Choosing the right home theater projector screen (projector screen guide)

Having a proper projector screen can make up for a great viewing experience but for this, you need to put into consideration your budget, room, and projector that you have. There are 2 options that you can go for, installation-ready projector screens or DIY projector screens. Even for these 2 options, there are several varieties that you can choose from.

Types of installation-ready projector screens;

  • Retractable projector screens- This can either be manual pull-down screens, tripod screens, floor-rising screen, non-tensioned screens, tab-tensioned screens, and motorized retractable screens.
  • Fixed frame projector screens
  • Inflatable projector screens

DIY projector screens options include;

  • Projector paint
  • DIY blackout cloth or a Fabric screen
  • Wrapping paper
  • Building a fixed frame DIY screen

But before we go into the details of each of these options, we should look at some of the considerations to make when you are choosing a projector screen.

How to choose a projector screen

1.      Determine the right screen size

Depending on the space and dimensions of your home theater room, you can determine the right projector screen size that you need.

The projector screen should be placed a few feet above the floor (at least 4 feet) for an obstruction-free viewing angle. From the adjacent wall, the screen should leave a space of at least 6 inches. You also need to make sure that the screen is not too high to prevent strain on your neck (the viewing angle should be slightly up and straight ahead).

Ideally, the height of the screen should be around 1/6 the length of the back-row seat to the screen. The distance from the front row seat to the screen should be twice the height of the screen. Also, for the front seat, you can use the diagonal size of the screen to determine how far back it will be but ideally, it should be equal to the diagonal screen size.

For the width of the screen, you should put into consideration the throw ratio of your projector. Throw ratio is the ratio of the projector’s throw distance relative to the width of the image.

For example, a projector with a throw ratio of 2:1 will have an image width that is half the throw distance. So, if you were to mount your projector 20 feet away from the screen, the image would have a width of 10 feet which meaning that you would need a screen that is at least 10 feet wide.

However, because nowadays the size of most projector screens is measured diagonally, you will need to look at the width of the screen before buying.

You don’t want to end up with a screen too small that the image spills off from the screen or a screen too big to fit the image.

Is a bigger projector screen better?

Large screens are better for a large room with, where you want to get everyone involved in what is happening on the display. However, bigger is not always better because with a lower projector resolution you will begin noticing pixel structure and the brightness will go down.

2.      The aspect ratio

There are common aspect ratios common with projector screens;

  • 16:9 is the standard aspect ratio for most home theater projectors.
  • 16:10 is a widescreen aspect ratio that is mostly used for a projector used as a computer display.
  • 4:3 is a full-screen projector aspect ratio that is not used much these days.
  • 1:1 screen is beneficial in that you can achieve multiple aspect ratios.

3.      Projector screen gain

The gain in a projector screen is the amount of light that is reflected by the screen back to the viewer. Different projector screen materials will have different gain levels which are measured by the light that hits and reflected from the screen surface perpendicularly.

The screen gain can either be higher or lower than one. For a screen with a gain value of more than 1 the brightness will be more than that of the projected image. On the other hand, a gain value of less than 1 means the brightness of the image produced is less than that of the projected image.

A screen material/fabric with a higher gain will reflect more light to the viewer for a brighter and clearer image in a room with a lot of ambient light and vice versa. Higher gain screens are also handy when using a projector with a lower ANSI Lumen rating.

However, projector screens with higher gain values tend to be “hot-spotting” culprits. Hot-spotting is where parts of the screen appear to be noticeably brighter because the reflected light is more focused and narrower. This means that the viewers sitting directly in front of the screen will get a better image than those on either side.

4.      Viewing angle

The screen viewing angle is a measure of how far from the center of the screen you can see a high-quality image. Screens with wider viewing angles will allow you to sit far off the direct viewing angle (centered angle) of the screen with less distortion. Screens with narrower angles will produce more distorted images for viewers that are off the direct view of the screen.

Gain also affect the viewing angle with screen materials that have a higher gain value having a narrower angle and vice versa.

5.      Screen fabric color

The image contrast is mainly affected by the color the fabric used to make the screen.

White screens are standard screens due to the ability to produce sharp, bright, and vivid images. Gray-colored screens can handle darker tones better and are referred to as high contrast screens.

6.      Acoustic transparency

Acoustic transparency in projector screens is the ability of the screen to allow sound to travel through with little to no interference. This is important if you want to put the center channel speaker or soundbar behind the screen to give the illusion of the sound coming from the screen.

7.      Screen fabric texture

For an HD resolution image (1080p) you will need a screen made of a fabric with a smooth texture for a high-quality image. 4K projectors will need screens with micro-texture surfaces (4k rated screens) for the tiny 4k pixels and better details.

8.      special features

Special features on a projector screen will include;

  • Rear projection compatibility
  • Light resistant projector screens
  • Ultra-short throw projector screens

Let me expound on these functionalities in case you may be interested in the screen with any of the features above. But you should keep in mind that these features can increase the cost of the screen significantly.

Rear projection

Rear projection features allow the projector to project the image on the screen to the viewer from the back of the screen.

Light-resistant (anti-glare)

Projectors with light-resistant abilities are great for home theater rooms with a lot of ambient and help to reduce glare or washing out of the image that may be formed on the screen due to the light. Screens with these features are also known as ALR or Ambient Light Rejecting screens.

