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Elite Screens Aeon CLR UST Screen Review

Elite Screens Aeon CLR UST Screen Review

by Michael P. Hamilton on August 28, 2019  |  ProjectorCentral.com  |  Subscribe

Elite-AeonCLR_wDownLights

ELITE SCREENS AEON CLR ULTRA SHORT THROW SCREEN PROs

  • Innovative, multi-layer advanced optical filtering effectively absorbs 95% of overhead ambient light, preventing screen washout in lifestyle lighting conditions.
  • Provides highly accurate measured and observable performance.
  • Premium technology competitively priced with conventional projection screens.
  • Screen material compactly rolls into a small diameter for easy shipping and handling.

ELITE SCREENS AEON CLR ULTRA SHORT THROW SCREEN CONs

  • Not a complete panacea to all ambient light conditions.
  • Layered surface technology more prone to incidental damage than conventional screen materials.

OUR TAKE ON THE ELITE SCREENS AEON CLR ULTRA SHORT THROW

The Aeon CLR possesses all the required refinements for accurate image fidelity in the growing ultra short throw projection market, and does so at an exceptionally affordable price.


Garden Grove, CA-based Elite Screens maintains a presence in the global projection screen market with product design targeting cinema-quality performance at enthusiast-friendly pricing. On the other hand, Elite ProAV, their companion division for the commercial market, focuses on leading-edge engineering that's less tethered to cost constraints. But the company believes in sharing the wealth inter-divisionally, which has enabled their serriform optical filter surface lens microstructure technology to find its way down into the Aeon CLR (Ceiling Light Rejecting) series of screens designed for the growing segment of ultra short throw (UST) projectors.

UST projectors gained prominence as a consumer category nearly a dozen years ago almost exclusively in the Pacific Rim, where space limitations make traditional home theater projection a challenge. Here in the U.S., the most popular application for UST projectors these days is classroom and institutional use, though a number of 4K models geared specifically for the home theater segment have reached market or are expected to this year. Hisense, with its Laser TV series, has led the home UST charge, but LG recently joined the fray, and Optoma, ViewSonic, and start-up VAVA are all slated to release their own 4K UST entertainment centers this year that include on-board audio and internet streaming. Merely add a screen of 100- or 120-inches diagonal to these models, and you're good to go.

This is where ambient-light rejecting (ALR) UST screens come in. As with any two-piece projection arrangement, contending with ambient light is paramount, but especially so if you intend to use said projector as a replacement for your day-to-day TV. Ultra short throw doesn't necessarily present intrinsic issues with ambient light compared to a machine parked across the room—both fall prey to any stray lumens coming from a source other than the projector. However, there are different types of screens to manage each application.

A classic long-throw, ceiling-mounted projector relies on the screen to reflect light at an incident angle, much like the way a billiard ball banks off a table bumper in a direction opposite the angle of approach. But, that's not what you want for a UST projector/screen combination. With a UST projector resting on a counter, light rises vertically toward the screen at a steeply pronounced angle, but should ideally be sharply re-directed to the viewing position and not incidentally shower the ceiling. (I have also heard of installations where a UST projector has been ceiling mounted and the screen flipped to allow the image to be correctly steered at the viewing position. For this alternative application, care is required to ensure no overhead ambient light is present during viewing, as the screen can't distinguish between that and the intended projection light.)

Elite-Aeon-CLR-Diagram
The above diagram, and cross-section below, illustrate how the sawtooth-like optical structure of the StarBright CLR material absorbs overhead light into the screen but reflects UST light from below back to viewers.

Aeon-CLR-Serriform-Cross-section-400

Elite's Aeon CLR design positions microscopic optical filters to "steer" projected light in an optimal path aimed at the viewer, yet the positional "pitch" of these filters also thwarts light from above (when in the more common countertop placement) to keep it from washing out the image. Magical engineering of this sort requires quite a research facility. My yet to be answered question: Does the address contain the name Hogwarts?

Construction & Set Up

The Aeon CLR comes in 90-, 100-, and 120-inch diagonal sizes with a fixed, fine-bezel frame. Electric motorized versions utilizing the same StarBright CLR material are on the way in both standard wall/ceiling and floor-rising models. My 100-inch sample, with a street price of $1,249, arrived in a rather compact (compared to most other screens I've taken into my lab), Fed-Ex shippable box. The StarBright material is stiffer than traditional vinyl or woven screens but remains pliable enough in the 100-inch size to be rolled into a relatively small 4- to 5-inch diameter. As readers may know, some manufacturers' ALR screen materials are of a thickness and rigidity requiring them to be packaged and shipped fully assembled. Elite's rollable material eliminates the possibility that a pre-assembled screen may not navigate tight quarters en route to the destination wall.

The supplied instructions are sufficiently detailed, though it is strongly suggested to have a helper; four hands are more effective for the spring-tensioned assembly. Additionally, a video on the Elite Screens website illustrates the construction in precise, step-by-step fashion. Having assembled dozens of screens in my years, I took a deep breath and proceeded, undaunted.

