Elite Screens Aeon CLR UST Screen Review
Elite Aeon CLR Performance
I evaluated the Aeon CLR with a combination of measurements and subjective viewing, in both darkness and with controlled ambient light arranged to test the screen's repulsion of light from different directions. The kind folks at Epson supplied a sample of their Home Cinema LS100 ultra short throw laser projector, a 1080p model but one adapted for home environments, for the evaluations. For UST systems, the projector typically sets upon or inside a unit of furniture, and screen placement is profoundly limited by the projector's throw ratio, lens focal length, and vertical offset. Epson provides very detailed information to ensure the screen lands correctly and, after verifying my math, I had the Aeon CLR perfectly situated.
Aeon's StarBright CLR material is crafted to primarily reject—or more appropriately, absorb—ninety five percent of light emanating from sources positioned above the screen. Another Elite product I reviewed previously, the ISF-certified Prime Vision DarkStar 9, is designed to reject ambient light from any non-perpendicular direction. But with StarBright CLR it's expected that projected light will originate from below and the angular positioning of the optical lens structure redirects that light toward the viewer. By default, some ambient light coming from sources to the immediate right or left of the screen will also be absorbed, but be cautioned this is not license for an "anything goes" illuminated environment.
Measurements. Elite specifies Aeon as having a 180-degree viewing angle partnered with a contrast enhancement 100 times that of standard matte white screens. A minimal, 0.6 screen gain aids in Starbright's light-rejection properties. Measurements taken for the Aeon CLR in a dark room, using a full-frame white test pattern from the calibrated LS100, showed near-perfect color uniformity across the nine points I measured on an imaginary tic-tac-toe grid. However, brightness uniformity at these same nine measurement points revealed significant point-to-point variability. Maximum light output was 30.8 foot-Lamberts (ft-L) at screen center as measured by a Minolta CS-200 colorimeter (perpendicular to all points, not angled and aimed), but the light fall-off at the screen corners was approximately 10 to 12 ft-L. (You can find a full reporting of measurements in the appendix attached to this review.)
I eventually isolated this drop-off to the projector (and perhaps the general nature of UST projection) rather than the screen with additional tests in which I also measured the Epson UST projected onto an available matte white, 1.0 reference-quality screen.
Not surprisingly, the vertical center-of-screen measurements (top, middle and bottom) revealed a large disparity between the UST screen and this more conventional screen material. On the matte white screen, the point closest to the lens—that is, the center-bottom measurement—was 44.5 ft-L, with prominent "hot spotting" visible at that measurement point. Moving up to screen center, the light dropped to 26.8 ftL, and at center-top, it measured 18.5 ftL, clearly demonstrating that the projector itself was tapering off the brightness as the projected light "laddered" up the screen. The farther the light travelled from the lens, the less it was reflected back at the viewer and otherwise caromed off the screen and onto the ceiling. The corner measurements also fell off from that brightest measurement in a manner that closely paralleled (percentage wise) what I saw with the Epson on the Aeon CLR.
Interestingly, the data differed considerably on the Aeon CLR, where the screen center was brightest and the top and bottom feathered off 17 and 20 percent, respectively.
I then continued my experiment by trying the Aeon CLR with a traditional long-throw projector situated across the room, a 3-chip DLP known for capable light output with excellent uniformity. As the full-white field test pattern came up, the Aeon CLR's light absorbing properties quickly exhibited their prowess. With the projected light source now coming from across the room rather than from down below, the light output from the screen was markedly suppressed. Perceptually, however, the brightness uniformity across the screen was immediately impressive and detectable.
Measurements revealed that in this arrangement, the Aeon CLR showed just 6.91 ft-L at its brightest spot at center screen, but varied only to a minimum of 6.24 ft-L at its lowest reading at the right top corner. All nine points were between those two extremes. The modest extra brightness at the center is consistent with the variation you'd get with any good front projection system on a uniform matte white screen. Furthermore, a brightness PLUGE pattern, though dim, showed all steps as anticipated, indicating to me that the Aeon CLR does not restrict contrast.
The end result of this testing, then, demonstrates that the screen delivers its light reduction (and transmission) consistently across its surface, and is free from any anomalies that might otherwise be inferred in the measurements section. Any inconsistencies can be attributed to the projection source, and most likely to the design tradeoffs inherent in UST projectors.
Viewing Tests. With the LS100 and Aeon CLR properly reunited and the projector setting 26 inches away from the 87-inch wide screen, I settled in for subjective viewing. I amassed my initial hours sampling broadcast television, streamed from Hulu via an Apple TV. Epson's Home Cinema LS100 has been previously reviewed by ProjectorCentral, so no need to elaborate on specifics.
In the context of equating the Aeon CLR / LS100 combo to a sizeable LCD or OLED panel, in casual viewing I found the pairing produced a seductively large, copiously vibrant, and detailed image that could convince you to repurpose your flat-panel to a secondary location in exchange for a few additional square feet of visual bliss. The Aeon CLR held its own quite solidly through varying degrees of daytime viewing, or while artificial light prevailed. Instances with drapes open and the slats of horizontal blinds diffusing light in the direction of the ceiling (but not directly upon the screen surface) somewhat limited contrast as expected, with black portions of the image floating up to dark gray. As previously mentioned, Aeon CLR will redirect light from below the screen toward the viewing position, but not absorb or diffuse it. Light sourced from above the screen is absorbed. On the other hand, any ambient light coming in from the same horizontal plane as the screen—that is, left or right of it—will arm wrestle the light coming from the projector for prominence. However, unlike the shiny surfaces of many flat-panel screens, no semblance of mirror-like reflectivity was visible, and images punched through with an appealing vividness.
