Choosing the Right Projection Screen Construction

Courtesy of Draper, Inc.

Today's projection screen isn't just the bed sheet on a tripod stand that you might see in a comic strip. When planning an AV system, you have a lot of projection screen options—and every one of them is much better than a bed sheet! Here are a few choices you may face.

Portable vs. permanent

First, you need to decide whether the screen is to be portable or permanently installed.

Portable screens are best when the presenter moves from one location to another. Trainers, sales reps, and entertainers may fall into this category. Portable screens are also used in facilities where the screen may need to be moved from room to room, or where installing the screen is not practical due to the design of the room. The use of a pool of AV equipment to serve a number of rooms is common in small schools, hotels and conference centers.

Permanently installed screens often save time and money when presentations will be made in a room on a regular basis. A complete AV system is designed to fit the room and presentation needs - ready to use whenever it is needed.

Portable Screens

There are 3 common types of portable screens.

* The tripod screen is a traditional small portable screen (sizes through 8' wide).

* Contemporary ultra-portable screens are retractable into a tubular case. These come in sizes similar to tripod screens. The tubular case can sit on the floor or table, and the surface pulls out to an extended height, so legs are not required. This newer design is lighter, easier to transport and has fewer moving parts.

* Folding screens are available in a large range of sizes, and are often used in large venues.

Permanent screens: Fixed or retractable?

If you choose to install your screen, the next decision you need to make is whether it is to be fixed in place (permanently tensioned), or retractable.

Permanently tensioned screens are commonly used when a room is dedicated to use for presentations, whether it be a home cinema, a corporate presentation room, or a theatre.

Retractable (or operable) screens are usually rolled into a case when not in use. It's easy to use the room for multiple purposes. In some cases, the screen and other presentation equipment are completely hidden from view; in others, the equipment is visible but out of the way. In a home setting, a retractable screen is often chosen for a home theatre that does double duty as a living room, bedroom or den.

Fixed Screens

Permanently tensioned screens are usually stretched onto a frame, and most have a black border to frame the image. Many use snaps for attachment; the snaps are visible on some models and hidden on others. The most attractive fixed screens use a continuous extrusion as an alternative to snaps, securing the screen more smoothly without the pull points required by snaps.

Retractable screens: Motorized or manual?

You've chosen a roller-operated screen. How should that roller be operated? Three options are available:

* Motorized, or electrically operated

* Traditional spring-roller operated (or "pull-down" type)

* Manual screens without spring roller

A motorized screen is extremely convenient to use. It can be integrated with a master control system, or operated with its own remote or wall switch from wherever needed. Most motorized screens are hard-wired, so an electrician may be required for installation. For this reason, it's usually easier to install a motorized screen when a room is being built or renovated than to add one to a finished room. Motorized screens are more expensive than manually operated screens.

Manual spring-roller screens are common in classrooms, so they are familiar to almost everyone. They are available in sizes through about 12' x 12', but in the largest sizes a pole is usually needed to reach and operate them. This is the least expensive type of projection screen.

Manual screens are also available in a couple of other configurations. Rope and pulley operation is available for very large sizes. And crank-operated screens offer the benefits of a tab tensioning system with the lower cost and easy installation of manual operation.

Another choice: Tab-tensioned or free hanging?

Motorized screens are available with either a tab-tensioned viewing surface or a free hanging surface. Most manual screens have free-hanging viewing surfaces, with the exception of certain crank-operated manual screens which are tab-tensioned.

Tab-tensioned viewing surfaces are constructed of unsupported vinyl, and the tab tensioning system maintains a perfectly flat viewing surface for the best possible image quality.

Free hanging viewing surfaces are usually backed with fiberglass, and rely on the weight of the viewing surface and bottom dowel to maintain suitable flatness.

We provide more detailed information on these types of viewing surfaces in our article, Front Projection Screens - Viewing Surfaces.

A third choice: Surface mounted or recessed?

Both motorized and manual projection screens are available for mounting on the wall or ceiling, or recessed in the ceiling. Ceiling-recessed installation is common for motorized screens; wall/ceiling mounting dominates the market for manually operated screens.

Ceiling-recessed screens are often chosen for boardrooms, conference rooms and even living rooms where the screen sometimes needs to be out of sight and out of mind. Recessing the screen is a big plus in rooms with low ceilings, as the top of the image can be flush with the ceiling—not several inches lower. However, it is necessary to cut an opening in the ceiling—a significant project if the ceiling is already complete.

Screens are usually mounted on the wall or ceiling when they're being added to a finished room, or when the budget is tight. Different case styles are available, including traditional steel housings (commonly seen in classrooms), contemporary aluminum extrusions, and elegant solid hardwood cases that harmonize with fine furnishings.