Gray projector screens

Gray projector screens DEFAULT

Should I use classic white or high contrast gray?

Should I use white or gray projection screens?

There are two kinds of screen materials widely used for home theater. One is the traditional white that has been in use for decades, and the other is a light to medium gray. The concept of the gray screen was first introduced by Stewart Filmscreen with their Grayhawk product in 2001, and gray screens have become immensely popular ever since.

Gray screens are often called high contrast screens because their purpose is to boost contrast on digital projectors in viewing rooms that are not entirely dark. The gray screen absorbs ambient light that strikes it better than a white screen does. In so doing the black level on the screen is maintained. This works because, assuming the projector has ample lumen output as most digital projectors do, whites remain satisfyingly white while blacks are maintained at a deeper black. The net effect is to increase the contrast range of the image on the screen.

When the gray screens first appeared in 2001 digital projectors of all types were very much contrast challenged. Thus anything that could help boost contrast performance was a welcome addition to the home theater system. However, during the last three years contrast performance of digital projectors has increased at a rapid pace. Today's highest contrast projectors claim contrast ratios of up 3000:1 and higher. Though these specs are theoretical in nature and never achieved in real life, the fact is that contrast has improved considerably across the board on all digital projectors in the last three years.

Are gray screens still relevant?

We hear claims that today's high contrast DLP projectors have rendered gray screens obsolete. This is not so. It is true that high contrast projectors when used in a totally light controlled environment should be used with white screens. However, a totally light controlled environment entails much more than just being able to turn the lights off. You must consider the latent contrast value of your viewing room as well.

Do you plan to have a dark theater room, with dark walls, ceilings, furniture, carpets? Do you plan to view with no ambient light in the room, just as in a commercial movie theater? If the answer to these questions is yes, then by all means your best solution is a white screen with a high contrast projector. The true videophile will go to great lengths to establish these viewing conditions-this is classic high-end home theater at its best.

However, most home theater enthusiasts don't have the luxury of a dedicated, fully darkened viewing room. Projection systems are frequently set up in living rooms, multi-purpose entertainment rooms, and family rooms that have light colored walls, ceilings, drapes, etc. Thus, even when the lights are fully off, the light being reflected from the screen will bounce off of the reflective elements in the room and back onto the screen. In this situation, a gray screen will be more effective at killing this incident light and thus maintaining deeper black levels on the screen.


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.



The Special Edition DarkStar® provides reference grade video performance in either a dark room or rooms with high levels of interior lighting. Instead of the image washout common with typical matte-white projection screens, the SE DarkStar® blocks illumination from overhead or off-axis light sources for a bold, bright, crystal-clear image even in the most challenging spaces. When shown under optimal cinematic lighting conditions, the material lives up to its ISF certification by the world-renowned Imaging Science Foundation.

The projection surface is bordered by a 2.3” (59.4 mm) thick aluminum frame that is coated in hand-wrapped velvet. The DarkStar® 9 screen is a composite, multi-layer material designed to reject ambient light away from the viewer’s field of vision. This composite material eliminates the washout effect which destroys matte white imagery under bright room lighting conditions. The Dark Star® 9 material attaches to the frame using a spring and grommet construction that ensures perfect uniform flatness. In addition to absorbing overhead ceiling light, the DarkStar® 9’s black diffusion layer provides high-contrast performance to enhance color saturation, contrast and black level dynamic range.


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White or Gray Projector Screen Surface?

Projector screens come in all shapes and sizes, but you may not realize that they can vary in color, as well. Screens are available in shades ranging from bright white to very dark gray (sometimes marketed as “black”). Which color should you use?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a cut-and-dry, white-and-gray (or white-and-black) answer; it depends. Many variables including lighting, lighting control and image contrast will impact what color screen is best for you.

To fully unpack this issue, it’s important to understand how projectors work. Modern projectors start with a bright beam of light that is divided into its red, green and blue components. To project a red image on the screen, the red component of the image passes through while the blue and green are blocked. To project a purple image, the red and blue beams pass through while the green is blocked. To project a white image, all three colors can pass, and so on. Interestingly, when a black image is projected, all three components are blocked. Projectors can’t project black – they can only project nothing.

If you plan to use your projector in a room where total darkness is possible, it’s easy for the projector to project “nothing” to represent a black image because the room is black. There is no other illumination in the room to take away from that image. In this scenario, a white screen is your best bet.

To get the full benefits of a white screen, make sure there is no ambient light leaking in from windows. You should also have light control over both the overhead and other ambient lighting (table lamps, etc.). When used in a room with total darkness, a good white screen will reflect the projected image’s colors most accurately.

If total darkness is not possible in your space, you will notice that when black images are projected, you see the color of the screen, instead. All the parts of the image you’re trying to project as black or very dark will instead appear as some shade of gray and the image will look washed out.

Simulation of a Moderately Lit Environment on a White Screen

To combat this, many people choose to make the surface of their screen gray. When the screen is gray and there are sources of ambient light near the projected image, the black images will appear a bit closer to black than they would on a white screen. This also enables you to see more details between different shades of dark gray and black instead of those parts of the image looking solid gray.

Simulation of a Low Light Environment on a Gray Screen

Image contrast is another important variable to consider. Think about a movie like Batman, which is inherently low-contrast. Many scenes take place in dark areas where you’ll want to see the details in the darkness. In this scenario, it’s essential to use a gray screen to see every detail of the image. The darker the screen, the more detail you will see in low-contrast images. On the other hand, if you’re watching something with high-contrast, like a cartoon or sporting event, screen color won’t make a very big impact.

Before you decide which color is best for you, you should know that any surface that isn’t perfectly white, regardless of its application, will change the perceived color of your image. A gray screen is handy for adding contrast to dark areas, but it also adds a hint of gray to bright colors in your image. A brighter projector can combat the darkening of images on a gray screen, and often screens that are darker gray will have a bit of a sheen to keep the images bright.

Consider the area where you plan to use your projector. Is there a lot of ambient light? Can it be eliminated? Do you plan to watch low- or high-contrast movies and shows? No matter what your environment, you can easily enjoy projected images with the right color screen. Consider every variable to ensure that you choose the screen that will work best for you for many years to come.


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Projector screens gray

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