While home theater and home video projectors get brighter every year, ambient light is still the main reason many people cite for why they cannot put a projector in their home. Ambient light washes out a projector's black levels, obscuring shadow detail and compressing dynamic range -- both of which are vital for good video.

The new Draper XS850E fabric is an ambient light rejection screen material for front projectors that helps to preserve a projector's image fidelity in ambient light. By only selectively reflecting the projector's light back towards the audience, the XS850E reduces the negative effects of ambient light on projector black levels. Light from sources above or to the sides of the screen are rejected (absorbed) rather than reflected, making ambient light rejection screens like the XS850E the best way to improve black levels in ambient light conditions. A 100" Onyx screen with Veltex coating and XS850E fabric has a suggested retail price of $2,717.

The Viewing Experience

Draper sent us the XS850E in an Onyx frame, which is a fixed-frame aluminum screen for wall-mount use. The Onyx frame has a 4" wide black aluminum border around the image area that can be optionally enhanced with Draper's Veltex velvet material. Our test sample included the Veltex material, which absorbed any stray light falling outside of the screen's imaging area.

The Draper XS850E is built for ambient light, but we initially set it up in a darkened theater environment. This allowed us to compare it against our usual screen, a Stewart Studiotek 100. We have included images below which are illustrative of the type of differences you can expect, though they are imperfect reproductions that do not fully capture the contrast and detail present in the actual projected image.

In the dark, the XS850E's 0.85-gain surface reflects less light than the Studiotek 100's 1.0-gain, making it appear less bright than the white screen. The XS850E fabric also has a narrower viewing angle than the Studiotek 100, but this is both normal and expected; the ST100 is a lambertian reflector, so it has no half-gain angle and appears equally bright from all angles. Compared to the Studiotek 100, the XS850E has slightly deeper blacks in addition to the dimmer highlights and overall darker picture. Color is shifted towards blue slightly, and there is no significant difference in clarity of detail.

Draper XS850E vs Stewart Studiotek 100, lights ff

Left: Draper Onyx/XS850E, Right: Stewart Studiotek 100. Lights off.

Turn the lights on, and everything changes. Suddenly, the Studiotek 100's black level shoots up due to ambient light. The deepest shadow detail is lost, as well. Color shifts towards yellow, the predominant color of indoor lighting. Meanwhile, the projected image on the XS850E fabric changes as well, but not nearly as much. Black levels rise slightly, though shadow detail is maintained much better than on the white screen. And in response to the largely yellow ambient light, white balance shifts away from blue and back towards a more neutral tone.


Left: Draper Onyx/XS850E, Right: Stewart Studiotek 100. Lights on.

Without the lights on, there would be little reason to choose the XS850E over the Studiotek 100. With the lights on, there would be little reason to choose the ST100 over the XS850E. It all comes down to application.

Key Features

Rejects ambient light. The main draw of a screen like the XS850E is its ability to cancel out the effects of ambient light. Judged on this criterion, it is a resounding success. Lights above or to either side of the screen had little to no effect on dynamic range or black level. Light coming from the same direction as the projected image tended to cause a little bit of black washout, but the poorly-directed ambient light did not reflect as completely as the highly focused light coming from the projector. So, even in this worst-case scenario, the XS850E fabric performed better than a white screen.

Higher contrast, deeper black. The XS850E's relatively low 0.85 peak gain gives projected images a deep, inky black level, while the screen's ambient light rejection boosts dynamic range by preserving low-end shadow detail. This contrast boost is not limited to times when there is a lot of ambient light -- the contrast boost was evident even with the lights out.

Wide viewing angle. Screens work by reflecting light back towards the audience, but the mechanics of that reflection can vary. A screen's reflective properties are quantified as gain.

Assuming a projector mounted perpendicular to the horizontal center of the screen, every screen will appear brightest to a viewer seated along that same axis -- centered, and at a right angle to the screen surface. The diagram below illustrates this concept. By measuring a screen's brightness at this position, you obtain what is called peak gain at zero degrees viewing axis or simply peak gain. Peak gain for the XS850E fabric is listed as 0.85, and our in-house testing returned a value of 0.82. Compared to a pure white 1.0-gain screen, the same image on the XS850E will appear 82% as bright when viewed from the ideal position.


