The best projector screen for most people is the $200 Silver Ticket 100″, which I found out after spending 90 hours building (and painting) screens, watching content, measuring image quality, and comparing them side by side. The Silver Ticket is easy to assemble and available in a variety of sizes, and has a surface that is relatively neutral. There are screens that are better, or cheaper, but none match the Silver Ticket in that perfect balance of better and cheaper. For people who need a screen for their projector, the Silver Ticket will do a fantastic job. In fact, measuring it against my own $2,700 screen made me wish I’d gotten the Silver Ticket instead.
If the Silver Ticket is sold out, the Elite Screens SableFrame 100″ in CineWhite is a decent runner-up. It’s about $50 more and is harder to assemble than our main pick, but performance is comparable.
I’ve been reviewing displays and projectors for more than half a decade now. I’m ISF certified to get the best out of any display device and have all the NIST-certified equipment to measure any TV, projector, or screen that comes along.
But if you ask a home theater expert or aficionado what to choose, more often than not, they’ll recommend something that costs more than the projector itself. Our pick is aimed more at someone looking to put together a casual home theater on a budget or just wanting to upgrade from a living room wall. A good screen can last a long time, so it’s worth investing enough money to get something that’s easy to set up and offers decent performance.
For most people, it’s not worth paying significantly more than a few hundred dollars since you’d need a high-end, properly calibrated projector to be able to perceive any noticeable performance gains. But if you have those things and want to get the most out of your setup, our premium pick has long been an industry standard and offers better performance than anything cheaper.
Regardless of how much you spend, know that screen technology is not some fast-moving tech sector like smartphones or tablets. The screen you buy today will likely last through multiple projectors before needing replacement. For example, our best overall performer, the StudioTek 130, has been made for more than a decade with various incremental upgrades. Many professional reviewers have used the StudioTek 130 since the age of CRT projectors, and it still holds up today.
If you already have a projection screen that isn’t made of blackout cloth1 and uses a real screen material, you’re probably OK and don’t need to go out and buy a screen. But if you want to go larger, as the latest projectors are bright enough to support larger images, it’s worth considering a new screen.
Unlike TVs, projectors are actually one part of a multipart system. The screen, room, and projector all play a role in the final image you see. A projector can be perfectly accurate (more on this below), but the image can still look wrong because of how the screen is affecting it. While testing, the main factors we considered in a projection screen were: gain, color accuracy, viewing angle, and texture.
A higher gain, made possible by special screen materials, reflects more light back toward the center of the room. This creates a brighter image, but it also reduces viewing angles and can introduce hot spots (areas of the image that are noticeably brighter than other areas). It used to be that a higher gain was necessary, but as projectors have gotten more powerful, today a gain of 1.0 is often sufficient.
Viewing angles influence how wide you can sit from the center of the screen before the light noticeably drops off. With a gain of 1.0, the viewing angle can be close to 180 degrees, since it reflects everything more or less equally in all directions. With a higher gain, the viewing angle gets smaller, as you are in essence “focusing” the reflected light more toward the center of the room. With a high-gain screen, you’ll want to put seats closer to the center of the screen.
The texture of the screen also impacts how much detail you can see. If a screen’s texture is evident from a usual seating distance, it will alter the image quality and possibly your enjoyment. If the screen material is very fine, then you will not see any texture from a normal viewing distance, so the image appears smooth.
Almost all of the screen reviews out there are of expensive screens, so we had to start from scratch. I first went to the AccuCal Projection Screen Material Report. W. Jeff Maier of AccuCal has tested samples of many screen materials using high-end equipment to determine their color accuracy and actual gain. Since he is dealing with only samples of the materials (often 8½– by 11-inch pieces) that he is sent through the mail, the report doesn’t go into construction or installation of the screens themselves.
Next, research turned to the main AV forums: AVSForum, AVForums, and other resources. Here the screen conversations range from the top-of-the-line Stewart to a DIY option for $3 from Home Depot. There are also many small Internet Direct companies that would otherwise go unnoticed without discussions at AVS and other locations.
