Black or White Projector Screens - What's better?

In the past 5 or so years we have seen a raft of Black Screens and Grey Screens hit the market.

Grey screens have been around for quite a while in actual fact.  “Lunar Grey” as often they are referred to, were introduced over 10 years ago.

The primary reason for such screens was to increase contrast ratio in order to produce better colour levels.

The problem with these Lunar Grey screens in the main are:

  • They could only be negative gain (which mean they threw back less light than hit the screen)
  • Lunar Grey screens gave the whites a “grey” feel to them
  • They had the tendency to loose detail in the white spectrum

So apart from these Lunar Grey screens, pretty much all you could go for alternatively were white screens.

Are White Screens Bad?

In general, no. It just depends on what grade you go for.

Like with everything, the more you pay, the better the result.  The best of the white screens from companies such as Screen Innovations and Stewart FilmScreen, are by far extreme performing products.

They use superior fabric, materials and technology, and perform well in dedicated and completely darkened Home Cinemas.

White screens also come in different options such as standard, high gain, Acoustic Woven and Microperforated (the last two allow you to place your speakers behind the screen – for more on these two technologies please read our article on Audio Transparent Projector Screens).

They also can be quite cheap, although remember about “you pay for what you get”.  So the good ones can start around the $1500 mark whereas Black Screens typically start around the $3500 mark.

However, white screens do have a couple of issues :

  • Black light onto a white surface means lower black performance.  You would think Black levels are easy to produce, but they can be difficult to do correctly.  A white screen does not help with this.
  • Scattering of light.  A lot of White screens scatter light at all angles off the screen.  This means that rather than your room staying nice and dark, your walls and roof are lit up. However it will does give you maximum viewing angles (hence why the commercial cinemas use White screens as they put seating wall to wall to maximise dollar return)
  • You need a light cannon of a projector to make a white screen work ok in an ambient lit room


So why go Black?

The theory behind  Black Screens rather than Grey is down to the development of optical technology, led by Screen Innovations.

A Black Screen benefits you by:

  • Improving contrast by up to 900%
  • Enhances colour performance for a more real life image – to reference levels
  • Massive increased performance on black levels and far clearer black gradation levels
  • Has less light scattering issues, so your room stays extremely dark and keeps you immersed in the image
  • Enhances depth of image
  • If you want some ambient light in the room at all, these screens are designed to work with this rejecting or absorbing ambient light
  • No need for expensive and fiddly masking systems (where black light hits a black surface, it stays black)

There are some downsides to Black Screens such as:

  • You can get a slight shimmering effect on the image in bright daylight type scenes in a dark room
  • Hotspotting (which is a point on your screen where brightness is far higher than any other point)
  • Less viewing angle
  • So far no-one has produced an acoustic transparent version (so you cannot place speakers behind the screen)

As a Black Screen does not scatter light as a White screen does, in effect that reduces your viewing angle.  So if using a Black Screen in a dedicated Home Cinema you need to ensure that you have planned your seating positions, screen height relative to those positions and projector positioning carefully.

This should be something undertaken in any Home Cinema design anyway and should not be an issue if your designer / installer knows their stuff.

Shimmering and Hotspotting in most cases can be near eliminated by lowering the brightness of your projector. Alternatively choosing the right projector to suit the environment and screen will negate this as well.  Some of the newer generation of these Black Screens as well have almost eliminated effects such as shimmering, such as Screen Innovations Black Diamond 3rd Generation screens.


So why has the market shifted?

Screen Innovations did something quite unique about 5 years ago.

Whilst projection screen technology stagnated in “Lunar Greys” and “Whites”, they produced Black Diamond.

Black Diamond was the first screen to take the concept of Lunar Grey (higher contrast ratios) without the drag factor of “greying” out the whites.  Made out of 8 layers of a special optical plastic, Black Diamond was the first domestic screen to truly overcome the issues of the white screens as well.

Now in its 3rd generation, Black Diamond has been further refined to overcome many of the issues known to be inherent with Black Screen technology. Screen Innovations are constantly improving the performance with each generation.

Screen Innovations a few years later produced Slate, which is a more affordable version of Black Diamond™.  Both of these from Screen Innovations reject ambient light from both the horizontal and vertical plane.

Stewart Screens also released Firehawk™ and Grayhawk™. These are also ambient light rejecting screens more at a similar level of Slate™.  Greyhawk™ is a lower performing light rejecting screen designed to give far better viewing angles with the basic properties of a dark screen.

However, Screen Innovations made this a big category in recent years.  They have taken this type of screen from being a niche product into the mainstream.

The major element here was the ability to take the cinema out of the cinema room and into your living room.

As a result of success by both these companies, many more other companies are coming to the market with “Black” screens and customer demand has shifted so strongly to these, but those that invented and refined the technology are still way ahead.


Which way do I go?

Some simple guidelines here to consider.

  • If you are planning for ambient light in your room, go with a Black screen
  • Use a Black Screen if you want your screen in your living room for general use
  • If you want a very dark Home Cinema, go with a Black Screen.  This is especially true if you have any other light in the room (maybe from your AV equipment, bar fridge etc)
  • After a more natural, real to life looking image in your Home Cinema? Go with a Black Screen – which can give you reference level images set with the right projector
  • If you want your speakers behind the screen, you need to go with a White Screen (acoustic woven is the best)
  • In order to maximise viewing no matter where your seating positions are  in a room (wall to wall seating for example) go a high quality White screen
  • If you have limited budget, go with the best White screen you can afford

One more thing…please do not underestimate the value of a good screen regardless of the material.  The quality and performance of a projector screen will have a huge impact on the quality of the image.

Buying an $8k projector then sticking it with a $1000 screen is out of whack. The projector’s limiting factor in this equation is the screen.

Also never, ever go just use a white wall as your screen.  Ok, so if it is outside as a temporary projection setup – sure go a white wall.

But in a permanent set up, avoid the white wall.  It creates too many issues (uneven surface, bad light refracting properties, inconsistencies in uniformity amongst many others).  A basic screen will outperform a wall any day, even a wall with “special paint” on it.

Of course, I always suggest talking to an expert or undergoing a cinema design service to ensure that you get the best result for your room. Planning and analysis will always ensure a great outcome.

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