Ultra-short throw (UST)

Ultra-short throw projector screens are designed to work with ultra-short-throw projectors that can be placed very close to the screen to produce an image.

Types of projector screen

Fixed frame screens

Fixed frame projector screens are very popular in home theaters and cinemas and are made up of a screen fabric that has been stretched over a metal frame to be mounted on a wall. The frames on fixed frame screens are mostly covered in a black velour to improve the perceived contrast.

Some fixed frame projectors can also be curved to optimize reflectivity and add interest and style to the home theater.

Retractable screens

There are several varieties of retractable projector screens.

Manual pull-down screens:

Manual pull-down screens are not only easy to install but are also cheaper than most projector screens. These screens use a spring and roller mechanism to help pull or roll back the screen into the screen case.

Manual pulldown projectors can be;

  • Wall-mounted screens– Should be mounted on a wall and have a crank to manually pull them down.
  • Ceiling mounted– Similar to wall-mounted screens but are mounted to the room’s ceiling.
  • Floor rising screens– Are lightweight, portable, and can easily be taken up or down. No assembly is required for a floor rising screen.
  • Tripod screens– Are portable and come in 2 parts the tripod and the screen casing. Simple to install ad can be done in any location.
  • Folding frame screens– Portable but can be used for large venues.
  • Table-top screens– They are also lightweight and are great for smaller projectors.
  • Inflatable screens– Are great for large outdoor venues and use a self-inflating mechanism to inflate themselves in minutes and can also withstand cold and hot temperatures.

Motorized/electric screens

Motorized projector screens are elegant screens that are housed in a metal case with an electric motor that can roll the screen up or down with a single button press. These screens will need to be connected to a power source for the motor.

Motorized screens can also be wall/ceiling mounted or ceiling recessed.

Non-tensioned and tab-tensioned motorized screens

Non-tensioned screens hang down the case freely and can experience waviness and some minor ripples when in use.

Tab-tensioned screens are as close as you can get to a fixed frame screen when you are using a motorized screen. They have tabs and cables that exert pressure on the screen to make it stretch out and more uniform.

DIY projector screens

DIY screens can be cheaper but are prone to imperfections.

The DIY screen options that we are going to cover will also need you to calculate the screen size before proceeding. Also, some can be more complicated to build and get all the details right.

But let’s face it, having your own DIY screen also gives you a sense of achievement.

Let us look at them.

Blank walls

All you will need for this is a white wall where you can project the image, however, you will not get the image quality that other screens offer.

Projector screen paint

Projector screen paint lets you turn surfaces like wall, cardboard, particleboard, and so on into descent projector screens. These paints are made to have properties similar to most projector screen fabrics.

Here are some of the steps that you should take to turn any surface into a proper projector screen.

  1. Smoothen the surface to ensure that you do not have any uneven surfaces. Sandpaper is great for getting rid of cracks, bumps, and minor holes.
  2. Determine how big the screen should be using the methods we talked about earlier (using the throw distance).
  3. Paint the entire surface using the projector screen paint. This will help get rid of visible imperfections, especially on walls.
  4. Using the measurements, you took in step 2, mark the border of the screen using tape, and apply primer to the screen area.
  5. Repaint the area of the surface that you want to use as your screen making sure you even out the painted surface (a small paint roller is great for this). Apply an additional paint coat for a smoother finish.
  6. Remove the tape and replace it with a black frame (can be black felt tape or a black velvet) to add depth, interest, and style. And there you have a nice DIY painted screen.

Build your own DIY fixed frame screen

You will need either metal, wood, or PVC for the frame. For the screen, a white blackout screen fabric is the best option.

A wooden frame is easier to work on and is more flexible. You can staple in the screen fabric/blackout cloth or use glue or nails to fasten it to the frame.

PVC frames are lightweight but do not give you as much flexibility as wood does. To attach and fasten the cloth/fabric you will need to use glue or sew in the fabric.

Metal frames are the heaviest of the three, not very flexible to work with but are long-lasting. To attach the fabric, you will need to use 2 frame bars that should be screwed in with the fabric fastened in between them.

Here are the building steps;

  1. With the throw distance of the projector determine the screen size needed. Also, determine the best spot for the screen making sure that there is enough space for the projector’s throw distance and the screen. (check how to determine screen size above)
  2. Build the frame according to the determined dimensions. The screen size should be the inner dimensions of the frame.
  3. Attach the blackout fabric to the screen making sure that it is evenly stretched out with no creases or wrinkles. Before you attach the fabric to the frame, you may need to cut it leaving about 5 inches on each side of the width and length of the fabric for attachment. Also, you may need to test the screen with your projector before completely fastening or stitching it.
  4. Mount the screen to the wall after the fabric has been completely fastened glued, screwed, stapled, or stitched.

You can also find more tutorials online on some of the ways you can build or improvise cheap materials to make a projector screen.

Final thoughts

Knowing the material and the size of the projector screen are arguably the 2 most important considerations that you should make. Studying your home theater space and size of the room can help you determine the right size and material that your screen should be made of.

We have also seen that you can use the DIY option as a home theater screen though they may only always offer the quality that you can get from the other screens. But with the right skills, you can always save some money but spend considerably more time doing some handy work.

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