We also pored over reviews from Amazon, making sure to carefully read what people actually complained about. I also talked to other reviewers and calibrators to find out what they might have used and seen in their work that impressed them, even if they had not formally reviewed that particular screen.
After all that, we set out to review 100-inch, 16:9 screens, as close to 1.0 gain as possible. We figured this was a good-size, average screen that would work for most people. You can certainly go larger, though the image will be dimmer (by an amount equal to the increase in screen area). Since almost no modern projector will have an issue creating a bright image on a 100-inch screen (and most can even do larger), we didn’t feel anything higher than 1.0 was necessary. Since most content is 16:9, that was also our pick, though many companies make 2.35:1 options as well.
We didn’t test pull-down screens or light-rejecting materials unless we already had a sample around. Those are more specialized cases, and we were looking for the screen that would be best for the greatest number of people in a semi-permanent home setting.
The Stewart StudioTek 130 obviously doesn’t fit this criteria, but we still included it in our tests because Stewart is the best-selling screen brand for custom home theaters, and the StudioTek 130 is the company’s best-selling material. It is the reference standard for a home theater screen and the one most reviewers are likely to recommend if you ask for a single suggestion. We wanted to make sure to pit everything against the reference to see how well they perform, and find out if the Stewart really does offer reference-level performance to justify its lofty reputation.
To test the contenders, every screen was built and tested in my home theater room. I used an Epson 5020UBe projector combined with a Lumagen Radiance 2021 video processor to make the projected image as close to reference accurate as possible. Using a spectrometer and a colorimeter I measured the images off the lens, then off the screen, to see how much of a color shift each screen introduced, and to calculate the gain. (Most of the screens we found had claimed a 1.1 gain, but these numbers are often embellished by the manufacturer, hence the testing.) A variety of content was viewed on each screen to look for sparkles, hot spots, texture, or other issues.
At $200 for a 100-inch 16:9 screen, the Silver Ticket is the cheapest overall option tested for a prebuilt screen, but it performs as well as options that cost up to seven times as much. Moving up to a 120-inch model adds $50, and there are many other sizes available from 92 inches up to 175. It is also available in 2.35:1 aspect ratios for people who want the CinemaScope experience at home.
Assembling the Silver Ticket is also an easy task. The top and bottom rails are in two pieces to make shipping easier, and putting them together is not hard. It took me 30 minutes total to assemble the screen, which is one of the quickest times of any screen tested.
Once hung on the wall there is no visible flex in the top or bottom rail, and it looks well made. By comparison, the Elite Screens SableFrame model costs more for the same size and offers similar performance, but I ended up with bruised thumbs after spending almost three times as long to build it. The result was similar, but it took more effort and time to get there.
As far as objective measurements go, we made more than a thousand measurements per screen and have consolidated the data into a table below. We go into further detail in the Lots more data section for those who are interested. While some screens measure better than the Silver Ticket, they are either seven times more expensive or time-intensive DIY projects, which most people aren’t up for.
I calculated a gain for the Silver Ticket of around 0.95 compared to our NIST reference measurement, which is all you need for a modern projector. Though, it should be noted that it falls short of its claimed gain of 1.1. It also had exceptional color accuracy.
The Grayscale (blue) errors include blue- or red-tinted whites. Saturation (red) measures colors from 10% to 100% saturation to check for linearity. ColorChecker (yellow) uses a selection of 96 real-world colors (blues for sky, greens for plants, etc.) made popular by GretagMacbeth for film cameras. Average (green) is a simple average of all three results.
|Grayscale dE2000||Saturations dE2000||ColorChecker dE2000||Average dE2000|
|Behr Silver Screen||3.88||2.92||2.8||3.2|
|Wilsonart Designer White||4.11||2.79||2.86||3.25|
Error levels between the projector (reference) and the screens. An ideal screen will produce the exact same numbers as the reference. Any difference means the screen is affecting the color of the reflected image. Numbers use the Delta E 2000 formula, where lower is better.
