What constitutes a perfect home theater projection screen? In our view, a perfect screen is one that reflects the projected image back just as it comes from the projector, without adding any hint of visible artifacts or interpretive nuances. It is spectrally neutral and imparts no color shifts to the image. It has no significant gain, such that it has the widest diffusion of light possible with no hotspotting. It has a wide viewing angle, so that it looks almost as bright when viewed at an oblique angle as it does when viewed head on. It has no light loss due to blow-through which results in a dimmer picture than the projector is capable of delivering. But most importantly, a perfect projection screen is an invisible projection screen. All you see is the pure, uncompromised picture as it is created by the projector, with no indication that the screen is even there.
By this definition, the new JKP Affinity HD Screen from Da-lite Screen Company is as close to a perfect home theater projection screen as we have ever seen. It is touted as a "high definition" screen. What is that, you wonder? Well, the idea is that the material surface and optical coatings on conventional screens are grainy enough to compromise the integrity of detail on a 1080p HD image projected from a native 1080p projector. In theory, a screen with an exceptionally smooth surface will show better results. And in fact, the surface of the JKP Affinity is remarkably smooth. Run your fingertips over the surface of a Stewart Grayhawk RS, and it feels like very fine-grained sandpaper. Do the same on the Affinity and it feels smooth as a baby's bottom.
Okay, so the tactile difference is obvious. But does it really make a difference in the picture? To find out we set up the JKP Affinity against the Grayhawk side by side, and then fired up the Mitsubishi HC6500, the sharpest 1080p projector we have on hand. Before we get into the results, a couple of comments on these two screens. Both have a gain rating of 0.9, both have a very wide viewing angle, and both are gray screens. However, the JKP Affinity is a very light gray, whereas the Grayhawk is a light to moderate gray, with a noticeably darker surface. Thus, in any given situation, the Grayhawk will produce a somewhat blacker black, and also a somewhat dimmer picture.
But it is not black level or brightness we are most concerned with here, but rather image sharpness and detail. Is there anything to this claim of a screen being an HD screen? Since the Grayhawk has long been one of our favorite screens, we were eager to see what the JKP Affinity would look like up against it.
The results of the test were in fact a revelation, but not in a way we expected. We were initially looking for obvious improvements in image sharpness that would warrant the hype and the premium price. Though there were some scenes in which certain details appeared very slightly sharper, whiskers in a beard in a close up for example, there was certainly no significant difference in apparent image sharpness that would justify calling the JKP Affinity an HD screen and the Grayhawk a non HD screen.
However, with further viewing a separate phenomenon became apparent. The Affinity looked more "natural" in many scenes...the image was simply smoother and more real. There was a purity in the Affinity's image that the Grayhawk couldn't quite match. In comparison, we began to notice a very subtle grainy texture in the Grayhawk that we had never noticed before. And in some scenes the optical coating on the Grayhawk produced an occasional sparkle that we'd never paid much attention to. The bottom line is that there were subtle artifacts clearly present on the Grayhawk that were entirely absent on the JKP Affinity.
As odd as it may sound, the Grayhawk image began to look very slightly digital, whereas the JKP Affinity image looked more like continuous pristine analog. Thus, while there was not the dramatic improvement in image sharpness that we had set out to look for, there was definitely a boost in what we'd call apparent image reality. And this became more and more evident as we watched the two side by side over a period of time. This elusive quality of image reality that the JKP Affinity delivers is something you can gain a great appreciation for in a hurry, once you've seen it. And it does indeed justify the use of the phrase high definition when it comes to describing this screen.
Another noteworthy attribute of the JKP Affinity and Grayhawk screens is in their light diffusion properties. In practical terms, the question is how bright does the screen look when viewed at an oblique angle? Every screen is at it brightest when viewed head on. Technically, the amount of light you see when standing directly in front and center of any screen is referred to as "Peak Gain at Zero Degrees Axis." As you move to the side, the picture will begin to dim. On a high gain screen it dims rapidly as you move away from center, and on a low gain or no gain screen it dims more slowly.
As you move to the side, you will eventually get to a position at which the screen image appears half as bright as it did when you were at Zero Degrees Axis, or center position. The angle at which the image appears half as bright is known as the "Half Gain Viewing Angle." And in an ideal world, the Half Gain Viewing Angle is as wide as possible. That is because you want all of the viewers in your home theater to see the same picture in the same way no matter at what angle they are viewing the screen.
The Half Gain Viewing Angle of the JKP Affinity is ridiculously wide, to the point we were doubting whether our light meter was working. We pulled out a different meter and got the same results. The Half Gain Angle reading on our test sample was a whopping 78 degrees. (The spec is 70 degrees, but we were seeing more than that.) In practical terms, this means you can view the JKP Affinity from way off center axis, and you will perceive it as being almost as bright as if you were at dead center. This is remarkable performance. By comparison, the Grayhawk does an excellent job with this as well. We measured it a still excellent 68 degrees, but the JKP Affinity had an apparent edge.
When looking at screens, the spectral response is always a key factor. However, these two screens are superb in this regard. From a color accuracy perspective, there appeared to be no difference between the two. Both were outstanding, and color tones looked virtually identical between them. Neither has a competitive advantage over the other as far as color is concerned.
Da-lite produced this screen in collaboration with video technology consultant Joe Kane (JKP stands for Joe Kane Productions). Our sample arrived last week, and it only took about 30 minutes to pull it out of the box, bolt together the frame and snap the fabric into place. Assembly requires a little elbow grease, but you end up with a taut screen surface in a solid frame. The frame itself is 3.12" wide and wrapped in black, light-absorbing fabric. It is nicely beveled, with the screen surface inset from the face of the frame by 1.5".
All things considered, the JKP Affinity is a magnificent home theater screen. It is premium priced relative to Da-lite's other cinema home theater screen products, and more comparably priced with Stewart's classic home theater offerings. But it is well worth the money if you are seeking the best 1080p projection system you can get. If you want one, you'll need to consult your local CEDIA dealer, as the product is not sold online, nor is it available directly from Da-lite.
Despite the fact that the Affinity is technically a gray screen, it is very light gray. Thus, it is not a "high contrast" screen in the same way that other darker gray screens are. For best results, it should be used in a room that is entirely light controlled.
Viewing the JKP Affinity up close for the first time has been a remarkable and surprising experience. It takes the purity of a 1080p image to a new and unexpected level. It certainly exceeded our expectations, and we enthusiastically give it our highest honor, the Editor's Choice Award.
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