EDITOR'S NOTE: The review below pertains to the 2009 version of Screen Innovations' Black Diamond screen material, which is no longer available for purchase. The Black Diamond screen currently available is a different product and this review does not reflect on its performance.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Black Diamond II comes in two forms - the 0.8 gain material reviewed below and a 1.4 gain material which we have not yet reviewed. As the two screens are certain to perform differently, our Highly Rated award only applies to the 0.8 gain version. -bl
Ambient light rejection screens, or "black" screens, are a relatively new invention in projector screen technology. They have helped to expand the market for home theater projectors by allowing them to be used in brighter environments. Screen Innovations' new Black Diamond II is the latest offering in the world of black screens.
The Black Diamond II combines some of the best features of black screens we've seen in the past - namely Planar's Xscreen and the Nexy BSB. It has the Xscreen's excellent light repelling ability and the Nexy screen's light weight and flexibility. It also has advantages all its own - instead of the rigid, heavy frame of the Xscreen and the complete lack of frame on the Nexy BSB, the Black Diamond II has a lightweight aluminum frame clad in black velvet, like traditional fabric screens. That makes for easy shipping, mounting, and assembly. It will begin selling through Screen Innovations' dealer network on March 1. A 100" 16:9 Black Diamond II will retail for $2,699.
Ambient Light Rejection. The Black Diamond, like other black screens, is built to combat ambient room lighting. This works by rejecting any light that hits the screen from an oblique angle, preventing it from washing out the image on the screen. For the most part, the only light which makes it back to the viewers is the light from the projector.
We tested it under an overhead light, as well as lights on in the back of the room. In these situations, the Black Diamond looks much higher in contrast and richer in color saturation than a conventional white or gray home theater screen. The picture in ambient light is remarkably vibrant.
Blacker blacks. Projectors, by their nature, cannot project black. The black you see on screen is the absence of projected light, which appears black only in comparison to brighter areas of the screen. The Black Diamond's dark, charcoal gray surface enhances the appearance of black, and can help correct for light spillover from other parts of the image. The end result is a picture with blacker blacks.
Smooth HD surface. Screen Innovations calls the Black Diamond II an "HD" screen. Like the recently reviewed Da-lite JKP Affinity, it has a perfectly smooth screen surface. As we discussed in that review, a smooth screen surface is ideal for 1080p projectors, as it ensures that no detail loss occurs due to screen texture.
Easy shipping. This does not seem like much of an advantage until you have had to wrestle a hundred-plus-pound rigid screen, plus external packaging, through your doorway. The Black Diamond II rolls up like a regular fabric screen, and is shipped like a regular fabric screen as well - in a long rectangular box. This makes it much easier to transport, ship, store, and maneuver, which is a welcome benefit for the do-it-yourselfer.
Light output curtailed. Like the first Black Diamond, the BDII is a low gain screen, listed as 0.8 gain. In our lab, we measured an actual gain of 0.7. This means that the screen reflects 70% as much light as a 1.0 gain white surface. If you're used to watching your projector in a dark room on a 1.0 gain screen or higher, the Black Diamond will make your projector appear dimmer than before. Accordingly, the Black Diamond works best with bright projectors, or with the brighter operating modes on projectors that give you various options in this regard.
Color shift. The Black Diamond II tends to make the image from your projector appear slightly colder; that is, it appears slightly blue in tint when set next to a more neutral screen. The easiest fix for this problem is to go into your projector's menu system and reduce blue/add yellow. Of course, if you find that the slight blue shift doesn't bother you, there's no need to change anything.
Brightness uniformity. Ambient light rejection screens mostly reflect light which hits the screen more or less dead-on center - such as the light coming from your projector. It reflects most of this light directly back towards the projector. So it is important to keep the level of the projector as close to the center of the screen as possible. If you are ceiling mounting, the projection angle can be enough to create some very noticeable brightness uniformity problems in which the upper half of the image looks much brighter than the bottom half.
Narrow viewing angle.Screens have what is called a Half-Gain Angle. That is the viewing angle at which the screen reflects half as much light as the viewer would see when sitting directly in front of it. On a typical low gain screen, this could be as wide as 60 or 70 degrees. On ambient light rejection screens, it is typically much narrower. On the Black Diamond II, we measured a half-gain angle of 22 degrees. This gives you a 44-degree window in which your audience can sit for optimum image brightness and clarity. Sitting outside of that, the image will appear less than half as bright as it does sitting dead center. You've seen this effect on rear-projection TVs. They look bright when viewed head on, and they dim rapidly as you move off axis.
Below are the results of our viewing angle tests. The images, in sequence, are: in the "sweet spot," 22 degrees off-angle to the left, and 35 degrees off-angle to the left. As you can see, the image looks wonderful from the sweet spot - color is vibrant, contrast is impressive, and the image looks sharp and detailed. Moving a bit to the left, we see the right edge of the image start to dim. By the time we get to 35 degrees off axis, it's obvious that the picture quality is severely compromised. To put it in simple terms, most users will have about one couch-width of a sweetspot to work with. Anyone not sitting on that couch will have a less than optimal view.
Tricky assembly. The Black Diamond II's unique screen material is delicate, as the instructions indicate - there are several warnings about scratching or bending the material during installation. If you put a dent in the material, it won't come out. There's even a pair of latex gloves in the installation kit.
The screen attaches to the frame by way of rubber bungees, which loop through the screen material in pre-punched holes and attach to posts on the frame. It takes some getting used to, especially using the "installation tool" (a length of rigid plastic tubing). But we were able to get it together in about half an hour. Of course, if you're buying the Black Diamond II from a custom installer, chances are they will put it together for you.
So, how does it look? Well, if you have a traditional dark room for your viewing space, the Black Diamond II does not appear nearly as bright as the Da-lite JKP Affinity, which has an 0.9 gain factor. However, contrast is excellent. Color appears slightly cooler than it does on the Affinity. In the dark, the Da-lite JKP Affinity looks brighter, more natural, and more impressive.
Now turn the lights on. Suddenly, the Affinity doesn't look nearly as good (no conventional white or light gray screen does in this situation). The projected image is very low in contrast due to all the ambient light compromising the black levels. And any conventional screen will pick up the color temperature of the ambient light. If the lights happen to be warm, the picture looks shifted toward yellow. By comparison, the Black Diamond looks high in contrast, with deep blacks, and a rich color saturation. And since it is not picking up the ambient light, it doesn't pick up color temperature shifts. Your projected image looks like a very large plasma television on the Black Diamond and a washed-out mess on a conventional screen. A room with ambient light is the environment the Black Diamond was designed for.
It is not without limitations; you need a bright projector, a small audience, and a little bit of patience. We would not recommend the Black Diamond II to anyone who plans to do most of their viewing in a light-controlled room. The Black Diamond has a narrow viewing angle, so anyone sitting off-center will see a portion of the image as dimmer than the rest. It is somewhat more difficult to assemble as compared to fixed frame screens with snap-on connectors. And most importantly, both the screen and the projector must be mounted precisely for optimal performance. But these limitations do not detract from the stunning image the Black Diamond II produces when the room lights are on. The Black Diamond II meets or exceeds the capabilities of all other ambient light rejection screens we've seen so far.
For $2699 (the price for the 100" model), you can have a bright, vibrant picture in any room of your house, bigger than any flat panel display of the same price. If that sounds appealing to you, give the Black Diamond II a look.
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