Vutec has traditionally not been one of the most visible players on the home theater scene. But the company has a full line of screen products for both fixed and motorized installations. And recently it has created quite a splash with its super high gain SilverStar screen which they rate at a blazing 6.0 gain. For this review Vutec supplied samples of both the SilverStar and their more conventional BriteWhite, rated at 1.5 gain. While the BriteWhite can be comfortably included for evaluation in the group of white home theater screens being reviewed here, the SilverStar is really out of place in the gray category. It holds the distinction of being both the brightest and most expensive screen in this review. And while it is definitely an amazing screen, for reasons discussed below we believe it has better application in commercial settings than it does in home theater.

The White Screen: BriteWhite

The BriteWhite is among the more expensive screens in the review. In retail price it is roughly comparable to the Studiotek 130 against which it is intended to compete directly.

Vutec sent the BriteWhite rolled and ready to assemble. The 3.25" frame consists of four lengths of black velvet wrapped metal that are bolted together with L-brackets. The fabric is then attached to the frame via a continuous strip of Velcro that runs the full length of all four sides of the frame. The two complementary strips of hook and loop come already adhered to the frame and screen fabric respectively, so all you need to do is press it into place. This procedure takes some work however. The fabric needs to be stretched evenly so that no buckling or warping of the fabric occurs, and is not easy to do the first time around. However with enough lifting, stretching, and re-attaching one can finally get there.

The BriteWhite carries an official gain rating of 1.5, which would suggest that it is a relatively bright screen. However it metered in at 90% of the brightness of the standard white board, which put it in fifth place among the six white screens reviewed.

Other than the lack of brightness there were no serious flaws in the BriteWhite's image. It renders an image that is somewhat cooler in color temperature than does the Studiotek 130 but the color difference between the two was more subtle than on other products in the review.

Given that the BriteWhite and the Studiotek sell for essentially the same price, the question is whether there are any performance advantages that would cause the consumer to opt for the BriteWhite. We could not find any. The Studiotek is quite a bit brighter, higher in contrast, and it has an edge in color accuracy. Furthermore in our experience the Studiotek's snap attachment system was easier to work with than the Velcro system on the BriteWhite.

The Gray Screen: SilverStar

Vutec ships the SilverStar preassembled from the factory since the screen itself is built upon a rigid substrate rather than rollable fabric. It arrived in a custom-cut plywood shipping crate that weighed about 180 lbs. Thus, though no assembly is required, the consumer does need to move, disassemble and-assuming you don't want to store it-dispose of the crate which due to its bulk is not an insignificant task.

The SilverStar was by far the brightest screen among the twelve in this review, although it is (thankfully) not as bright as its advertised 6.0 gain rating would imply. In point of fact it measured a bit more than double the brightness of the Stewart Firehawk, which was the next brightest screen in the gray category. As noted elsewhere in this review, while high gain screens have definite applications for which they are ideal, home theater is not one of them. A shootout with the Firehawk, which is priced about 10% less than the SilverStar, will tell the story why.

The SilverStar's brightness is its one truly outstanding attribute. It produces what can only be described as a commanding image with a WOW factor that makes you wonder where all the light is coming from. Viewers of the SilverStar will sometimes need to be reminded that a screen cannot create light since this one looks like it is doing just that. However, a screen can only reflect the light being projected onto it. What a high gain screen does is to channel more light energy from the projector back into a narrow angle of view. When you are in this angle of view the screen looks exceptionally bright, and when you move out of it, the image dims considerably. The impact of this effect on the SilverStar can be seen with a 10-step vertical IRE pattern. Viewing this pattern from center axis it looks normal. However if you move just 20 degrees to the right, assuming the white bar is on the left of the screen, you will see the four or five lighter bars of the pattern blend into one harmonious medium gray. That is due to light falling off rapidly as you increase your angle of view.

In general, if you are sitting off center from the zero degree viewing axis, the portion of the screen nearest you will appear brighter than the opposing side. Moving around the SilverStar will cause significant changes in relative light intensity in various parts of the image. The magnitude of this effect will vary based upon (a) the angles from which you are viewing it (both horizontally and vertically relative to the line of projection) and (b) the ratio of the throw distance to screen width, the effect becoming more exaggerated as you reduce the throw distance. The unevenness of light being reflected from various portions of the screen is part of the downside to the use of any high gain screen for home theater, not just the SilverStar.

Another problem related to the high gain of the SilverStar is reduced image sharpness. The light amplification creates a blooming effect that is most particularly visible in highlights and white text. This can be seen if the SilverStar and Firehawk are placed side by side and a 100 IRE Crosshatch pattern is projected onto them. While the white lines are much brighter on the SilverStar, they are also thicker and fuzzier than they are on the Firehawk.

The objective of the gray screen is to maintain better black levels in the presence of reflected or ambient light. While the SilverStar appears to be high in contrast when viewed side by side with competing screens, this is an illusion that is produced by its extraordinary brightness. In point of fact the Firehawk produces deeper blacks and has more ability to inhibit ambient light. This can be seen by standing the SilverStar and the Firehawk side by side against a wall, turning off the projector and turning on a lamp in the room. When one moves about the room the Firehawk maintains an even medium charcoal gray across a wide viewing angle, whereas the SilverStar shifts from medium charcoal gray at its darkest (about equal to the Firehawk), to almost white. Thus the SilverStar's ability to absorb vs. reflect ambient light depends entirely upon where the light is coming from and the angle from which you are viewing the screen.

If you set up the SilverStar side by side with any other traditional white or gray home theater screen, the SilverStar will look dazzling, and every other screen will look dim. It certainly makes for an impressive demo. But in many important ways it is misleading to present the relative performance of a high gain screen against a low gain screen in this manner. We viewed the SilverStar side by side with the Firehawk, but we also viewed the same material exclusively on each screen in sequence. This latter procedure produces much different results. Viewed with the SilverStar the Firehawk appeared dim, low in contrast and low in color saturation. However standing alone the Firehawk showed very adequate illumination, deeper blacks, better overall contrast, more satisfying color saturation, and superior image sharpness. Furthermore, since it was not overwhelmingly bright the Firehawk was easier to view for hours at a time without developing eye strain and visual fatigue.

The SilverStar is a powerfully brilliant screen. But we would not select a home theater screen based solely upon its brightness any more than we would select a set of speakers based on how many decibels they could produce. The SilverStar is an exciting screen technology that is particularly well suited to commercial installations and university classrooms where image brightness may be vitally important for communicating with a large audience. It is not in our view an appropriate choice for the typical home theater.

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

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