what you are after is a home theater solution. In the home theater, we are concerned not only with the visual impact of the projected image but also with the overall sound quality. Why?

The type of screen material and the screen placement with respect to your home theater speakers can do a lot to help you get even more wrapped into the movie action. The use of acoustically transparent home theater projector screens as further detailed below, together with the correct placement of speakers with respect to your projection screen surface, can do a lot towards supporting the overall home theater sound in your room.

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Selecting the Right Home Theater Projector Screen

Despite what many may think, choosing the right combination of home theater projector screen array for your room, screen size, screen format, and the appropriate screen fabric for your projection setup, is a rather straight forward process.

Step 1: Determine the Screen Type

Screen type refers to the different categories of projection screen arrays; these range from fixed, portable, pull-down - manual or electric, as well as a full combination of motorized and automated systems.

Fixed Home Theater Projector Screens are the simplest and most straight-forward home theater projector screens. Usually, these are found among the more serious home cinema installations. Generally, all attention is focused on room design and equipment performance, while less attention is paid to 'hiding' the equipment, so permanently mounted home theater projector screens are more often installed.

The screen fabric is stretched onto a finished aluminum or wooden frame and attached with snap fasteners, creating a smooth, wrinkle-free surface.

This type of front projection screen is typically installed to 'float' several inches off your wall. If the room dimensions permit however, this distance should be increase to accommodate the placement of the center speaker behind the screen. Placing the center speaker behind the home theater projector screen leads to a greater sense of depth to your home theater sound while rendering your home cinema experience even closer to that enjoyed at movie theaters.

Should you decide to go for this setup (i.e. with the center speaker placed behind the projector screen) you will have to make use of an acoustically transparent home theater projector screen fabric.

AcousticPro 1080 - Acoustically Transparent Woven Screen Material by Elite Screens

Close-up of Elite's AcousticPro1080
home theater
projection screen fabric

Acoustic transparency is achieved through the use of micro perforations in the projection screen fabric; these allow sound from speakers placed behind the projection screen to pass through the screen material. Speakers should be placed around 12-inches away from the back of the screen for best results. Anything less than 6-inch may affect sound quality especially when using perforated PVC fabrics.

One such material is AcousticPro1080™ from Elite Screens (pictured here); this makes use of a special fabric weave to achieve acoustic transparency.

However, acoustic transparent home theater projector screens brings with them a number of design challenges since acoustic transparency should in no way comprise its primary role, that of delivering a great projected image.

This implies that the micro-perforated surface should be such as to:

  1. Reduce the light penetrating through the screen material since any light reflected from behind the screen may impact the image contrast

  2. Reduce light loss due to the screen surface texture.

  3. Should not introduce artifacts in the projected image.

Point 3 in particular is important as when an image that is composed of a regular geometric pattern e.g. the projected image from by an LCD and DLP video projector, is projected onto a surface that itself contains a surface pattern of comparable spacing with that of the projected image, moiré artifacts will result in the projected image.

Moiré is the resultant ripple-like pattern in image presentations produced when two geometrically-regular patterns are superimposed on each other. Such artifacts degrade image quality and are therefore undesirable.

Equalization in the form of low pass filtering of the video signal can be used to remove moiré artifacts but the use of such filtering techniques, especially when applied in a uniform and indiscriminate manner, may result in noticeable reduction in the projected image resolution.

It is interesting to note here that today, micro-perforated projection screen surfaces are either PVC perforated or woven type. Both have their pros and cons with respect to image and sound quality. PVC perforated home theater projector screens have a higher tendency to produce moiré and would often require equalization. However, with correctly designed perforations, PVC perforated screens would not need equalization, meaning they can still deliver great images from high definition 1080p video projectors without producing moiré.

Projection screen makers use various techniques to eliminate moiré artifacts. Elite's AcousticPro1080 home theater projector screen fabric referred to above achieves the right characteristics to deliver a crisp clear image without any artifacts while maintaining acoustic transparency by making use of a side weave mesh pattern and coated fabrics. Instead, Stewart Filmscreen MicroPerf perforated screens avoids the moiré problem completely by rotating the screen material so the perforated grid does not interfere with the projector pixel grid.

