The latest and greatest trends in projection screen technology include the usual suspects, both 3D and 4K, but some manufacturers cite various other elements, including consumer-driven social trends, as well.
“The most exciting overall trend in the projection category is that it is finally going mainstream,” said Ryan Gustafson, president of Screen Innovations (SI). “Now, there are products available [that] work well in almost any environment, including brightly lit spaces and in primary viewing locations like the living room or den.”
This is what led SI to develop its Black Diamond Zero Edge screens. Featuring ultra-thin, rigid panels, and a thin bezel, the Zero Edge appeals to the more aesthetically minded consumer. Multiple mounting options are available, including recessed (unframed), flush-to, projected off the wall, or flying from cables. Gustafson said the Zero Edge screens “now rival traditional displays in terms of price, picture quality, feature set, and overall aesthetics.”
Featuring ultra-thin, rigid panels and thin bezel, the Zero Edge appeals to the more aesthetically minded consumer.
As media rooms continue to replace dedicated theaters for many homeowners, screens that reject ambient light continue to gain steam. “It’s more than a trend or a prediction; it is the wave of the future,” Gustafson said.
For dnp Denmark, darker screens are responsible for counteracting ambient light. “dnp Supernova has taken that concept to another level with their optical front projection technology, which can actually control and eliminate unwanted light on the screen’s surface,” said Jesse Walsh, U.S. sales and marketing manager for dnp. “The dnp screen is not a sprayed-on vinyl material; it’s actually seven layers of optical filters that not only control overhead and side ambient light, but also provide 10-times the contrast and is twice as bright as a conventional vinyl screen.”
Mike Palmisano, director of marketing at Vutec noted that integrators are commonly including mini bars, billiard tables, and kitchenettes in theater installations. Screens that were once reserved for viewing Hollywood’s latest release are now taking turns with sports events and video gaming. “These modern environments, with the expected high ambient light, require screen products that not only reject ambient light, but [are also] able to provide a crisp, bright, TV-like image with wide viewing angles.”
Rejecting ambient light is also important for content in 4K, because “higher definition can reveal more flaws in hardware and software,” Palmisano added.
Vutec’s Reverse Roll front deploy screens is designed to deploy in front of a flat-panel.
With projection screens invading the non-dedicated living space, Vutec has introduced the Reverse Roll front deploy screens, which is designed to deploy in front of a flat-panel TV. The Reverse Roll is used to clear obstructions near the screen-mounting surface, allowing the screen material to roll off the front of the roller drum. Reverse Roll is available as a self-supported or tab-tensioned surface, both of which come standard with Vutec’s EMS mounting system and FRS (fabric relief step), the latter of which does away with horizontal lines in the fabric.
Viewers continue to demand screens that are bigger and more cinematic, according to Chris Seymour, managing director of Seymour Screen Excellence (SSE). “Just as yesterday's 106-inch screens were the cinematic alternative to ‘big-screen TVs,’ projection screens are now scaling up to true theater-size viewing angles in the home.”
Seymour expects this consumer-driven trend to mature further on the technological side. “As the projector's light capabilities and source quality continues to improve, people increasingly want to get into 40- to 45-degree wide viewing angles,” he said. “We've seen reference-quality systems break past 50 degrees, which not long ago would have shown tradeoffs in image quality for immersion.”
SSE has released rigid masking panels for its Reference Fixed Frame (RF) screens. Magnets enable the panels to attach to the RF screen’s magnetic frames, so a screen’s aspect ratio can be matched to film content conveniently, and the panels can be detached when not needed. Compared to motorized masking screens, this solution costs 80 percent less due to its lack of moving parts, the company said.
Magnets enable Seymour Screen Excellence’s rigid masking panels to attach to its Reference Fixed Frame screen’s magnetic frames, so screen aspect ration can be matched to film content conveniently, and the panels can be detached when not needed.
Adapting to 3D
In the 3D realm, a larger content base has continued to drive screen manufacturers to adapt accordingly. “Active 3D systems, where the camera records and the projector displays a different image for each eye, have become popular for home use,” noted Joaquin Rivera, VP of sales at Stewart Filmscreen. “However, there is a loss of brightness through these systems, which must be compensated for by the screen. Stewart Filmscreen’s Reflections Active 170 3D screen material features a high degree of brightness, over 70 percent greater in comparison to unity gain screens, [which] delivers a superior image to viewers using active shutter glasses.”
The Reflections Active 170 3D screen also features white field uniformity and an improved viewing cone that make the material appropriate for a wide range of applications, even long-throw cinemas, Rivera said. The material can also be perforated for acoustical transparency, as well.
Stewart also offers its Cabaret retractable screen for “lifestyle” customers. It’s described as a “sleek, contemporary” design meant to blend with any décor.
Keeping Costs Down
David Rodgers, marketing manager for Elite Screens, sees both the 4K and acoustically transparent material trends overtaking the interest in 3D, but a major sticking point in a broader market appeal is price. “Although there will always be high-dollar integration jobs for those who can afford to spare no expense, there is a huge pool of integration customers that want the right gear but presently cannot afford it,” he said.
Elite Screens’ Lunette A4K curved frame projection screen with acoustically transparent material allows viewers to feel more physically drawn into what they’re watching.
Rodgers predicts a major shift occurring in about five years. “Current trends will allow [consumers] to acquire a full AV solution along with the integrator’s expertise still included,” he stated. “This trend will inevitably put a good, better, or best fully integrated AV system in most medium-plus sized homes and businesses, depending upon the tastes of the end user.”
