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Screen Review: Draper Onyx M1300 and High Def Gray

Evan Powell, May 27, 2004

Draper is one of the leading manufacturers of projection screens for both home theater and commercial use. The Onyx is their deluxe frame system for home theater. For this review Draper supplied the M1300 white screen rated at 1.3 gain, and their HiDef Gray rated at 1.1 gain.

Draper ships these screens in long reinforced cardboard shipping containers to be assembled by the customer. The frame itself is assembled from eight pieces of extruded hard plastic wrapped in black, light-absorbing fabric. The eight pieces consist of four interchangeable corner pieces and four straight side rails in two pairs for the sides and top/bottom. Assembling the frame is easily completed in a matter of minutes.

Draper's Onyx frame does not use snaps for affixing the fabric to the frame as do Stewart, Da-lite, and Carada. Instead Draper has designed a unique hook and groove system that allows the fabric to be stretched into place and held with even tension along the entire edge of the fabric. Draper believes that this system will ensure that the fabric is held absolutely flat, for there is no chance that the fabric will manifest any unevenness that might appear on snap-on screens due to uneven tensions at their discrete anchoring points. The downside is that this is the only screen in the review that could not be assembled by one person. Two very strong pairs of hands were required to stretch the final side of the fabric into the anchoring groove.

The Onyx frame provides the thickest frame border of all the products in this review, measuring 4" in width. By comparison, Stewart and Vutec frames are 3.25", Da-lite frames are 3", and Carada frames are 2" in width. Draper offers a variety of frame options in addition to the Onyx should you wish to have a frame with less visual weight.

Draper is one of the more expensive suppliers of home theater screens. Fixed frame products tend to retail at about 90% of the price of the Stewart equivalents. Thus the most frequently asked questions relate to Draper's value and advantages relative to Stewart. The M1300 is Draper's competitive offering to the Studiotek130, and the HiDef Gray is the high contrast gray solution that competes with the Firehawk.

The White Screen: M1300

The M1300 was the second brightest white screen in the category, measuring 125% of the standard white board which was just a shade less bright than the Studiotek 130 at 130%. However, though the Studiotek is in fact the brighter of the two, the M1300 can on occasion appear brighter depending on subject matter. The reason is that the M1300 imparts a cooler color temperature to the image, making blue skies and swimming pools look slightly brighter and more saturated than they do on the Studiotek. Also, brilliant white highlights on the M1300 are colder in color temperature. So when viewed side by side with the Studiotek the M1300's colder whites appear to have more snap, lending to it an impression of incremental brightness.

Overall however, the M1300's cooler rendering detracts from the color accuracy of the image. Flesh tones are slightly less rich. Objects illuminated in sunlight have less warmth. Green grass has a bit more blue and a bit less yellow than it does on the Studiotek, rendering it darker. Thus the neutral color palate of the Studiotek ultimately produces a more satisfying image.

In addition, the M1300 does not have quite the resolution capability of the Studiotek, which renders fine details in the image with better definition.

Draper's uniform tension attachment system definitively does its job of maintaining even tension on the fabric at all points. However, it is designed to eliminate a problem that we have not encountered on Stewart products, which is the possible unevenness of the fabric deriving from the use of snaps. We have been using Stewart snap-on screens since 1997 without seeing this problem materialize. We have indeed seen it occur on other vendor's products however, so the problem Draper is attempting to address is a real one.

The extra width of the Onyx frame is also something to consider. The difference between 4" and 3.25" frame width doesn't sound like much, but visually it is quite significant. However, whether a thicker frame is better is a matter of personal taste. In our review some observers liked the look of the more substantial Onyx frame, and others felt it looked too heavy. In matters of taste such as this we can offer no opinion.

We can however say that, given the close retail price of these two products, we believe that videophiles who are primarily concerned with optimum image quality will be happier with the Studiotek 130 due to its neutral color palate and higher resolution.

The Gray Screen: HiDef Gray

The Draper HiDef Gray (HDG) was one of the less satisfying products in the review. For a relatively expensive screen it did not show well in brightness, contrast, color accuracy or color saturation.

In the brightness test relative to the standard white board the HDG came in fifth out of the six screens in the gray category, measuring just 70%. The Firehawk came in first with a reading of 115%.

Furthermore, the HDG does not have the contrast capability of the Firehawk. With the ANSI checkerboard pattern the Firehawk delivered both blacker blacks and brighter whites than did the HDG, and by a good margin on both ends. No light meter is required to detect this, as side by side the Firehawk is obviously the higher in contrast of the two screens.

Due to the lack of contrast and brightness the HDG's color saturation is also not quite there. Furthermore, as with the M1300, the HDG renders the image in a cooler color temperature. So by comparison whites are cold on the HDG and relatively warmer on the Firehawk. But because they are also 30% less bright, the HDG's cooler whites do not add the impression of snap that they can on the M1300.

The HDG has almost no hotspot, whereas the Firehawk does. Thus the HDG offers a wider viewing angle, and short projection throw distances are less of an issue. However this would appear to be its only advantages. Though the HDG sells for less than the Firehawk, the price differential heretofore has not been significant. Therefore we believe that for the investment the buyer opting for a gray screen will achieve better results by choosing the Firehawk and paying attention to the installation restrictions that go with it.

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