Portable Projection Screens are more of a tight budget solution for facilities with multiple presentations or training rooms rather than for home theater use. The more common portable projections screen in use is the Tripod Portable Screen.

Portable projection screens can be folded, stored and moved from room to room whenever the need arises. They are mostly suitable for the traveling presenter. These screens fold into neat, compact cases and are ready to use in seconds. They are smaller (by design) than most other types of projection screens.

Wall mounted 'pull-down' projection screens can be mounted to the wall, to the ceiling, or even installed in the ceiling itself. The manual version is significantly less expensive than remote controlled electric screens; the latter however can be raised and lowered at the touch of a button.

A retractable home theater projector screen, especially when mounted in a false ceiling, can be easily concealed when not in use, rendering it the ideal solution in those situations when a dedicated room is not available for your home theater setup.

Step 2: Decide on the Screen size

To obtain the best in projected image performance, it is important to determine the correct image size for a truly immersive movie experience. Ideally, the screen size should occupy a minimum of a 30° field of view for the audience.

The rule of thumb here is to use a home theater projector screen whose width is approximately half the distance separating the screen to the front row of seats, (i.e. a viewing distance that is equal to twice the screen width.) This however depends on the projected image resolution since with standard definition images, you have to increase the viewing distance to avoid seeing the image buildup structure. 

For a more detailed discussion on the optimum viewing distance and screen size, please check our TV Viewing Distance article.

Directly related to the screen size is screen placement. In general, screen placement should be determined by 'sight-lines' of the installation. This basically means that screen placement should be such as to allow all members of the audience to see all parts of the screen in an unobstructed manner.

Step 3: Identify your Screen Format

To select the appropriate format―or projection screen aspect ratio―for your home theater application, you need to identify the type of video signal you will be viewing most. Many in the home use the 16:9 (1.78:1) since most video content for the home entertainment market comes in HDTV.

But it is worth taking note that there are a number of other common formats; these include:

- Anamorphic (Cinema-Scope) 2.35:1

- Letterbox Video: 1.85:1

- HDTV: 1.78:1

- Standard video format (NTSC and PAL): 1.33:1

The diagram below depicts the differences between these picture formats:

Different video formats

Step 4: Choose the Right Surface for your Home Theater Projector Screen

There are a number of factors which must be considered when choosing a front projector screen surface that best meets the needs of a custom installation. Seating configuration, video projector type, and ambient light are all factors that must be put into the overall equation. This also explains why all major projector screen manufacturers offer a diverse selection of screen surfaces to meet the needs that arise out of the different environments.

The subject of projector screen surface selection is vast and often too technical in nature for most home theater users. Luckily, major projection screen makers offer some form of online calculator to help you determine the right projection screen fabric for your application. However...

The accuracy of these online projector screen calculators depends on your correct interpretation of the requested information. Having a basic knowledge of the different home theater projector screen surfaces and available fabrics is therefore always an asset that will come in handy when picking up the right projection screen material.

We cover the subject of selecting an appropriate projection screen surface in the second part of this series of home theater projector screen guides, where we discuss projector screen surfaces and fabric selection; there, we also explains the criteria to take into consideration to arrive at a most suitable projection screen surface for your application.

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 Article Content

Issues discussed in this article:

Blue bullet  Determining the screen type: Which one best suits your needs - fixed screen, acoustically transparent, portable, or an electric projection screen?

Blue bullet  Deciding on the screen size and projection screen placement for an immersive viewing experience

Blue bullet  Identifying a screen format for your home theater projector screen

Blue bullet  Choosing the right screen surface for your video projector setup and room environment

Projector Screen Guides

Other articles under this section 

Projector Screen Surfaces and Fabrics, and the criteria to use when selecting a projection screen surface

Understanding Projector Screen Specs: Screen gain, ambient light and projector output: Matching the projector output with your projection screen surface

Home Theater Screens Product Reviews:

Brands reviewed under this section include...

Da-Lite Screens

Draper Projection Screens

AccuScreens for the Home Theater on a Budget

Elite Screens

Stewart FilmScreen

Goo Systems Projection Screen Paint solutions for the DIY Home Theater

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