A viewer seated along the blue line will see the image at maximum brightness.

Every screen will appear dimmer to a viewer at a wide angle than it does to a viewer sitting dead center. The angle at which the screen appears half as bright as it does in the ideal position is called the half gain viewing angle. We measured a half-gain angle of 78 degrees horizontally and 18 degrees vertically, which matches up fairly well with the specified 85 and 25 degrees H/V listed in the product's specifications. This is excellent performance for a light rejecting screen. In the past, many ambient light rejecting screens suffered from narrow viewing angles, making it difficult to seat any significant number of people comfortably in the ideal viewing area. The XS850E fabric allows viewers to sit in a 156-degree cone while still receiving at least half brightness.

Easy assembly vs. other ALR screens. Ambient light screens aren't like normal flexible screens. While modern ambient light rejection screens are flexible enough to be rolled up and shipped in smaller boxes, they typically have more complicated installation procedures due to their inflexibility compared to conventional screens. Compared to these inflexible screens, the XS850E/Onyx combination is much easier to assemble and mount.

The XS850E screen uses a mounting system wherein semi-flexible plastic rods are inserted into pockets along each edge of the screen. Those rods are used by plastic brackets which stretch the screen to the frame itself, requiring no tools. This is possible because the XS850E material is mounted to a more flexible backing material which will stretch to fit the screen to the frame. The Onyx frame itself does require an allen wrench for assembly, but one is included in the package.

The last ALR screen we reviewed, the Black Diamond II by Screen Innovations, used a rubber band system to attach the screen via holes in the screen material itself. Previous screens have come with a rigid backing, which simplifies installation but makes shipping and handling much more expensive. In comparison to these screens, Draper's Onyx attachment system is much simpler and requires no special tools. And, since the backing material is not used as an imaging surface, you do not need to worry about fingerprints on the material -- a constant concern on other ambient light screens.

Limitations

Low gain. In ambient light, image brightness is always a concern, especially when you want to use your projector as a TV replacement. As such, the XS850E's low 0.85 peak gain makes it more difficult to obtain a sufficiently bright image. If your projector has a brighter image mode (often called Standard, Living Room, or Normal), you might consider using it to boost light output and image brightness. On projectors without this option, the screen's low gain can limit screen size.

Then again, having a large, bright picture on the wall in ambient light while maintaining contrast and black level is impossible without the use of a screen like the Draper XS850E. There are some other ambient light screens that do have higher gain ratings, so those might be an option if your projector is not capable of producing enough light.

Price. At large screen sizes of 80" diagonal and above, the Draper Onyx with XS850E makes good financial sense. It provides a TV-like experience at an image size where equivalent televisions typically cost more than the projector/screen combination. It also allows you to upgrade the "guts" of your display periodically by replacing the projector rather than the whole system. With a 100" diagonal screen priced at $2,717, the total cost including projector can be less than $6,000. Draper can manufacture seamless XS850E fabric to a maximum vertical size of 62.5", allowing for a 16:9 image of about 125" diagonal.

On the other hand, a 62" version of the Onyx with XS850E still costs $2,125. At this size, the screen is already at a price disadvantage to similarly sized televisions, and that is without including the cost of the projector. At these sizes, the price advantage of the Onyx/XS850E disappears. In this case, bigger is better.

Projector placement. The XS850E fabric has a wide half-gain angle in the horizontal axis, but a narrower one in the vertical. This is by design, as it vastly reduces the amount of ambient light reflected from overhead sources. But if you have your projector in a ceiling mount at an extreme angle, such as from a super short throw projector, the ideal angle of reflection from the screen -- the "sweet spot" -- will not be straight back towards you. That can make it difficult to get the brightest possible picture out of the XS850E. The ideal projector mount for the XS850E is either a ceiling mount towards the rear of the room or a rear shelf mount.

Rear ambient light. The XS850E is normally very effective at rejecting ambient light, especially from overhead or side-lit sources. But there is one circumstance when the XS850E (and any ambient light rejection screen) offers no real benefit, and that is when the ambient light is coming from the same direction as the projector. In other words, if you have a rear shelf mounted projector with a window directly behind it, the screen has no way of differentiating between wanted and unwanted light. This is not a flaw with the XS850E, but a limitation of all light rejecting screens which there is no easy way of correcting.

