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./b>

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.

Advantages

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.

Limitations

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.


Above: the SI Black Diamond II as seen from the "sweet spot."
Above: the SI Black Diamond II as seen from a 22-degree off-angle.
Above: the SI Black Diamond II as seen from a 35 degree off-angle.

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.

 

Conclusion

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.

Comments (15) Post a Comment
Doug Horton Posted Feb 14, 2009 4:48 AM PST
In my light-controlled media room, I'm using a 106" 16:9 Draper pull-down screen, for which I paid $149 three years ago from Dell. With its limitations on viewing angle and delicate setup issue, the $2550 (18x) more expensive Black Diamond seems significantly overpriced and will appeal to a very small (and rich) group of buyers!
Al Sherwood Posted Feb 14, 2009 11:05 AM PST
Regarding Doug's commment about the cost versus audience for such a screen:

True is is expensive, but no more so then My SMX-HD AT screen but then again depending where you intend to have or should I say 'need to have' your projector, this may the only type of screen that will allow a reasonble picture to be obtained. Inexpensive screens like your Draper do very well in a light controlled media room but could never be deemed suitable for a regular living space... I think that this solution would be great in a regular livingroom.

BTW, I wouldn't consider myself to be rich, just willing to pay a little more in the persuit of my hobby! ;-)
Cory Potts Posted Feb 16, 2009 9:01 AM PST
I recently demo'd this screen here in Austin TX next to SIs normal low gain white screen. If you have tons of uncontrollable daylight or florescent lighting its the way to go. If you can controll you lighting, even moderately, or have canned/directional lighting then a white screen with a little gain is the way to go as this screen looks dim. Also, pick a high lumen pj (over 1000 measured lumens) or one that has a very bright daylight mode (Epson's come to mind) as you'll need the extra horsepower. Most importantly, put forth the effort to view this screen before you buy as its not for everyone.
Natja-SS-1334 Posted Feb 19, 2009 3:01 PM PST
These screens have far too many limitations. For one thing $2550 price tag is rediculous. Even if it had no limitation in it's viewing axis it shouldn;t be worth anything near that price. Maybe $250 tops. I personally gave my optpma Graywolf II away because it had reflective properties that narrowed the viewing exis where the sweet spot was literally 3' either left or right from the position of the projector. The viewing exis of the graywolf is much wider than of this screen. So in order to see the best image you would need to have your head at the same level, and right next to the projector. The graywolf really helped enhance contrast, color saturation and blacks, but it's viewing axis limitations were totally not acceptable to me. The $110 I paid for it were well spent. I ended up painting over it with flat gray paint then gave it away to a friend. I wouldn't recommend this screen unless you plan to sit real far back from the screen and never more than 3' either left or right from the projector. And again the price is absolutely outragious.
Tony Posted Feb 23, 2009 3:10 PM PST
Uh why even bother at that price point you should have a Stewart screen. Actually at any price point Buy a Stewart!!!!!
Turkka Turunen Posted Mar 12, 2009 3:30 AM PST
It would be interesting to see how SI's product compare with Screenlux Quartz or Black Quartz screens. On paper SL seems to have a slight advantage, at least regarding the viewing angle.
Mike Cunningham Posted Apr 10, 2009 2:58 PM PST
Hey guys, Just sold another 10k system with an Epson projector, black diamond screen, about 3K in audio, 1.5k in labor and cables. Just cause you don't have the money or see the value, doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of people who do. Everything isn't for everybody. Stop thinking everyone thinks like you do.
shannon Posted Apr 11, 2009 11:02 AM PST
To see the screen in action from multiple viewing angles visit the website. www.siscreens.com
Doniz Posted Apr 12, 2009 2:24 PM PST
I just "love" it how these pedestrian, simpleton screens can cost more than the projector itself. Wow!

Amazing that with the litany of negatives identified, PJ Central still gave the SI Black Diamond its highest ***** rating. Makes one wonder how truly wretched a screen has got to be to get only 4 stars out of five... let alone even fewer than that.
Alan Ard Posted Apr 26, 2009 2:13 PM PST
A couple comments. The price of the screen reviewed is not the price of the screen quoted in the article. The article refers to the 100 inch 1.4 gain model ($2699) while the model reviewed is the .08 gain model. The 0.8 gain is less expensive.

I've been unable to replicate the blue push or the light uniformity issue. To be fair I've only had the 1.4 gain model in my hands. I'm guessing the blue push is from the projector used.

My experiences are that there is currently no projector on the market from the major players that can create better contrast in any lighting condition or color saturation. Reflective light from a screen creates about .5 ambient foot candles in ambient light in a controlled lighting environment. That .5 ambient foot candle of light can and does interfere with picture quality. The Black Diamond series doesn't create reflective light from the screen.

Also getting a curved screen helps dramatically with the viewing angle. It also fools the brain into thinking the image is more three dimensional than normal screens. This is an expensive option though.

The differences in the 1.4 and 0.8 gain screens are remarkable. Projector Central should do us all a favor and review a 1.4 screen.
Ryan Gustafson Posted May 13, 2009 5:38 AM PST
Alan,

You will see the Black Diamond 1.4 review soon.

Best Regards,

Ryan Gustafson
Jason Posted Aug 20, 2009 8:25 AM PST
I currently own 92" .8 version. I have large amounts of ambient light. I previously had a Elite Silverframe white 1.1 gain. BD is expensive yes, but I couldn't even watch a dark movie/scenes eg: Underworld, Batman, Star Wars during the day as the ambient light completely washed out the picture. This screen works!! My Elite screen is definitely brighter when the lights are off. I am currently running an Optoma DLP 1600 lumen projector and imo is not enough light. I will be stepping up to a higher lumen projector for. I had both samples the 1.4 and .8 material and chose the .8. If i had to do it again I would get the higher gain for a brighter more punchy picture. But a higher lumen higher contrast projector will produce the brighter image I am trying to achieve.

Overall being able to watch anything during the day time makes it worth while as I use my projector as my main living room tv. If your like me and want to use a projector in your living room and can't control the ambient light...you love the si screen!!!! just make sure you have a bright projector
frank Posted Mar 10, 2011 4:11 PM PST
For any good or great front projector system, the screen is the most expensive because it is the most important piece for the picture. If you have an expensive audio receiver and are using a home theater in a box set of speakers, it doesn't sound better just because you purchased a more expensive, goody ladened receiver. The speaker is what reproduces the sound, therefore, the frequency response, cabinet, and drivers are most important. The same is true for front projection equipment. I have seen some really cheap, and garbage projectors that look amazing because somebody purchased an excellent screen.
Carlos Posted Aug 25, 2012 7:43 AM PST
How do this grey screens compare vs goo silver high contrast paints or similar paints that claim they are focused on ambient light situations? Is there an important difference between this expensive black screens and the paint? I have searched many pages that compare specialized paint vs projectors but not ambient light situatuins for both screens vs paint.
Dee Posted Jan 1, 2014 2:14 PM PST
How does the larger version of the SI screen perform in comparison to the 115 inch? And is this screen worth it for a designated home theater room where there is no ambient light at all? Thanks D

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