Ambient Light Rejection Screens

Evan Powell, March 3, 2016

Think about this ... would you like to have a huge 135" flat panel TV in your entertainment room? If such a thing existed most of us couldn't afford it, and if we could we couldn't get it through our front doors. But here is some good news ... you can get that same giant TV effect with a projector and one of today's Ambient Light Rejecting (ALR) screens. They are designed to give you a big screen picture with sparkling high contrast and solid color saturation in a well-lit room. The "Projector + ALR Screen" combo is ideal for parties, gaming, or TV and movie viewing during daylight hours, or in the evening when you just don't want to turn the room lights off.

So which of the many ALR screens is right for you? Included in this survey are eleven popular ALR screens from eight manufacturers, listed in the contents box to the left. All of these screens give you that "huge flat panel TV" look in a room with ambient light. But they differ in many ways including contrast, optimal viewing angles, image artifacts, mounting options, and assembly/installation issues. We will explore these differences in this article.

How We Tested the Screens

Since these screens are designed for use in ambient light, we evaluated their performance two ways. First we used window light illumination from the side, then we added low-wattage ceiling mounted floods placed above the screens and directed downward. The tests were done in a room with large, north-facing picture windows along one wall. All measurements were taken at mid-day when diffused light from the north sky was at its brightest. The brightest concentration of incoming light from the windows was striking the screens at a 50 degree angle from center. In addition, the test room has white walls, carpet, and ceiling, so there was plenty of soft indirect reflected ambient light in the environment. In short, this room might be typical of a well-lit residential multipurpose room that you'd want to use for TV viewing or gaming during daylight hours.

After taking luminance, contrast, and half gain measurements under the window light conditions, we added four 20-watt ceiling mounted floods to see how additional light from above the screens would further impact contrast, black levels, and saturation. This light from above was directed onto the screens at a 30 degree angle. This was intended as a torture test to see how the screens respond to light from above. (Hopefully nobody would intentionally direct floods onto a projection screen in a real installation.)

Throughout these tests we used an Epson Home Cinema 1440, a native 1080p projector designed for ambient light use. We set it to Bright Cinema mode so it was putting out 2800 ANSI lumens. The throw distance was 10 feet, and the image width was 80", so the throw distance ratio was 1.5x the screen width. This is the minimum throw distance required to get the best performance from an ALR screen.

Note on the Screen Selection

We've got eleven screens in this review, but there are many more ALR screens on the market than just these. In order to make the review manageable we limited this group to products with low to modestly positive gain ratings in the range of 0.8 to 1.4. This of course does not cover all of the ALR screens in this gain range. And there are obviously a number of ALR screens with gains of 1.5 and up.

If you find this review has been helpful to you, I would be happy to hear your suggestions on additional screens to include in further group reviews of this kind. Please take a moment to drop me your thoughts in the comments box below.

Thanks kindly for your interest,

Evan Powell
Editor


Review Contents: Overview Contrast Half Gain Angles Black Levels
  Peak Gain Texture Artifacts Color Bias DaLite Parallax
  DNP Supernova Draper MS1000X Elite DarkStar Elite EPV DarkStar9
  Elite EPV PolarStar Microlite Black Crystal SI Black Diamond SI Zero Edge Slate
  Seymour Matinee Black Stewart FireHawk G4

Reader Comments(10 comments)

Posted Jul 27, 2017 3:45 AM

By Lee

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Is there a conclusion anywhere in the article? Great article, but would be great with a short summary section!

Posted May 11, 2016 11:04 AM

By Tuki

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It would be nice to include the high gain Vutec SilverStar 6.0. Thank you.

Posted Apr 9, 2016 12:18 PM

By Scott Tallal

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Hi Evan,

This review has been incredibly useful! We only wish you would have included at least a few of the high gain options, most notably the dnp SuperNova 23-23 and the Screen Innovations Black Diamond 2.7. Perhaps you can do a shootout between those and other high-gain options in the not-too-distant future?

Keep up the great work!

Posted Mar 31, 2016 8:09 PM

By Jason

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I'd also like to see the Elite Cinegray 5D does in the tests.

Posted Mar 17, 2016 4:22 AM

By Mishari

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I wish you added 2 points: - contrast measure at all lights off to see they have better contrast than white screen. Some of us do not want to have dark walls and ceilings. - Add Elite Cinegrey 5D, which is highly available to public and well reviewed.

Posted Mar 16, 2016 8:14 PM

By Tomas

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Hmm, how come here is missing Black Pearl HDR from SimPit? Unrestricted viewing angle, exceptional black levels and color ... and one of most affordable ALR screens as well

Posted Mar 13, 2016 8:04 PM

By Rob Hunt

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Excellent review, very detailed. However, i think it would benefit readers to have a large television also tested along side these screens, since that is the screens biggest rival. some 75 inch tv around the same price as a screen/pj setup. Then viewers could understand the magnitude of the benefits and drawbacks of a ALR setup.

Posted Mar 6, 2016 7:04 AM

By Hector

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Excellent review. I wished I was there while you were doing the reviews :) I have been looking for unbiased review on ALRsa d you have exceeded my expectations. Thanks again!

Posted Mar 4, 2016 5:12 PM

By Paul B

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What a great review of multiple ALR screens. I can't thank you enough as I am completing a basement remodel and have been searching for ALR screen reviews and challenged by the limited information, as well as critical details about how the products were tested. Having all of the listed screens objectively evaluated under the same standards is invaluable in assessing how the screens might work in my environment. Thank you for recognizing the critical need for this area of review. This is, by far, the best and most complete review of ALR screens. Keep up the great work!

Posted Mar 4, 2016 2:59 PM

By Matt Frazer

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Thank you so much for posting this extensive review of ALR screens, I have never seen anyone undertake this task and you should be comended for the effort. I currently use a Carl's place DIY ALR screen that I bought on a whim to replace my painted wall (following the projector central instructions when it was painted). I noticed a signifigant improvement in my tightly packed dedicated theater since the room is under 10 feet wide and I get light polution reflecting from the walls. It would be interesting to get this screen added since it is so cheap, to see if it can hang with these other options... Although after this whale of a test I wouldn't blame you if you never want to see another ALR again. Keep up the great work, it's reviews like these that keep me coming back.

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