While home theater and home video projectors get brighter every year, ambient light is still the main reason many people cite for why they cannot put a projector in their home. Ambient light washes out a projector's black levels, obscuring shadow detail and compressing dynamic range -- both of which are vital for good video.
The new Draper XS850E fabric is an ambient light rejection screen material for front projectors that helps to preserve a projector's image fidelity in ambient light. By only selectively reflecting the projector's light back towards the audience, the XS850E reduces the negative effects of ambient light on projector black levels. Light from sources above or to the sides of the screen are rejected (absorbed) rather than reflected, making ambient light rejection screens like the XS850E the best way to improve black levels in ambient light conditions. A 100" Onyx screen with Veltex coating and XS850E fabric has a suggested retail price of $2,717.
The Viewing Experience
Draper sent us the XS850E in an Onyx frame, which is a fixed-frame aluminum screen for wall-mount use. The Onyx frame has a 4" wide black aluminum border around the image area that can be optionally enhanced with Draper's Veltex velvet material. Our test sample included the Veltex material, which absorbed any stray light falling outside of the screen's imaging area.
The Draper XS850E is built for ambient light, but we initially set it up in a darkened theater environment. This allowed us to compare it against our usual screen, a Stewart Studiotek 100. We have included images below which are illustrative of the type of differences you can expect, though they are imperfect reproductions that do not fully capture the contrast and detail present in the actual projected image.
In the dark, the XS850E's 0.85-gain surface reflects less light than the Studiotek 100's 1.0-gain, making it appear less bright than the white screen. The XS850E fabric also has a narrower viewing angle than the Studiotek 100, but this is both normal and expected; the ST100 is a lambertian reflector, so it has no half-gain angle and appears equally bright from all angles. Compared to the Studiotek 100, the XS850E has slightly deeper blacks in addition to the dimmer highlights and overall darker picture. Color is shifted towards blue slightly, and there is no significant difference in clarity of detail.
Left: Draper Onyx/XS850E, Right: Stewart Studiotek 100. Lights off.
Turn the lights on, and everything changes. Suddenly, the Studiotek 100's black level shoots up due to ambient light. The deepest shadow detail is lost, as well. Color shifts towards yellow, the predominant color of indoor lighting. Meanwhile, the projected image on the XS850E fabric changes as well, but not nearly as much. Black levels rise slightly, though shadow detail is maintained much better than on the white screen. And in response to the largely yellow ambient light, white balance shifts away from blue and back towards a more neutral tone.
Left: Draper Onyx/XS850E, Right: Stewart Studiotek 100. Lights on.
Without the lights on, there would be little reason to choose the XS850E over the Studiotek 100. With the lights on, there would be little reason to choose the ST100 over the XS850E. It all comes down to application.