A while back, we got an email at ProjectorCentral from a reader who was looking at three fixed-frame projection screens. All of them white, all of them the same size. One cost $1800, one cost $1200, and one cost $600. Is there really any difference between them, he asked, or is it all just branding and marketing?
The plain answer is yes. While we can't necessarily account for whether the higher price that a given screen brand might capture vs. a competitor for a similarly spec'd material and frame is borne out in the product, what we can say with certainty is that there is much more to screen materials than intiially meets the eye—both figuratively and literally. Sometimes, the differences are enormous. Here are some of the ways in which the image on a screen might vary based on the material's engineering and manufacturing quality.
Resolution. It may seem hard to believe that professional white (or gray) projection screens could manifest a difference in resolution, or image detail. But they do. Some screens simply produce a sharper, clearer image than others. This may be due to a difference in the surface texture, and become more apparent with 4K or higher resolution images if the screen can't fully resolve down to the individual pixel level without imparting its own artifacts on the image.
Brightness/reflectivity. Screens differ widely in their ability to reflect light. In theory, a screen's gain rating should indicate something about its inherent reflectivity, but can't always be counted on. Some screens end up being inherently brighter than others, even when the specs say they shouldn't be.
Contrast. Most buyers are highly conscious of the contrast rating of the projector they are buying, but have no concept that the screen they use will either complement or impair their projector's contrast performance. Obviously, choosing a gray screen material will enhance the contrast compared with a white screen while sacrificing some degree of brightness. But contrast and black level with the same projected image can vary even on similarly spec'd white screens.
Color accuracy. A screen should not put its own spin on a projector's color. Most screens are indeed neutral as they should be, but some do impart unfortunate color biases.
Build quality. From the moment one opens the boxes and packing materials that screens are shipping in, it is obvious that there are significant differences among the vendors in materials and workmanship, attention to detail, and product quality. However, though these differences are striking and worth noting, once fixed frame screens are assembled and mounted their build quality becomes a secondary issue to the image quality they deliver.
On the other hand, if you plan to install an electric screen with motorized drops and/or moving masking systems, build quality continues to be a central issue for the life of the screen. Mechanical precision, long-term reliability, and maintenance support are much more significant buying factors for screens with moving parts than they are for fixed frame installations. Here's where reviews from ProjectorCentral and other trusted sources can be especially helpful in imparting the physical characteristics and general experience of using an electric screen.