Screen Review Summary

Evan Powell, June 3, 2004

Digital projectors are evolving as rapidly as computers, getting better and cheaper with every passing year. So if you are a typical home theater enthusiast you will likely upgrade your projector from time to time, and acquire several projectors over your lifetime.

This is not the case with screens. There is no rapid improvement in price/performance going on in the screen industry. Some of the popular screens in this review have been on the market for ten years or more. You will never sense a dire need to upgrade your screen due to obsolescence in the same way that you will with your projector. That means whatever screen you select is likely to be with you for many years.

Therefore there are two basic screen strategies for the true videophile interested in quality home theater. First, if you have the financial resources to get the best, just do it. The screen will last you a lifetime, and you will always feel confident that you made the right decision long after you've forgotten the cost. Based upon this review the best white we can recommend is the Stewart Studiotek 130, and the best gray is the Stewart Firehawk, assuming the installation caveats noted in that commentary.

Second, if you have limited funds now, go for an inexpensive solution that can be temporary. An excellent product for this is the Goo CRT White. You can either do it yourself, or have it built for you, and the cost is nominal relative to the performance. If you need a low budget gray screen the Goo Digital Grey Lite will give you quite an acceptable image for the low investment. Either of these screens can serve you quite well for the present, and if you feel like upgrading to a Stewart product sometime in the future you can do so without worrying that a huge investment was lost.

Of course, you may not have the videophile bug at all. If you are proud to own a Saturn rather than a Mercedes and want a solid practical home entertainment screen without all the expensive frills, your decision is a bit different. You aren't really concerned with a dark theater and perfect video, but rather you want some low lights on and a good family entertainment solution. If so, the Da-lite High Contrast CinemaVision stands out as an exceptional value for this type of theater need. It delivers a great picture that is notably better than the Goo Digital Grey Lite, but not at the expense of the premium screens. And you can save some extra money by going with a standard frame rather than the wider deluxe version.

If you are a buyer who seeks practical value over perfection and have a darker light-controlled environment, the Da-lite Cinema Vision white screen is a solid performer for its price as well. The Goo CRT White can, for all practical purposes, match its image performance. But it can't match its easy assembly and installation, and it will be difficult for most folks to build a frame that approaches the elegance of Da-lite's Cinema Contour beveled frame in their garage.

Overall the fascinating conclusion to us was that the same vendors had winning products in both white and gray categories. Stewart products were simply the best performing home theater screens bar none in both the white and gray groups. Goo Systems offers strong solutions for the DIY audience, and Goo's products were both perfectly matched to Stewart's in terms of color accuracy. Finally, Da-lite's offerings were two excellent price/performers that will appeal to those who don't want to suffer the price of the Stewart or the construction nuisance and home-made look of the Goo.

All of these recommendations are filtered through our own experience and subjective judgments regarding quality and value. No doubt others will have different opinions, and as the man once said, it is difference of opinion that makes horse races. We are not, nor would we ever want to be, the last word on this subject. Though we did not feel that the submissions from Draper, Vutec, and Carada showed quite as well in this review, each of these companies has a large contingent of enthusiastic followers who will take spirited umbrage at our conclusions. This is as it should be. Home theater is an art form as much as it is a technological creation. And as in all things artistic, tastes and opinions can vary greatly.

Commentary

Do projector screens really differ?
Should I choose White or Gray?
What is screen gain?

Reviews (vendors in descending order of retail price)

Relative Brightness of Projection Screens
Vutec Corporation
Stewart Filmscreen
Draper, Inc.
Da-lite Screen Company
Carada, Inc.
Goo Systems, Inc.

Summary