Conclusion

Draper's XS850E fabric is a high-performance ambient light rejecting screen material. It does not fall prey to some common problems of ambient light rejecting screens such as narrow viewing angle and difficult assembly. It does have a relatively low 0.85 peak gain, so a bright projector is needed to realize the screen's full potential.

The Onyx with XS850E still carries a price premium over many conventional projector screens, but it does things that those screens cannot do. It represents a good value at larger sizes, especially 80" diagonal and above. Smaller screen sizes are less appealing due to the increasing affordability of large-screen televisions. The screen succeeds as a solution to daylight projection in rooms where ambient light cannot be fully controlled, and the experience itself is compelling. Paired with a bright projector, the Onyx with XS850E is a great way to bring the 100" TV experience to your living room without breaking the bank.

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Comments (7) Post a Comment
Sam Posted Aug 8, 2013 3:40 AM PST
A comparison with Black Diamond and DNP would be nice
Bill Posted Sep 6, 2013 11:18 AM PST
How does the XS850E compare to Stewart's FireHawk material? Comparing this material to a matte white screen doesn't really make sense.
Mike Posted Sep 6, 2013 11:24 AM PST
What about a comparison vs. Stewart's Firehawk material or Grayhawk material? This is not an apples to apples comparison, no conclusions can be drawn.
Robert Hart Posted Sep 8, 2013 6:25 PM PST
I think the review didn't touch on a few key points that are really important with this kind of screen. Perhaps it reflects the bias towards the use of ultra high contrast home theater projectors which are typically very dim. This is especially true in their optimum mode. I think that this kind of screen isn't meant for those projectors. A typical ht projector which puts out 600 lumens in cinema mode is many for a dark room. No screen will change this.

Black screens have the advantage of giving the appearance of great blacks when using brighter projectors. Bright professional projectors with 5000 - 20000 lumens typically have a contrast ratio of between 2000:1 and 8500:1. Compared to the 50,000:1 you expect from a ht projector, blacks could use a little help. I use a black screen to enable me to get great blacks from a brighter projector. It is enough to close the gap in most cases. Both my bright projector and my 50,000:1 contrast ht projector have great blacks but now my bright projector keeps them with the lights on. My ht projector is barely visible with the lights on. All that contrast is wasted and the best it can do is a washed out image.

The other point here is, why would you compare it to a white 1 gain screen? The review stated the obvious. We knew one would look better in light conditions before we started reading. We aren't stupid. We wanted to know how it compares to other screens that claim to work well with the lights on. Specifically, black diamond, steward g3, standard grey screens and maybe even the benefits over a DIY black widow screen.

$3000 for a pece of material might sond like good value to you but how much advantage does it give over a grey screen which can be bought or made for far less? How does it look with brighter projectors that have a chance of working with ambient light? Would I be better off putting $3000 onto this s Rene or buying a brighter projector?

I would also like more info on how it works and what it is made from. This "multi-layered" description tells me very little and that makes it harder to judge if $3000 is a good deal or if I'm buying a few different colors of PVC material pressed together. "Selectively reflecting" can mean 2 things. One definition is like the dichroic coating that Sony claimed on their Chromavue screens. The others like the micro-louvers the black diamond and DNP screens use to block light from the sides and above.

I would point out that when they were available, Sony sold its black screen Dynaclear for $400 for the 80 inch. I can honestly say that was good value given that there was no other material like it at even close to the same price range. At $3000, these screens sound like a rip off and tha the reason why how they are made is a secret is that we would see how little it was worth it.
James Posted Sep 18, 2013 9:57 AM PST
I have compared the Draper XS850E material to 5D from Stewart and DNP Supernova.

Stewart materials are gray but they are not an engineered screen material in the same category of the Draper XS850E and the DNP Supernova. In a dark environment the Stewart screens are fantastic products that perform amazingly well. They are however for dark <3-4fc ambient levels. So they just aren't for all applications. Especially high ambient light.

