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2,234 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Under Construction

Many times a person asks for a screen recommendation and that's all they want- get a recommendation and then go buy or make the screen.

There is a lot of information in this and any forum and sometimes it can be hard to find. I started a Forum Index for the most asked about topics and provided links to those threads or posts that pertain to the topic. Now it's time for a screen guide!

This will be broken down into Munsell Shades of Gray. Each Section will then be broken down into Commercial screens and DIY or BIY (Build it Yourself and some call it) screens. The DIY section will be even further broken down to Simple Substrates, Simple One Can Off The Shelf (OTS) paints, and then more complex applications. This thread will be very deviod of data information. That will be able to be found in the corresponding links to which ever screen method a person is interested in.

Pricing or estimated cost of construction will be provided if known.

First before anything is listed, it is very important to calibrate your projector. Calibrating and getting a baseline is very important to determine what your projector can do and determine any weak areas (if any). So take some time to calibrate to a white screen or wall (preferable one painted with a primer such as Kilz2) to become familiar with your projector and setup. This will help determine what screen suites your needs best. People are always different though, so some may opt for different methods.

Screen Selection Guide Outline
  1. Preliminary Information and Baseline Calibration
  2. Deciding if a White Screen or Gray Screen is best for you
  3. Special Considerations when choosing a screen
  4. White Screens
  5. N9 Gray Screens
  6. N8 Gray Screens
  7. N7 Gray Screens
  8. N6 Gray Screens
Work got real hectic and took a priority but I didn't forget about this thread. Hopefully this weekend I'll get this updated. I have to go through the whole forum and create all the links and have to set some time aside for that.

2,234 Posts
Discussion Starter #2
Preliminary Information and Baseline Calibration

Before anyone can help make a recommendation, there first must be some preliminary information obtained. This isn't just a DIY thing, even professional installers, screen companies, and projector sales staff need to know some information before they can make any kind of useful comments.

Before getting into the list, sometimes things go backwards. Usually the first thing a person gets is the projector and then they worry about the screen, and lastly the room. Dedicated theater rooms are really much easier to assist people with. More and more people though are incorporating projectors in their living rooms or other multi-purpose rooms, such as myself until I can build an addition on the house that is a proper true 'theater'. These rooms take much more thought and planning. Granted a dedicated theater room will cost much more and yes there is plenty of design and planning that goes into it, but typically they do not have to deal with some of the problems that a multi-purpose room has, primarily light issues.

When it comes to this, there will always be disagreements by some on how to go about things. As mentioned, a professional HT Integrator will do an on-site assessment before recommended anything, especially the projector.

Stewart Screens says this:[MOUSE]Most enthusiasts believe a great custom installation begins with the projector. Why should consumers radically change this view? "At Stewart we believe our 'screen-centric' approach ensures the perfect match between the screen, the room, and the projector. The key parameters in the screen selection are size, type, material, and lighting conditions.[/MOUSE]
Now I know... what would we expect a screen company to say? Except if you apply this to any screen and room setup and not just Stewart, it is really good advice.

The room determines the size and type of screen as well as the projector. Many try to force a screen that is way too large for the setting. It is always 'cool' to have a monster size screen that is absolutely as big as possible for the wall. At first it feels 'immerse' and impressive, but once the coolness factor wears off and practicality and optimal viewing starts to be considered, many times people actually reduce their screen sizes. If you feel like you are at the centerline at Wimbledon- your head and eyes constantly turning and darting back and forth to take in the action, the screen is too large for the setting.

What are the room dimensions, how many rows of seats are planned? Height is calculated based on the distance from the prime seating position. Based on the desired aspect ratios and room dimensions we can help pick a screen. Also the type of screen, color, size, seating distance... it really does depend on that.

If someone were to come to me with a room like I have and say they haven't started and are just looking for advice, this is where I do agree with what Stewart said- I would first recommend a screen that handles ambient lighting well, and then recommend a projector that can handle the screen and room setting.

Many times though a person buys the projector first, and then learns about its limits. That's no fault of their own, this is a tad more difficult than buying an HDTV and just plugging it in.

With that said, 99% of the time we are asked for recommendations after the projector if already purchased. In some cases the projector is very versatile and a wide range of options can be given. Sometimes though the projector now dictates what is needed, and that may not always be optimal for the actual room conditions, but we still try to help.