Bob Hadsell, home theater sales manager for Draper, agreed that as technology advances, keeping costs down is an ongoing issue. “As a screen manufacturer, the challenge is to create surfaces that will enhance the experience while remaining cost effective,” he said
Hadsell believes that by increasing the emphasis on customization, screen manufacturers are better poised to succeed. “In order to compete against commoditized flat-screen TVs, screen manufacturers will continue to concentrate on special applications,” he noted.
Draper’s TheatreMask solution masks most fixed screens to various preset and custom positions for those projecting content from HDTV to CinemaScope. Available in a width masking system (height constant) and a height masking system (width constant), the TheatreMask adds just 2 inches on each side of the screen frame less than an inch above the screen, and is 3.75 inches deep. The solution installs quickly over permanently tensioned screens, and the frame is covered with light-absorbing black Veltex fabric.
Elite Screens’ Lunette A4K curved frame projection screen with acoustically transparent material allows viewers to feel more physically drawn into what they’re watching. The curve design compensates for any pincushion effect that could occur when projecting in widescreen format. The Lunette uses Elite’s AcousticPro A4K acoustically transparent material. The 1.0 gain surface has 0.25-mm perforations in an angular mesh weave for sound penetration.
Draper’s TheatreMask solution masks most fixed screens to various preset and custom positions for those projecting content from HDTV to CinemaScope.
Creating a Theatrical Experience
The development of new trends inevitably brings new challenges, and old ones continue to nip at the industry’s heels. Public perception is one ongoing impediment. When consumers dream about how big they want their screens to be, their minds default to flat-panel TVs when projection should be their go-to. “The public has forgotten, or has not been educated, on what makes a great theatrical experience,” Hadsell said. “Projector and projection screen manufacturers need to work with our integration partners to revive that experience.”
Consumers also need to not come to accept a lower performance solution with the ever-sinking price of flat-panels, warned dnp’s Walsh.
For SI’s Gustafson, a lack of understanding exists for dealers. “The greatest challenge for the category today comes from a general lack of understanding as to the relative ease of selling and supporting the category,” he said. “Times have changed, and new technologies like those found in our Black Diamond Zero Edge now make projection an easily sold and thoroughly viable solution for many applications, especially in residential environments where overall design aesthetics and a cohesive décor play a greater role.”
From a purely technological front, scaling brightness from 2D to 3D can be challenging. “While higher gain screens can help with the challenges the projector manufacturers are facing with 3D brightness, such screens compromise image uniformity and don't help with the core problem: how to triple the light output when 3D is engaged,” Seymour said. “Scalability is essentially a projector limitation that will be solved soon,” he predicted.
The capability of screens working directly with projectors is a common theme, especially in light of the consumer trends at play. “As projection systems make their way from dedicated home theater environments (where ambient light can be fully controlled) to multi-functional entertainment environments (where some ambient light is intentionally or unintentionally present), the screen has to be designed to work with the projector to deliver higher brightness and contrast to the audience, while still maintaining nice uniformity,” explained Stewart’s Rivera.
Stewart offers the Cabaret retractable screen for “lifestyle” customers. A sleek, contemporary design is meant to blend with any décor.
Along those same lines, Elvin Grullon, regional account manager for Vutec believes the most important thing for dealers to know about screens today is that “screen manufactures try their hardest to work closely with projector manufacturers to improve, future proof, and optimize screens.”
Looking Toward the Future
For Elite’s Rodgers, the future is 4K projectors with alternating 2D/3D images and variable (anamorphic) aspect ratios. “As this happens, ultra-fine projection surfaces that vividly reflect images with clear color neutrality and stunning contrast will be in demand,” he said. “After that, the race will be getting all this to happen on a short-throw projector.”
In an appeal to this 2D/3D in one screen, Da-Lite has introduced the Multi Vision Imager fixed-frame screens, which was designed in response to demand for a single screen unit with both a 2D and 3D surface. The Multi Vision Imager accomplishes this by combining a fixed screen with a tab tensioned electric screen in one frame. Both surfaces are tensioned at all times for the flattest possible surface.
Even though 4K isn’t exactly a consumer format yet, Seymour said that screens still need to be designed considering that pixel density. “Plus, a screen with feature sizes appropriate for 4K will offer a more refined image for today’s resolutions.”
Da-Lite’s Multi Vision Imager fixed frame screens was designed in response to demand for a single screen unit with both a 2D and 3D surface.
Walsh, of dnp, expects more manufacturers will introduce “products with higher gains that are less likely to develop hot spots and will perform better with the new lower lumen output LED projectors.”
Rollable ambient light rejecting screens are what SI’s Gustafson considers “the most exciting new technological advancement,” for the category as they are highly immersive in use, and can be rolled up out of sight when not in use.
Gustafson cited statistics that suggest women today purchase more than half of consumer electronics sold in the U.S. every year. As a result, “Products and associated services [that] cater to women will soon outsell those that don’t, making projection an exciting category for integrators to embrace.”
All evidence indicates that projection screens will continue to be an ever more exciting category for dealers and consumers alike. Whether that takes the form of 2D, 3D, or 4K in a dedicated space or common media room, projection systems in general offer a consistently strong profit margin, and the screens are some of the most robust components of a home theater system.
According to Gustafson, “The kind of dual-purpose capability provided by projection is what makes the category a compelling move for so many, especially in these challenging economic times.”
Lindsey Adler is assistant editor of Residential Systems and Systems Contractor News.