All pieces and sub-components are safely and logically packed, and everything necessary to construct and affix the screen to a wall are included, even a rubber mallet and Phillips screwdriver. The sub-frame consists of solid, extruded aluminum that accepts joining brackets at each corner and at the center of the longer top and bottom two-piece spans. Screws hold everything in place.

Elite-AeonCLR-EpsonLS100
Undoctored photo of the Aeon CLR with an image from the Epson LS100 in natural light.

Once the sub-frame is assembled, the screen material is laid out with the reflective surface facing down, and the sub-frame is positioned equidistant from all four sides to begin the process of utilizing tensioning springs to affix screen to frame, in loop and grommet fashion. Elite provides two pairs of gloves plus a large section of fabric to place on the floor, enabling a clean environment on which to work while preventing damage to the delicate screen material. The screen is clearly marked to directionally identify the top, which is absolutely critical for correct performance. (In the event of a ceiling-mounted UST projector, the screen would obviously be flipped.) Although all screen materials should be treated gently whether off or on the wall, it should be noted that the microstructures in a screen like this are more sensitive than traditional materials to rough handling or anything that might scrape the surface, so care should be taken.

You attach the tensioning springs to the frame while using a supplied "hook-shaped" tool to pull and guide each spring to an associating grommet. Having a second pair of hands speeds the job and allows the screen to be pulled from opposite sides for easier centering in the frame, though I effectively managed it alone. Upon completion, the screen was taut, wrinkle free, and with the frame precisely centered within the material. When that process is finished, the sub-frame is covered with black, 0.5-inch bezel trim pieces, joined in similar fashion as the frame. This shrouds the screen's outer perimeter, with the resulting look akin to a large flat-panel television.

An LED backlight kit is included as a standard accessory. While carefully calibrated backlights are found in nearly every grading suite throughout Hollywood, practically speaking, projection screen-sized images coupled with consumer light output levels negate the need for a backlight, though it may provide a pleasing atmospheric effect. I chose not to install the backlight on my review sample.

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.

Elite-Aeon-CLR-matte-white-comparison-800
This composite image from two undoctored photos shows a direct comparison of the same UST image in the same lighting conditions on a matte white screen (left) and the Aeon CLR.

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.

Elite-AeonCLR-TV-Comparison
An undoctored image from a 50-inch TV and 100-inch Aeon CLR mated with an Epson LS100 in ambient light.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Elite Screen Aeon CLR Measurements

Measurements for color and brightness uniformity were taken at 9 points across the screen, with the meter always perpendicular to the screen. A crosshatch pattern was used to line up to the desired measurement point, followed by a full field, 100% White pattern for the measurement. This assures repeatability as well as consistency across the screen.

Color accuracy for the Elite was measured by assessing how close the white point/color temperature in each sector of the screen came to the D65 reference used by mastering studios. That point is defined on a CIE color chart by the x-axis position at 0.3127 and the y-axis position of 0.3290. Measurements taken for the Aeon CLR after calibrating the LS100 showed a maximum color uniformity error for the x axis of 0.004 across the screen (from 0.313 at Center Top to 0.309 at Left Bottom and Right Bottom. For the y axis, the maximum error was 0.003, with the Top Left at 0.330 and the Bottom Right at 0.327. These are considered well below the "Just Noticeable Difference" level for an observer described as "trained" (compared to a casual observer).

Brightness uniformity was not nearly as tight across multiple points of the screen. At Center, the Aeon CLR measured its maximum brightness of 30.8 ft-L, and it dipped by 11.8 ft-L to the least-bright measurement of 18.9 ft, taken at the bottom-left. As described in the review, these deltas were likely attributable to the steep angle of the projected light and possibly the projector rather than any inconsistency in the screen surface. See the review for more detail.

Elite Screens Aeon CLR Brightness Uniformity
(Foot-Lamberts)

Elite Aeon CLR/
Epson LS100
Elite Aeon CLR/
Long-Throw Projector
Matte White Screen/
Epson LS100
Top-Left 19.64 6.24 11.40
Top-Center 25.09 6.40 18.54
Top-Right 20.67 6.29 12.13
Middle-Left 24.69 6.51 16.64
Middle-Center 30.78 6.91 26.84
Middle-Right 25.12 6.54 17.38
Bottom-Left 18.96 6.28 12.77
Bottom-Center 24.93 6.43 44.56
Bottom-Right 20.21 6.26 13.82

Elite Screens Aeon CLR Color Uniformity
(with Epson LS100)

x axis (x target: 0.313) y axis (y target: 0.329)
Top-Left 0.310 0.330
Top-Center 0.313 0.329
Top-Right 0.311 0.329
Middle-Left 0.309 0.328
Middle-Center 0.312 0.329
Middle-Right 0.309 0.329
Bottom-Left 0.309 0.328
Bottom-Center 0.312 0.328
Bottom-Right 0.309 0.328
(09/20/19 - 04:00 PM PST)
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