Choosing a Projector Screen for Your Home Theater

by Paul Sanders

Once you've chosen a projector, it's time to complete your home theater with peripheral electronics and projector accessories. A good projection screen is essential for getting the best picture from your home theater projector. Several projector screen types will work in different home theater situations.

Choosing a Projector Screen:

  1. White wall: The least expensive projector screen is a coat of white paint. This is also the lowest picture-quality option. White paint comes in varying shades, meaning that light reflects differently depending on the color, and wall surfaces may not be perfectly smooth, making for a slightly distorted picture. Still, you can get a passable picture by using your white wall as a projection screen. You can also find special paint just for projecting onto; this paint a bit of silver in it, the way movies screens do.

  2. Free-standing: Also called tripod projector screens, this is a simple and portable viewing surface for your movies, video games, and TV shows. A free-standing projector screen can be an inflatable model or a pull-down projection screen. Both are less durable than more permanent projector screens, but they get the job done.

  3. Wall mounted: These projector screens are either fixed to a wall or built into cabinets or recesses within the wall or ceiling. High-end installations include motors which raise or lower either the projector screen or a cover.

  4. Fixed-frame: This projector screen looks like a flat-panel television without any electronics. Wrapped in a metal or plastic frame, a fixed-frame projector screen is light enough to mount on almost any wall.

Projector Screen Tips:

  1. Check the "gain" property of projector screens you're considering. Gain describes the reflectivity of the projector screen and viewing angle. A level-one gain rating is comparable to a white-wall type screen. You can find gain as high as four, though two is generally the highest. There is a trade-off: As reflectivity increases, viewing angle decreases, so you can't sit far off to the side of the projector screen without losing picture quality.

  2. Projector screens come in several sizes, but the shape is just as important. Similar to television screens, projector screens are built with the traditional aspect ratios of 4:3 or 16:9. Other ratios exist, but 16:9 is the standard in which most widescreen movies and TV shows are shot. Look for a projection screen with 16:9 aspect ratio or which is large enough to accommodate this format from your projector.

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Updated December 10, 2014