So when researching a screen option or asking for assistance in making a decision (never let anyone tell you what to use unless it's options of several screens). A Home Theater, whether it is a dedicated room or a multi-purpose room is not only impressive, but has to look good. Listen to the advice, but also do your own research. The best advice I can give anyone is not to trust anyone blindly. Read what they are saying, educate yourself, and you decide. Anyone that pushes something on you most likely doesn't know your setting and isn't looking out for your best interests.

Now for the list:
When helping to chose a screen we need the following-
  • Room dimensions
  • Seating distance, and if multiple rows of seating, where is the prime seating distance going to be.
  • Lighting conditions. This really is an important factor.
  • Viewing habits. Do you do most viewing with lights off? Do you only watch movies on the big screen? Will there be lighting on from time to time, and where is the lighting located in reference to the screen? Will there be any daytime viewing where sunlight is a concern? These are all very important when determining a screen and making a recommendation.
  • What projector you have (if you already purchased one), and the exact brand and model.
From there we can start looking at options, but also an important factor is talking to the person and listening to what they want and expect. Only then can a recommendation be made with some faith the person will be happy with it.

The truth is, without really seeing the setup, all we can do is recommend. The final decision is up to you, and the better educated you are on both screens and projectors, the better you are to make a decision.

Maybe that sounded a bit wishy washy, but really this does come down to what you are expecting and looking for.

Calibration- After all that, please don't over look calibrating your projector. Even if it is just using the THX calibrator that comes with any THX cerified movie. It is a basic calibration, but still... it covers the fundamentals. Avia and DVD Essentials also have calibration discs, as does the ISF organization. Most are well under $30 and are definitely well worth it.

I always recommend calibrating to a unity gain white screen before making any screen decision. The reason is because this is what the company that made your projector set it up to be calibrated to as a standard. This will tell you any strengths and weaknesses that your projector has, and from there you can decide on how to improve things. Without doing this, it is difficult if not impossible to tell if you actually did improve things or not, or perhaps even made them worse. A baseline calibration is very important when setting up a projector system.

Also remeber this, and this is critical too... when you change screen to a darker gray, or even if you go from gray to white, recalibration to the new screen is a must.

2,234 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
Deciding if a White Screen or Gray Screen is best for you

For those building a Home Theater room from the ground up, this is easier than for those that are working with an existing living room, but it is still very easy and well worth the little extra time even with an existing living room setup.

It is highly recommended that even for a living room that is going to be more of a multi-function room than a dedicated Home Theater to still paint the walls a darker color than the typical Off White that most walls are painted. This does a couple of things, first the darker colored walls help tone down any light reflected from the screen itself. The last thing anyone wants is to create their own ambient light from reflections off of white walls. Next it also helps to make the screen image look more vibrant and for us to see more depth and a vivid image. It is similar in principle to the black border adding to our perceived black levels and image contrast. Lastly... a nice Burgundy or other darker shade can add a flair of style to the room and decor.

If you decide to repaint the entire room as suggested, before painting the wall where the screen is going to be, and this applies to whether a person decides to go with a substrate, or to paint the screen directly on the wall, or even if you are planning on a commercial screen, put a nice coat of Kilz2 primer on the wall. Why not? It certainly isn't going to hurt the final wall color the room is being painted, and it gives you a nice white reference screen. All the projector companies I talked to do their testing and setup calibration on a plain Jane white unity gain screen. Kilz2 will give you a nice white unity gain (1.0) screen, or in this case a wall with a nice white surface that you can test your projector on. Kilz2 is pretty inexpensive and this step is well worth it.


Turn the projector on and project an image on the wall, preferable a solid blue image, but a welcome screen such as this example will work.


Select the desired Aspect Ratio dimensions on the projector if applicable, then use the zoom function to set the screen size on the wall to the exact size you prefer.

Once the screen placement and ratio have been setup, calibrate the projector. Most people neglect to calibrate and check the initial projector performance and limitations on a reference screen. This will show you exactly how well your projector performs and give you a baseline. AVIA or Digital Video Essentials are the two calibration discs most people use, but the THX Optimizer that is included with every THX certified DVD works nicely too if you don't have either of the calibration DVDs mentioned.

Here is a sample of one of the calibration screens.

Now sit back and watch some content. Make sure to watch both DVDs and any sports or television channels you like. Basically, spend a few nights watching the type of content you plan on using the projector for. This part is very important in determining what it is you want to do with your projector, and if there are any weak areas that could use some help with the right screen.

