Da-lite Projector Screen Material
Da-lite has a lot of different screen surface material available across their product line. These screen surfaces have a lot of different properties, but the main stats that will affect your home theater's performance are:
1. Viewing Angle
3. Front vs. Rear Projection
Viewing angle is simple – it’s how far off center you can sit and still see the picture clearly. A wider viewing angle means you can sit further to a side and still see the image without distortion.
Higher numbers for the gain stat will result in an image appearing brighter. As an example, a gain rating of 1 will reflect the same amount of light that the projector is actually outputting in a room with no other lights. A higher number means increased brightness and a smaller one means that there’s a decrease. If the gain is too high (typically above a rating of 1.3), a “hot spot” effect can appear in the middle of the screen. This appears as an area of higher brightness relative to the rest of the displayed image. Also worth considering is the fact that as gain increases, viewing angle generally decreases. This rule isn't set in stone - there is a great deal of variance between projection screen materials. But as a guideline, it tends to be fairly accurate.
Front and rear projection screen surface materials have very different stats in reference to gain. The variance in this spec is usually much more extreme for rear projection, which can cause difficulties. The major problem with this type of setup is two-fold: it’s much more labor intensive than front projection so far as installation and it’s also much easier to end up with contrast issues like colors appearing washed out/faded and images being blurry or hard to make out. On the positive side, though, when a rear projection screen is set up correctly it can produce an extremely bright picture with good contrast and a fairly wide viewing angle. A good way to look at it is as a well rounded setup with no glaring problems IF it is done right.
Another factor that can affect your gain decision is the color of the projection screen material - gray screens can actually help with contrast for projectors that either have a low contrast or are being used in a location that has ambient light conditions. If you're in a classroom or boardroom trying to take notes on a presentation or lecture, then gray would work well. For home theater, a white projector screen material is usually the best way to go - most people watch movies in the dark, so there's not as much need for assistance with contrast ratios.
Projectors themselves are the final factor when it comes to deciding which screen material you need. Specifications vary a great deal between models and brands. As an example, it’s possible to have a projector with high brightness but low contrast or vice versa. It’s important to check these specs carefully before making a decision on what screen surface material to choose. For the purpose of screen material, brightness is a more important factor to consider than contrast ratio – the higher the brightness of a projector, the lower the gain can be without negative effects on image quality. Too high of a gain relative to the brightness of your projector, though, can result in a pricy mistake.
Further Thoughts: Acoustics, Transparence, and Doing It Yourself
Another feature to consider for projector screen material is acoustic "transparence". This feature for certain screen material (such as Audio Vision) is a manufacturing technique that allows speakers to be placed directly behind the screen without muffling or distorting the sound. The obvious advantage to this is that there are no speakers visible in the foreground of your home theater. Not all screen models have this material as an optional surface, but it's an interesting feature, nonetheless.
In the past, it wasn't easy to make a DIY screen. Materials that are readily available at the hardware store just don't work very well for home theater applications. Now, though, there are several brands (including Da-Lite) on the market that sell their screen material separately. This material doesn't include a frame or any type of bordering, but it can be installed rather easily if you know what you're doing. The average consumer probably shouldn't tackle this type of installation outright - the potential to save money is there, but without the skills needed to make the installation it is often better to spend the extra cash on a fully finished screen.