How to buy a screen

Evan Powell, March 16, 2000
Review Contents

If you intend to view 4:3 material, whether it be regular television programming, pan-and-scan tapes and DVDs, or computer generated data and graphics, you will get the maximum performance out of a native 4:3 projector by using and filling a 4:3 screen.

You have the option, of course, to install a 16:9 screen and set up the projector to fill it when it is displaying 16:9 material. However, when you switch to a 4:3 source, the projected image will typically overshoot the screen at the top and bottom. If set up within the range of the zoom lens, the zoom can be extended to shrink the 4:3 image down to where it fits within the top and bottom of the screen. You will then have black bars on the sides, and a full 4:3 image in the middle.

The problem here is that 4:3 is the highest resolution format that a 4:3 projector can produce. So you might as well set it up to get the biggest image in this format. When switching to 16:9 source material, since the projector masks part of the LCD or DLP display itself, it is most efficient to allow the image to be created with black bars at the top and bottom of the image on your 4:3 screen.

NOTE: There are a few projectors on the market that claim to have both 4:3 and 16:9 native formats. Unlike the standard 4:3 projectors that project the same image width in both 4:3 and 16:9, these will throw a wider 16:9 image. In order to achieve this effect, they artificially reduce the pixel array and resolution of the 4:3 image, thus making the 16:9 image look wider by comparison. Though the image is slightly wider, it is an inefficient use of the light engine in the projector.

For projectors that behave like this, the foregoing screen discussion does not apply, since the resolution of the 4:3 format has already been compromised internally in the projector. Therefore, for these projectors, matching them up with a 16:9 screen makes more sense.


After surfing around a bit on the websites of Da-lite, Draper, Stewart, and VUTEC, you can get a good idea of the mounting systems available, and the best one for your purposes. You can also get a good idea of whether your screen needs to be (a) low gain or high gain, (b) acoustically transparent, and (c) easy to clean. Also, decide on your desired screen width and aspect ratio.

Once you know what you want, you can shop without wasting any time. One quick way to do this is to contact the dealers that advertise on this site, ask them which screen manufacturers they carry, and request quotes from them by phone. Or you may contact the manufacturers through their websites and ask them for a dealer in your area.

Buying the right screen and mount for the job takes a little research, but it is well worth the effort. We hope this guide will save you time, and help you find the best product solution!

Review Contents: Screen Mounting Screen Selection Care and Considerations More on Aspect Ratio