If viewing is going to be done only at night, or total light control is possible, this will show how well the projector black levels are as well as the color. If you are satisfied that the blacks are black and the image looks good then a white screen will work fine for your setup and environment, you're done- paint the wall the color of the rest of the room and select a white screen. You now know what your projector baseline is and if you are happy with the blacks, there is no reason to go any further with grays.

A lot of projectors, especially older ones (even ones that are only a year old too) have trouble with black though. If you feel even with the lights off and in total darkness the blacks look more gray, or just aren't what you expected and want, then even with total light control you may want to look at a gray screen. A light gray can have a dramatic effect on the black levels. The most annoying area on the projected image that this shows up is in the letter box area. If this area doesn't look black, it can be very distracting to some people. With my white screen, even with light control I wasn't happy with the letter box area and was going to build a complex masking system. Once I switched to a gray screen, there is no longer a need for a mask.

So if a gray seems to be in your future, which gray and shade? An N9 shade of gray will punch up the black level a surprising amount over a plain white screen. This may be all the darker in shade you want or need to go. Projector Lumen rating comes into play with grays too. What you are looking for is the point where the image has dark blacks, the whites remain white, and there is no loss in the color vibrancy or shadow detail.

If there will be times when some lights are on in the room, an N8 shade will help with the ambient lighting. Two very inexpensive ways to quickly test what shade is optimal are Winter Mist for an N9 shade, or Winter Mountain for an N8 shade. (Both of these are True Value colors and are $7-$9 a quart) I am not sure if Tiddler broke down the EasyFlex colors to what their Munsell rating is, but those tints can certainly be used as well. Simply use a pencil to mark off the corners of the screen image area, and then use painters tape to mask the entire area off. Roll on two coats of whichever shade you want to try (I would start with an N9 shade first) and then watch some movies again when it is dry. Don't forget to calibrate the projector for the darker shade or you won't get an accurate idea of the performance. (Note: with the right gray, you shouldn't have to make changes to the color balance, only he brightness and contrast levels. If any color balance changes are needed, they should be very slight or else the gray is shifting the colors) If this still isn't producing satisfying black levels, repeat the process with the N8 shade. For total light control though, I honestly can't see going beyond an N8.5 shade.

Projectors under 1000 Lumens should stick with an N9 shade of gray or white screen. 1000 to 1500 raw lumens can handle an N8 shade, and 1700 lumens and over can go to an N7 shade, but N8 seems to be optimal for both daylight and lights out performance for 1700 and higher lumens. Also keep in mind that there is a difference between raw lumen ratings and video optimized lumen output. My projector is rated at 1700 lumens, but video optimized it is more like 500 lumens. I am working on a lumen chart that should make all of this easier for people.

This does seem like a lot of work, but in the end it is really worth it to know your projector and have a baseline on it no matter what screen method you go with. One huge advantage of DIY is the cost factor. It would be extremely cost prohibitive for a person to get a white screen, calibrate, and decide they don't like the performance... then get a grey screen like a GrayHawk, only to find out that is too dark for their tastes... the process can go on and on. Unless the company you are buying your screens from has a very liberal return policy, it could start running into quite a bit of money. Even for those wanting a commercial screen, this method is a very easy and inexpensive way for them to narrow down what shade they like the best, so they would only have to make a one shot screen purchase... however most people end up amazed at how well DIY screens perform and opt to just stick with it rather than spend hundreds, even thousands on something that looks the same, or maybe just marginally better.

2,234 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
Special Considerations when choosing a screen

First, I have to say and state that there is no one magic screen out there whether it is DIY or commercial screens.

Screen selection is just as important as projector selection but often it is one of the last things a person thinks about.

When selecting your screen you have to think about what the viewing conditions will be like for the majority of your average viewing. If it is with total light control, then combating ambient light issues most likely isn't a concern. Still, even with total light control there can be some benefits to using a gray screen. Mostly that depends on your projector and your personal preferences and tastes. Some people like whites being as white as possible, other's want blacks as deep and dark as possible. Typically when there is no other reference for our eyes to see, whites still remain white to us, but blacks can start to wash out and go gray quickly.

