Choosing an affordable projection screen for my living room?
December 20, 2008 5:08 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to know when choosing a wall-mounted projection screen for my living room?

We're looking at upgrading our ad hoc living room theater setup from our current White Sheet Clothespinned To Drapes to something in the way of an actual screen. Looking at 84"x84" as the best fit for our setup, doing a mix of movies and console gaming.

As far as I can tell, we'd probably be fine with something as simple as a Luma or Luma 2 or Silhouette—and in fact I'm not clear what the significant difference between those is other than the styling of the hardware. The Luma at under $200 bucks is attractive as the budget choice, but is there anything I should know? Any surprises here?

The other question: surface treatment. I know ambient light might be an issue for daytime use—setting aside the use of drapes and such on our windows to minimize that, is there a good reason to drop the extra cash on a high contrast grey type surface instead of simple matte white? Or is the distinction fairly minimal in practice?
posted by cortex to Technology (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We have a Da-Lite retractable screen that has a shiny white surface and cost under 200 bucks, 7 feet long or so. The ambient light really has more to do with the projector. Currently we have our screen hung in front of some windows, and when there's direct sun coming in, there's some bleed-through, so on the rare occasion that happens we toss a blanket behind it. Got it from
posted by rikschell at 6:02 PM on December 20, 2008

You might want to check out the AVS Forums if you haven't already. These forums are FILLED with home theater geeks. There are a few threads about low cost screens and other tips. As for personal experience, I have a few friends who have just stretched a canvas out on a frame to whatever ratio they wanted and that seemed to work just fine after a nice matte grey finish.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 6:29 PM on December 20, 2008

The school where I work recently fitted out four rooms with SMART Board touch-sensitive interactive whiteboards, which have a matte surface designed to work well with projectors and minimize glare spots, and two rooms with Mimio IR/ultrasonic pen movement capture systems combined with short-throw projectors shining straight onto the existing gloss whiteboards. Both projectors are mounted above the screens (the SMART Board rooms have ceiling poles, and the short-throw Mimio rooms have wall poles).

I was expecting the matte SMART Board surface to work much better, but in practice the shiny-board rooms are less bothered by ambient light even though the projector is nominally less bright (1800 lumens vs 2200), and even though the shiny board does indeed cause a much more prominent glare spot, the short-throw optics put that up high enough not to be troublesome for 95% of seating positions.
posted by flabdablet at 6:39 PM on December 20, 2008

Response by poster: We're really committed to something that can easily and cleanly retract, so otherwise-attractive (and potentially very DIY-able, yeah) static tensioned surfaces aren't really a viable solution—we'll be mounting this hardware above a large picture window that we'd like to be able to look through when we're not using the screen.
posted by cortex at 6:42 PM on December 20, 2008

Motorized screens are nice so a drunken you/friend of yours doesn't fall into it damaging it or pulling it off the mounting while trying to open or close it. Yeah, learned the hard way.
posted by fleacircus at 6:49 PM on December 20, 2008

Reflectivity is a tradeoff. As reflectivity increases, the blacks in what you're projecting get grayer. But you get to project in rooms where you can't control ambient light as easily.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:05 PM on December 20, 2008

Get a cheap screen and the spend the money you save on blackout window treatments. You need that room pitch dark. A windowless room is preferable, but failing that all windows and doorways should be blacked out completely. Darkening the room is the best and cheapest way to improve picture, since the ambient light falling on the screen defines the floor of your achievable black level.

I work for a company that installs $100k front projection home theaters, though I am not the resident video expert.
posted by contraption at 8:44 PM on December 20, 2008

Not exactly the answer you are seeking, but I present the ultra cheap option that is better than just a sheet; the Ikea TUPPLUR roller blind/curtain. It goes up and down, is opaque, and it's cheap at under $50 for the biggest.

I have a 55x77in one that was originally purchased as a placeholder (how could I go wrong for $35) until I decided on a "real" screen. That was 6 months ago and I can't say I have actually bothered shopping for a proper screen.
posted by fief at 9:00 PM on December 20, 2008

If there are any Sound Advice or Tweeter stores still open in your area, for the past few weeks they've been liquidating the stores, and most stores had motorized, retractable ceiling-mount screens that were being sold as fixtures. Both of my local stores had all of their doors rolled down a couple of days ago when I checked, so it may all be over.
posted by tomierna at 10:35 AM on December 21, 2008

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