Da-lite is a leading supplier of screens for both consumer and commercial applications. They have developed a significant product line related to home theater that includes not only a variety of screen fabrics, but a wide array of mounting and presentation systems including both two-way and four-way electric masking systems.

For this review Da-lite submitted their Cinema Vision product, rated at 1.3 gain, for the white screen category. For the gray category we received the High Contrast Cinema Vision (HCCV), a gray screen rated at 1.1 gain.

These screens arrive ready to assemble by the consumer, packed in a long cardboard shipping container. The frame consists of four pieces that lock together in just a few minutes. The screen fabric is then unrolled and attached to the frame with snaps. The frame supplied for this review was the Cinema Contour, which features a 45-degree beveled edge 3" in width and comes wrapped with black, light-absorbing fabric. Unlike other snap-on screens in this review, Da-lite incorporates a black vinyl backing on its screen fabrics to prevent light pass through.

Assembly of our evalution unit was quick and easy, and all pieces fit with precision. Packing materials can be stored and reused if the screen needs to be broken down for relocation.

Da-lite occupies the middle range of price as far as screen solutions go. They are notably more expensive than do-it-yourself options, or even the Carada low cost products. But they are significantly below the premium prices of Stewart and Vutec. You can find Da-lite's screens in fixed frame for prices in the range of 30% to 40% below similar size products from Stewart and Vutec.

Therefore, the most frequently asked questions pertaining to Da-lite's products are how good they are relative to the higher priced products. People want to know if the incremental expense is worth it. It is impossible to answer this question objectively, and of all the comparisons in this review this is the most difficult to assess. For the money, Da-lite's offerings are exceptionally good values. They do not quite match the performance of the Stewart products in a number of subtle ways, but for one-third less they are excellent price performers. To the dedicated videophile that wants the best no matter the price, the incremental investment in the Stewart will be well worth it. To the buyer interested in getting the best value rather than the best performance, the Da-lite offers an exceptional value.

The White Screen: Cinema Vision

Though the Cinema Vision and the Studiotek are both white screens rated at 1.3 gain, the Cinema Vision is not as bright. Whereas the Studiotek measured at 130% relative to our standard white board, the Cinema Vision registered 110%. So it is less bright by a factor of about 15%.

Overall the Cinema Vision performs reasonably well in color accuracy. There is a slight greenish bias but it is not of the magnitude of color biases observed on other products in this review. Somewhat more noticeable is the Studiotek's edge in color saturation. This is visible in some scenes and not visible at all in others, but overall there is a richness of color on the Studiotek that is not attributable to the incremental brightness of the image.

Also, the Cinema Vision falls a bit shy of the Studiotek in image resolution. With DVD the difference is quite subtle, and the two screens need to be viewed together simultaneously to become aware of the difference.

Finally, it is apparent that all black frame fabrics are not created equal. The black fabric used by Da-lite on the frame of the Cinema Vision does not absorb light nearly as efficiently as the fabric on the Studiotek. So an overscanned image that is hitting the frame will be more visible on the Cinema Vision.

Overall, from the perspective of brightness, color saturation and resolution, the Studiotek 130 is capable of delivering a more satisfying image than the Cinema Vision. The question is whether it is worth the additional investment. To some buyers it will be and to others it won't. We cannot make that judgement.

The Studiotek is a high performance screen for the dedicated videophile. Those with the videophile bug who are looking for the best possible image regardless of price should opt for the Studiotek over the Cinema Vision. Keep in mind that, while you will most likely upgrade projectors a number of times over the years, your screen is an investment that will last for decades, long after the price you paid for it is forgotten. In our view, the videophile cannot afford not to invest in the best.

On the other hand, the Cinema Vision delivers great value. For standard television, video games, DVDs to be viewed with family and kids, etc, the subtle advantages of the Studiotek over the Cinema Vision are irrelevant. So if you are more interested in a cost-effective home entertainment system without worrying about the subtleties and finesse of high-end imagery, you will be better served by the Cinema Vision.

Low cost alternatives

The best low-budget alternative to the Cinema Vision in this review is the Goo Systems CRT White. If you don't want to do it yourself, you can have it built and it will probably still cost less than the Cinema Vision. The Goo CRT White is comparable in brightness and resolution and delivers more accurate color. The downsides to the Goo solution are that (a) it is a project to put it together, and (b) do-it-yourselfer's will tend to cut corners on the frame. Though the Cinema Vision's frame fabric is not as light-absorbing as the Studiotek, it is substantially better than the wood frame painted black that came with our Goo sample. We strongly encourage folks who are interested in quality image presentation to use a frame of at least 3" in width with black velvet fabric. Though this adds to the expense, the improved visual impact of the image presentation is well worth the effort.

The Carada Classic Cinema White is several hundred dollars less expensive than the Cinema Vision. However the difference in image brightness between the two is significant. Using the Carada instead of the Cinema Vision is equivalent to cutting the lumen output of your projector by over 40%. Basically, in this trade-off you get what you pay for. Given that the screen you choose will be with you a long time, we don't believe the Carada alternative is a good way to save a few hundred dollars.

The Gray Screen: High Contrast Cinema Vision (HCCV)

Da-lite's HCCV is quite a strong performer as well. In terms of brightness of the gray screens in the review, it ranked third behind the brilliant Vutec SilverStar and the Stewart Firehawk. It measured 90% against the standard white board compared to the Firehawk's 115%. The remaining gray screen products from Goo, Draper, and Carada were significantly less bright than the HCCV. Since we found the SilverStar to be unsuitable for home theater on other grounds, the horse race in the gray category came down to the HCCV and the Firehawk.

The Firehawk is brighter than the HCCV by about 25%. Black levels are about the same on both screens, but whites are more brilliant on the Firehawk, giving it better contrast range and color saturation. It has more neutral color while the HCCV has a bias toward a slightly cooler color temperature.

However the Firehawk must be installed with a ceiling mounted projector to get the optimum results from it. If you were to set up in table-top operation, the brightness and contrast advantage of the Firehawk over the HCCV disappears. The Firehawk will also give best results with a longer-throw projector. So much of the question pertaining to relative value of these two screens depends on how you wish to set up your viewing area, and the projector you intend to use it with.

The videophile going for best possible image quality will select the Firehawk and abide by the recommendations to ceiling mount the projector and use a longer throw lens whenever possible. The home entertainment enthusiast who is looking for a practical and quite functional screen, but who is not concerned with the making the effort and investment to create a completely optimized viewing environment will find the HCCV to be the more cost-effective solution.

Low cost alternative

In the gray screen category the best low cost alternative to the HCCV is Goo's Digital Grey Lite (DGL). A screen made with DGL can be had for one-half to one-fourth the price depending on whether you build it yourself or have someone else do it. DGL does not match the performance of the HCCV, but for the money it is a reasonable approximation. Overall the HCCV is brighter by about 20%. It is higher in contrast and has both deeper black levels and brighter whites. Thus it has better color saturation and more overall snap. The DGL has a more neutral color temperature, matching the Firehawk almost perfectly. But its lower brightness, color saturation, and contrast are the penalty you pay for the neutral color. Goo's DGL is a good product for the money, but it is not in the same performance league as the HCCV.

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

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