Spend some time deciding how you want to use your projector and I strongly encourage everyone to do testing on a plain white reference screen to get a baseline and idea of how their projector performs under factory conditions. Kilz2 works very well for getting a baseline or your projector's performance. If it is fine, then go with a white screen. If you are not satisfied with black levels, then a gray screen is most likely in your future.

Selecting the shade of gray can be a daunting task too. The key and rule of thumb is to go darker until the whites start to take a noticeable hit. Different projectors and screen sizes will all have varying points where this happens. Once you find the optimal compromise in shade, then you have your ideal screen!

Also make sure to recalibrate when changing to different screen shades. This is very important because it can mislead you to think something looks bad when maybe just a couple of clicks on the brightness and contrast settings will bring it right in.

In the end, nobody can really tell another person what will work and be perfect for them. I've mentioned this before and it still holds true- Even two people with identical projectors, room layouts exactly the same, light control the same in both settings... and they may have two completely different screens.

The beauty of DIY is that it allows a person to test a variety of screen options quickly and inexpensively. Imagine having to buy commercial screens just to test and find out what you like and don't like. A person also isn't restricted to DIY, they can use this method to nail down what shade of screen works best for them and then buy a commercial screen and know it won't be money wasted because they immediately don't like it.

Screen samples are always an option, but it can be very difficult to get a feel for how it will perform as a full screen in your setting. With screen samples, they usually tend to be small in size and there is always another reference for your eyes to pick up on.

So take your time and educate yourself. Asking questions is always welcome, but never go blindly on what anyone says, always do some research of your own. In the end, it will be well worth it.

Types of Screens
The other part of screen selection is what type of screen do you want. Some people prefer a fixed frame screen, and for them there are many options in both commercial and DIY. In this particular instance, I give the advantage to DIY. Cost and performance DIY far exceeds the price of commercial screens. That extra money saved could go towards other items, one example might be something like a nice universal remote like the Pronto, or depending on what brand commercial screen... it could even be the price difference of a new High Definition player.

Retractable screens- Now commercial manufacturers have the upper hand. I have yet to see an inexpensive retractable screen not to have wave issues. Waves in the screen can ruin the entire movie experience very quickly. Tab-Tensioned is the only way I would go when it comes to a retractable screen.

Some people have tried various methods to decrease the wave issue. Some add weights to the bottom bar, while others have actually painted their screens. I'd say for the very cheap retractable screens painting may be worth looking into, but there really hasn't been any long term results on that method. Paint does try out and get brittle and sooner or later the question of the screen starting to crack comes up. Since we're talking about a retractable screen that is under the $200 price range, it may not be a concern to some people. I personally would not paint a more expensive retractable screen. Sell it to someone else and then use that money towards your new screen.

So the best advice I could possibly give anyone is to do some research and ask lots of questions. The more you know, the better equipped you are at making the best decision.

2,234 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
White Screens

For this and the next several posts the layout will be known screens that match the thread title. All options mentioned will be screen methods (both commercial and DIY) that perform exceptionally well. There is no particular order or preference of one being better than another. It is a compilation of known screens. For more information on a particular screen, refer to the appropriate thread for that screen option.

White Screens
White- what exactly is white? Technically it's a color value of 255 255 255. Black is 0 0 0. Anything in-between is technically gray. The thing is at a certain level we see and perceive these very light grays as white. Our brain is a complex but funny thing. We look at our surroundings and certain things we 'know' are supposed to be a certain color, so that's how we see it. Nobody has pure white walls, even as white as the trim looks, as stated it technically isn't a true pure white.

So does all of that really matter? Not really. Just that we understand a few things and why so many whites can look so different from each other.

White screens are some of the most basic and easiest. They are also the most forgiving when it comes to calibrating a projector. For dedicated rooms with total light control, white screens will produce the most accurate color reproduction as well as the best and most stellar whites.

Sounds perfect right? Well sadly no screen is perfect, nor is there any screen that is a one screen suits all. White screens take the biggest hit when it comes to ambient light viewing, and depending on the projector, they can even be too bright. 12 fL (foot Lambert's) of brightness is considered ideal for total lights out viewings. I've observed that you can go to 14fL and still have a vibrant image without whites and bright colors that bloom, but higher than that and eye fatigue can set in, even headaches.