When it comes to ambient light rejection, the Supernova 08-85 material is much better than the XS850 material. The Draper XS850 does reject ambient light but not nearly to the same efficiency as Supernova material. For moderate ambient light 6-20fc off axis to screen perpendicular use the XS850 and it will hold its own relatively okay. Beyond that use the DNP. I.E if you have a side window DNP it is. or You get what you pay for. If you need much higher rejection then it'll cost. If you want moderate rejection then you can save a bit and get the Draper. :-)

To speak to projector contrast. Bluntly. It next to irrelevant by the spec. I have measured with the proper tools projectors from almost every manufacturer, and unless you are talking high power 3chip DLP units from Barco, Christie, NEC, Projection Design etc, the specs sheets are mostly marketing garbage. Getting a final image in a room after setup that is above 250:1 properly is incredibly difficult. The room itself is the problem. How many people have a black room (including the ceiling) with black furniture, wear black clothes etc... Contrast is a system value NOT just a projection value.

To speak to projector brightness. ANY screen with less than 1.0 gain requires the projected light per sq ft to be higher. Can a 600 lumen do the job... maybe. How big is the screen? Lumen is total light by area, increase the area you need a bigger engine (projector). Also where in the lens throw is the projector? Most lenses are brightest near the front and sometimes by significant amounts! I have measures 40% light loss on lenses before, and a 25% sway is common. Yes COMMON. Buy a light meter or a colourimeter and check.

This is why screen like the DNP, and Draper are actually great things for home theatres. They enable a real world usable room to be a theatre room AND maintain a contrast level that would be unobtainable without them.

Even Stewarts material is great for rooms where ambient is from the system itself and from lower light sources. Dimmable lamps, or floor lighting. And yes it still requires more output power net. To speak to why show a white screen (which I think is brilliant), its because it shows why this type of screen is beneficial as a TYPE. Showing against the same type screen is product comparison like a granny vs a Royal Gala apple. This is an Orange vs and Apple article and product.

Robert, what are the direct and indirect ambient light measurements in your room at the screen location? You can use fc or nit. What is the size of your screen? What is the measured white output of the project with the lights off at at the screen center, and at 8 points around the edge? What is the black levels with the lights off at center? What is the black level with a half full white square on one side and visa versa?

For this case use all measures towards the projector with a diffusion filter on the projector to remove your current screen from the equation.

Also if you want to post bulb hours and projector model that would help.

Cheers James
Rick Posted Oct 20, 2013 6:42 PM PST
Would be good to get a review of the new Draper "React" screen that was showcased at CEDIA.

...even better, if we could compare to DNP and BD
Robert Hart Posted Oct 28, 2013 1:36 PM PST
I happened to see a side by side between a black diamond 1.4 gain and a Stewart Firehawk screen. In terms of screen color, they both looked very similar - ie gray and not black in surface color. The Draper high performance fabric is more comparable to the BD 0.8 gain screen. The 1.4 gain and the Stewart are both grey screens at black-screen pricing. The BD screen has a glare off the hard coat, the Stewart doesn't have a hard coat so no glare. As a result, the Stewart looks better in low ambient light in my opinion (although not that different). Compared to cheaper grey screens, neither are significantly better to justify the price difference. The darker BD version and the draper are different. With the right projector (a bright one), you do have a chance of getting a watchable image in a reasonably bright room. If you are choosing between a better projector with a grey screen or one of these screens and a cheaper projector, go with the better projector. It will make more of a difference. If money is no object, get a decent bright projector and one of the 0.8 gain black screens and you will have a viable living room set-up. The 1.4 gain options are pointless in my opinion. A decent bright modern projector doesn't need the extra gain and benefits far more from a helping hand with black levels. More gain in a bright room can mean more glare. Higher gain is for under powered projectors for use in a dark room on a screen that is larger than they could otherwise handle. The gain will not stop the image from looking washed out in high ambient light.

I hope this helps. BTW, for the high end black-screens I have seen, I saw little evidence of selective ambient light blocking. If it is there, it doesn't make enough of a difference to notice. Most of the improvement in performance seemed to come from the darker screen surface so the projector didn't have to rely on darkness to simulate blacks. The BD in particular seemed to suffer from surface glare instead of rejecting other light sources. I would advise a live demo to avoid disappointment. Manage your expectations. They are an improvement but you JVC still won't work against direct sunlight.

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