Ambient Light Rejection Screens

Evan Powell, March 3, 2016

Stewart FireHawk G4

The Stewart Filmscreen FireHawk series has been in the Stewart product line for a long time and the G4 is its fourth edition. The G4 has lower peak gain, a wider half-gain angle, and less sparkle and texture than the earlier G3. It is rated at 1.1 gain, and in the luminance test it registered 110 fL, which is middle of the pack in this group -- that is exactly where it should be since the competitors range in gain from 0.8 to 1.4.

In our first contrast test with side illumination only, the Firehawk measured 25:1, which is much better than some and not as good as the best, with the range being a low of 16:1 to a high of 36:1. In this lighting situation black level was very good, one of the top four, and showing black levels almost identical to the SI Black Diamond and Zero Edge Slate.

The Firehawk did not do as well once ambient light from the ceiling floods was turned on. Contrast fell to 12:1, on par with the Da-lite Parallax and DNP Supernova, and just edging out the Draper MS1000X at 11:1, the lowest reading in the group. Relatively speaking, the Firehawk is better at defeating side light that light from above.

It registered a viewing angle of 64 degrees, close to its rating of 70. Again, this is middle of the pack -- it provides a much wider viewing angle than some of the competing screens which measure as low as 32 degrees, but there are four in the group that have extremely wide half gain angles and may be more suitable for applications where good visibility from the sides is required.

The Firehawk G4 came in first place in the vertical half gain category, measuring 40 degrees. The Draper MS1000X was almost as good at 35 degrees, but the other nine screens in this review were much more restricted, with vertical half gains between 15 and 26 degrees. Using the Firehawk, one has much more latitude in the vertical placement of the projector without worrying about a compromise of brightness or uniformity.

As far as visible texture and graininess are concerned, the Firehawk was on par with the Black Diamond and other screens in the "modest texture" group. Texture is largely invisible when the camera is not panning, but can become noticeable once it pans across subject matter with no texture of its own to mask the artifact.

The FireHawk G4 comes with simple assembly instructions, but putting it together is so simple that you probably won't need them. The screen material attaches to the frame with snaps which are already fixed in place on the frame and screen material, so you just match them up and click them into place. Of all the screens in this review that don't come preassembled, this one is the easiest to put together.

Stewart first introduced the Firehawk long before "ambient light rejection" screens were a thing. Historically it has been used to deepen black levels and improve contrast on digital projectors that never had the contrast and depth of CRTs, and it continues to serve that purpose very well. This screen belongs in a home theater setting with low levels of ambient light. It will certainly improve image contrast in a modestly-lit room where there may be a low-wattage side lamp, and where there are lighter colored walls, drapes, and furnishings that will produce low levels of reflected ambient light. This type of room is common for many who want to have a home theater experience that is mostly dark, but don't want to go to the extremes of blacking out the room as if it were a commercial movie theater.

However, the test environment we used for this evaluation had much brighter ambient light conditions than a darkened "lights off" multipurpose living room would have. In this high level of light some of the competing ALR screens in this review showed higher overall contrast and better results. In the end, the right ALR screen for you depends entirely on the ambient light conditions you are dealing with, and what viewing angles you need to accommodate.


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

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
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

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
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

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
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

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
I'd also like to see the Elite Cinegray 5D does in the tests.

Posted Mar 17, 2016 4:22 AM

By Mishari

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
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

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
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

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
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

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
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

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
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

Post a Comment Alert Moderator
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.

Post a comment

Commenting on this article is easy and does not require any registration. Your email address is necessary for you to activate your comment once it has been submitted. It will not be shown to other site viewers. ProjectorCentral reserves the right to remove any comment at any time for any reason. Foul language is not permitted, nor are personal attacks. No HTML allowed. All comments should remain on topic.

Name:

Email Address:(used only to confirm your comment)

Your Comment:

(Enter the numbers as they appear to the left)