Another issue is if the room isn't a dedicated theater room, meaning darker colored walls and ceilings, a bright white screen can actually produce it's own ambient light problems. The light from the screen can and will bounce off the white walls and ceiling and back onto the screen. As I mentioned, white screens tend to wash out quickly and for some people this rebounding light is enough that some people prefer another option. However if they are willing to make a few adjustments to the room, they can correct any scatter light issues that may be a nuisance to them.

Without further ado... the know white screens.

Commercial Screens (No particular order)

Material screens

StudioTek 130- 246 246 241
Carada Brilliant White- 244 245 242
UltraMatte 150- 244 243 238
(more to come)

Commercial Screen Paints

Digital Image Ultra White Base- 248 247 243
Digital Image Optical Coating Only- 239 240 235
Digital Image Ultra White with Optical Coating- 247 245 238

DIY Theatre White Platinum No Contrast- (Readings coming)

Digital Theater White (No Data-never tested)

Goo Systems CRT White (No Data-never tested)

Liquiscreen True White (No Data-never tested)
Liquiscreen White Plus (No Data-never tested)

Rosco Off Broadway White White (Readings coming)

DIY White Screens

Material and Substrates (No particular order)

Pionite White SW811- 239 238 236
Formica White 949-58- 238 236 236
Wilsonart Designer White D354-60- 234 236 235
Formica Bright White 459-58- 234 236 234
Parkland Plastics Polywall- 235 237 232
Do-Able- 224 225 223


Behr UPW- 249 249 245
Kilz2- 234 237 234
Rosco Off Broadway White White (Readings coming)

Note Rosco is listed under both Commercial and DIY. That is because Rosco acknowledges the paint is used for screens for theater and stage applications, but it's not technically sold as a pure commercial screen paint.

14,914 Posts
It's been a while since anything was added to this list. Have there been any new DIY screens that anyone would recommend?
I've actually gotten some new readings from some substrates that would probably work very well. I'm swamped at the moment though so it may be a week or two before I add them.

1 Posts
Just looking through some old posts, Sherwin Williams SW7071 Grey Screen is a close N8 solution.

Another post lists SW6260 Unique Grey as another N8 solution.

I'd love to see the thread updated with other choices

30 Posts
Re: Deciding if a White Screen or Gray Screen is best for you

How do I determine the video optimized lumens of my projector a Sharpvision XV-9000U? What I'm trying to do is determine type of painted screen to use. Living room that is 15' X 18' with 15'+ vaulted ceiling. The screen wall on the 15" opens into dining room that has window another 12' feet away. Windows on the other 18' wall. I can mount the projector (wall mount) as close to screen as needed (8.5' high). Seating is 12' to 16' feet from screen. Thinking 16:9 100" diag screen.

Right now I'm leaning towards Universal Grey in eggshell finish.
Any recommendations?

Moderator Emeritus
3,772 Posts
Re: Deciding if a White Screen or Gray Screen is best for you

How do I determine the video optimized lumens of my projector a Sharpvision XV-9000U?
The proper way to do this is to calibrate your PJ; a calibration DVD will work to a degree, but you really need a colorimeter and calibration software to do the job. If you opt to use a DVD alone you will still need a light meter to read the image brightness after you've calibrated your PJ. These are quite inexpensive (around $25 at Amazon). These inexpensive light meters, for the purpose of reading screen lumens, are WAY better than meters designed for photographic use costing hundreds of dollars!

What I'm trying to do is determine type of painted screen to use. Living room that is 15' X 18' with 15'+ vaulted ceiling. The screen wall on the 15" opens into dining room that has window another 12' feet away. Windows on the other 18' wall. I can mount the projector (wall mount) as close to screen as needed (8.5' high). Seating is 12' to 16' feet from screen. Thinking 16:9 100" diag screen.

Right now I'm leaning towards Universal Grey in eggshell finish.
Any recommendations?
The Universal Gray in eggshell finish using Valspar Ultra Premium interior latex would be a good choice, but I would recommend a smaller screen size since your PJ is a bit lacking in lumens. A 100" screen would only give you 13 fc of image brightness with the PJ mounted at 13' 1" from the screen. This is a bit dim for many people and will only get dimmer as the lamp ages. Dropping down to a 93" screen and mounting the PJ at 12' 2" ups the brightness to 16 fc which most people find OK. I'm using the data from the calculator at projectorcentral.

The reason why I specified the Valspar paint above is that not all paint brands use the same gloss levels in their paints. One brand's satin me be another brand's eggshell, or the opposite.
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