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Before You Buy A Video Projection Screen

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When buying and setting up a home theater video projector, it must be pointed out that the video projection screen is just as important as the projector itself. Projection Screens come in various fabrics, sizes, and prices.

The type of screen that will work best depends on the projector, the viewing angle, the amount of ambient light in the room, and the distance of the projector from the screen. The following outlines what you need to know before purchasing a video projection screen for your home theater.

Room Characteristics

Before purchasing a video projector and screen, take a good look at the room you will be placing the video projector in. Is the room of sufficient size to project a large image on the wall area you intend to use? Check for ambient light issues, such as windows, french doors, or other factors that would prevent the room from being dark enough for video projection use.

Projection/Screen Distance, Seating Position, and Screen Size

The projector-to-screen distance determines how large an image can be projected on the screen, while the viewer seating position determines the optimum viewing distance. The lens type of the video projector being considered also determines how large an image can be projected from a given distance. Video projectors have different lens characteristics. User manuals include specific charts and diagrams that show what size image a projector can produce. Some manufacturers also provide this same information on their websites (check the Panasonic example below), which can be consulted before purchasing a video projector.

Screen Aspect Ratio - 4x3 vs 16x9

Due to the popularity of widescreen DVD and HDTV, the trend in video projection screens is towards the 16x9 aspect ratio design. This design accommodates widescreen programming display on all, or most, of the actual screen surface area, while the 4x3 design will result in a larger unused screen surface area when viewing widescreen programming. However, 4x3 design will allow the projection of a much larger 4x3 image, which would fill the entire screen surface. Although video projectors designated as Home Theater or Home Cinema Projectors project a 16x9 native aspect ratio image, they can be configured for 4x3 display.

Front Projection or Rear Projection

Video projectors can be used to project an image from either the front or rear of the screen. Front projection is the most common, and the easiest to setup. If you prefer to project the image onto the screen from the rear, it is advisable to get a video projector that can project a large image at a short distance, since the distance between the projector and the screen can take up valuable room space. This setup should only be done in very large rooms, where this may not be as much of an issue. Also, it must be noted that you must purchase a screen that is designed specifically for rear projection use.

Permanent Screens

There are several types of screen installation options. If you are planning to construct or use a room as a dedicated home theater room, you have the option of installing a screen on the wall permanently. In this type of screen installation it is common to also install curtains in front of the screen to hide and protect the screen surface when not in use. This type of screen installation is also the most expensive.

Pull Down Screens

A second option that allows more room use flexibility for other purposes, besides home theater, is a Pull Down screen. A pull down screen can be semi-permanently mounted on a wall and can be pulled down when in use and then raised up into a protective housing when not in use. This way you can still have other items on the wall, such as paintings or other decorations, when not viewing the video projector. When the screen is pulled down, it simply covers the permanent wall decorations. Some screens allow the screen case to be mounted in the ceiling instead of having to be mounted on the wall externally.

Portable Screens

The least expensive option is the totally portable screen. One advantage of a portable screen is that you can set it up in different rooms, or even outdoors, if your projector is also portable. The drawback is that you have to do more adjusting of the screen and the projector every time you set it up. Portable screens are also the least expensive option.

Screen Material, Gain, Viewing Angle

Video projection screens are made to reflect as much light as possible to produce a bright image in a specific type of environment. To accomplish this, screens are made of various materials. The type of screen material used determines the Screen Gain and viewing angle characteristics of the screen. For an example of screen fabric types used by some projection screen makers, check out the following resource from Projector People.
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