Viewing the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix auto race, for example, I found the colors of the various teams' liveries practically leaping off the screen under a brilliant Montreal sky. Equally so with the Stanley Cup finals, as the royal blue of the hometown St. Louis Blues was emblazoned on the Aeon CLR in stark contrast to the Boston Bruins' white, black and gold. I was left with little doubt that, for sports-related programming in either natural sunlight or brightly lit arenas and stadiums, the Aeon CLR delivers an addicting, glare-free, giant-sized image (when ambient light is appropriately addressed). I was drawn into well-illuminated media, and aside from the occasional chromatic artifact that I easily attributed to the Epson's laser light engine, I saw nothing that distracted from the engaging image.
News-oriented programming also presented well; graphics were finely etched and easily read, while skin tones of anchors and panel guests were nicely rendered. Traditional serials were also well revealed by the Aeon CLR/Epson partnership. One show I inexplicably yet faithfully watch, Young Sheldon, appeared to lack nothing out of the ordinary, save perhaps Sheldon's normally lustrous jet-black hair seeming a tad less inky in comparison to my day-to-day OLED display.
So, as a means of delivering sports, news, and passively consumed broadcasting, I found the Aeon CLR to be free of faults, and with an ever-increasing number of UST projectors being introduced for home use, it provides affordable accessibility to a high performance, competitively priced, oversized screen.
Turning to motion picture fare in an elevated-light environment, the Aeon CLR/Epson duo was a bit less satisfying. Detail and color rendition remained exceptional, but the challenges associated with a bright, 4000 lumen laser projector with less than state-of-the-art contrast/black level performance proved limiting. The timeless axiom about what happens when you task a projector to battle daylight was quickly reinforced—an ALR screen like the Aeon CLR can be of immense help in restoring contrast, but there's only so much it can do. As Joel Silver, president and founder of the Imaging Science Foundation, often recounts: "You can't out-gun the sun!"
On a bright, Saturday morning with grandkids visiting, Mary Poppins Returns streamed via iTunes gave me a good feel for the combo's strengths and limitations. Contrast was challenged for some indoor scenes prior to Mary's arrival, or should it be said, re-arrival, as were drab outdoor scenes of overcast London. However, once the movie was in full stride as live-action combined with animation, colors of all hues popped in a captivating manner. Animated costumes in these scenes are amply saturated and the system delivers this to the viewer, with the Aeon CLR's solid color uniformity showing no perceptible signs of color shift as the pastels swirled about the screen. Within the story's "real world" (as opposed to its fantasy sequences), colors remained fully flush without appearing "cartoony," especially the myriad outfits adorned by young and old. The sole demerit was derived from a lack of discernable detail in shadow-laden scenes, though the contrast did improve with ambient light removed. Still, the black level performance delivered by the Epson UST and Elite Aeon pairing was not on par with previous Epson front projectors I have viewed with the Elite Prime Vision DarkStar 9 (including both lamp-based projectors and their first-generation laser, the LS10000).
For some dark room viewing, I turned to HULU and The Looming Tower, the excellent adaptation of Lawrence Wright's identically titled book depicting how the rivalry and inter-agency conflict between the CIA and FBI may have unwittingly contributed to the disastrous success of the attacks on 9/11 (you may arrive at a firmer conclusion should you indulge in the mini-series). I binge-watched the series over the span of a few nights, during which it provided a nice range of content to test the duo's mettle, from bright, outdoor urban scenes to nighttime challenges and a variety of interiors.
I felt the Epson and Elite partnership did its best to cement me into the highly compelling content, though it wasn't immediately apparent how the penalty of less-than-best contrast from the projector affected my connection and ability to be drawn into the story. I suppose I could say the Epson LS100/Aeon CLR duo did what was asked of it, as The Looming Tower had me contemplating quite a few days after if a similar event could be repeated or if the necessary safeguards are fully in place. Nonetheless, the cost of the projector's weakness to my immersion became more readily apparent when I replayed some of the tensest and dramatic moments on my usual reference projection system.
Bottom line: the Epson LS100, and I suspect other UST projectors geared for home use, favors high light output while forfeiting the black level and contrast so deeply sought by hardcore cinephiles. That's not an unreasonable approach for the intended use-case, but prospective buyers should know that a UST projector/UST screen combo, even with an excellent and verified uniform screen like the Aeon CLR, may not fully rise to the enthusiast challenge, even while performing its day-to-day, bright room viewing duties quite impressively.
While any screen review by necessity must report on a "system" comprised of two independent products, my comparisons with a reference matte screen and a reference projector reliably confirmed for me that the Elite Aeon CLR was issue-free—which is about all you can expect a great screen to be. It is quite capable of achieving a level of cinematic aplomb, even for critical viewers, courtesy of excellent brightness and color uniformity, and an ability to ward away softer, meandering light. If you're disappointed, it'll likely be because the projector isn't up to the task, or you're asking it to reject light that is either unreasonably bright or coming from a direction that the Aeon CLR is not designed to reject.
The takeaway, I believe, is that success with a UST projection system for demanding videophiles will depend largely upon the projector employed, along with reasonable expectations. But if you can find a projector good enough (and perhaps we'll find one in the new generation of USTs coming to market), you can count on the fact that Elite's magicians have developed a neutral reflective surface which can deliver a precisely accurate image when given an equally capable light source. And at a very affordable cost, at that. I am unaware of a competing screen implementing filtering technology available for a price remotely near that of Elite Screens' Aeon CLR, making this not only a great value, but also an easy recommendation for any UST system.
|Review Contents:||Introduction, Construction||Performance, Conclusion||Measurements|