Many people love the concept of large screen front projection home theater, but don't want to transform their living rooms or entertainment rooms into the dark environments needed for best results. Some cannot block out ambient light, and some just prefer not to, opting instead for a partially illuminated room that is more conducive to interaction with family and friends. Hence, there is a big demand for home theater solutions that work well in ambient light.
The Nexy BSB is an ambient light rejection screen that is made to hold high contrast images in brightly lit spaces. It is designed for use in high ambient light conditions, such as retail outlets, training rooms, conferences, classrooms, and so on. However, it also has application in consumer home theater if you want to watch movies with the lights on.
Most ambient light rejection screens, or "black screens" as they are sometimes called, come on a rigid substrate. That makes them relatively heavy, fragile, and costly to crate up and ship. One of the unique features of the Nexy BSB is that it is essentially a sheet of heavy plastic with a fabric backing that can be rolled and shipped in a tube. It can then be attached to a rigid surface, or framed like a work of art. The company encourages users not to deploy it in a manner that would cause it to be rolled up when not in use, as it may damage the shelves that are built into the surface of the screen.
The surface of the screen has tiny horizontal grooves, or shelves, which are designed to block and reject ambient light. It is important to note that they only work in one direction. That means the screen must be installed with the top side up. If it is placed upside down, you will get ambient light reflections from point source lights in the room. Our review sample did not come with an indication as to which side was up, so setting it up was a matter of trial and error.
Since we are not permanently installing this screen, we simply clipped it to a sheet of plywood to hold it in position for review. Once it was mounted and illuminated with a projector (the Sanyo PLV-Z5 in this case), our first reaction was that it worked remarkably well in ambient light. With all of the lights in the room on, including spotlights directly overhead, the Nexy BSB delivered a thoroughly watchable image with a great deal more contrast than a conventional screen could ever do under the same circumstances.
In addition, as we moved from side to side around the screen, it became evident that the viewing angle was wider than other black screens we've seen. The image does not fade rapidly as you move out of the center sweetspot. Putting a light meter on it, we measured the half gain angle at 35 degrees, quite respectable for a screen of this nature.
A third observation was that the picture did not seem exceptionally bright. This test sample was in a 16:9 format, and 72" diagonal-quite small compared to most front projection home theater set ups. The projector was set to fill the screen, and with a projected image this size we'd normally expect to see a very bright picture from the Sanyo Z5. As it turns out, the Nexy BSB absorbs quite a bit of the projected light as well as the ambient light. The light meter indicated a gain of 0.55, which means that the Nexy was reflecting back a bit more than half the light that a standard 1.0 gain white screen would. We turned off all of the ambient light in the room and placed a 1.0 gain white screen over half the image to view them side by side. In this viewing environment it was quite obvious that the white screen was producing a much more brilliant image, and the meter indicated a comparable dynamic range. This is not a screen you'd want to be using in the dark.
We slowly added ambient light back into the room, and as we did so, the contrast and black levels on the white screen began to fade, while they held relatively firm on the Nexy screen. In moderate to high ambient light, the Nexy produced a less bright, but higher contrast and more satisfying image than did the white screen, which is of course what it was designed to do.
However, the bottom line is that you need to use a bright projector with the Nexy BSB in order to compensate for its extremely low gain. Most home theater projectors are not designed to produce high light output while maintaining optimum video quality. In point of fact, the Sanyo Z5 did not produce enough light to fill the 72" Nexy satisfactorily. But there are several home theater projectors that will-the Panasonic PT-AX100U comes to mind, as does the Epson Cinema 800. Keep in mind that this screen was designed primarily for commercial use. Commercial projectors generate much more lumen output than do home theater projectors, so in commercial applications the Nexy's low gain factor is irrelevant.
Size and Cost
The Nexy BSB currently comes in three sizes. There are 50" and 60" diagonal options in 4:3 format, and the 16:9 product is 72" diagonal. You can select any of these three if they are the size and format you want. Or you can order multiple screens and piece them together: two panels can be mounted contiguously to create a single 100" or 120" 4:3 screen with a horizontal seam, or a single 144" screen in a 16:9 aspect ratio. Again, this may be an ideal solution for a high ambient light commercial installation, but we would expect to find little use for it in home theater. Anyone planning to install a 144" screen in their home will most likely be taking steps to darken the room enough to create a more formal theater space.
The 16:9, 72" single screen is currently priced at $995 (US). When the two larger panels are ordered together to make the 144" model, the total price is $3,695. If you are planning to spend that much on the screen alone, we suggest you put some money into light control systems and forego the need for the 144" Nexy solution in the home. However, if you want a bright picture in your living room and 72" diagonal is about the size you want, then you can match the Nexy 72" screen with projectors like the Panny AX100 or the Epson Cinema 800, and end up with a very nice solution for home theater with the lights on.