Measurement data from CalMAN 5.3.6 provided by SpectraCal
Building your own screen with blackout cloth, wood, and felt can easily cost $100 if you already own all the tools you need (staple gun, saw), and it can’t be taken apart later or moved easily. At only $200, the Silver Ticket provides little reason to build your own screen instead of buying one that you can assemble yourself and hang in less than an hour. A DIY paint version offers performance that isn’t as good, and requires you to sand a wall to be perfectly flat, a paint sprayer to avoid texture, and it has to be painted over if you move. The small savings aren’t worth it in comparison, especially when the image is still worse overall.
The color of the Silver Ticket is not perfectly neutral. The Goo Systems GooToob is more neutral, as are both Stewart screens. Everything else tested, including my personal $2,700 screen, had a color tint equal to or worse than the Silver Ticket’s. The tint it introduces is still low enough that, with most projectors, it won’t be noticeable to the naked eye. I paired it with my calibrated projector and had no color tint issues while watching real world content.
When the lights are up and I look in the lower-right corner, it isn’t perfectly taut. Watching a movie or TV show, I never notice it, but I can with the lights on. Most of the other assembled screens don’t suffer from this, but I never saw it during an actual viewing, so I’m really not concerned about it.
I’ve been using our pick for the past seven months, and it has held up just fine. I’ve used multiple projectors with it without an issue, taken it down for a move, and built it back up again with no problems at all.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $290.
For many people it won’t be the best pick because you can’t easily install it by yourself. It also will be attached to the wall, so if you move to another house or even change the location of your projector, it will mean starting all over (and transferring it to a new wall is not easy). It costs the same as the 120-inch version of the Silver Ticket and offers a better image, but it is harder to set up and install.
Stewart has been making screens for cinemas and other installations for decades and remains the go-to option for custom installers. The StudioTek 130 is the company’s best-selling product and has a pop like no other. It is expensive, but it did outperform everything else we tested.
We pulled out far more data from CalMAN than just the numbers presented earlier. Everything is compared to the light directly from our reference projector, the Epson 5020UBe (last year’s pick for Best Projector), calibrated off the lens using an i1Pro Spectrometer. Calibrating directly from the lens prevents the screen or room from interfering with the measurements and shows what the projector can actually do. The RGB balance of the projector can be seen below. What we want is every bar to be at 100 with as little deviation from that as possible.
Charts below show the RGB balance for the StudioTek 130, then our favorite overall screen, the Silver Ticket, and for comparison the Wilsonart Designer White, one of the DIY materials.
As you can see, the Stewart tracks very close to the Epson projector, while the Silver Ticket adds a blue tint to bright images by absorbing some red and green light, but this isn’t really noticeable to the naked eye unless you have the reference screen next to it for a direct comparison. The Designer White, on the other hand, adds a lot of blue that’s easy to see with the naked eye. The screen surfaces are actually changing the image from the projector, so an image that might be accurate out of the projector is no longer accurate once it hits the screen. This is only looking at the grayscale, but similar issues happen with color, as we’ll see.
Here is the chart for color saturation errors for the Epson projector. This measures the six primary and secondary colors at 10 brightness intervals to see how well it displays different shades of those colors. This gives us 62 data points, including black and white, to measure accuracy. With this chart we want every bar to be as low as possible. Any measurements less than 3.0 (indicated by the green line in the charts below) are considered invisible to the naked eye, so if we stay below that it should look perfect.
Aside from an issue as it reaches 100%, we are there. Everything coming out of the Epson lens has an error level so low that you cannot see it with your eyes. Colors are not over-saturated; if they were, objects would look flat and like solid blocks of a single color instead of having distinct shades. You need equipment to measure a difference, but if it’s really bad, it’s quite visible. Again, below are the results for the StudioTek, the Silver Ticket, and the Wilsonart. Measurements for the GooToob paper are at the bottom.
Again, the Stewart has no equal when it comes to a regular projection screen for color accuracy. It is the most expensive screen in the testing, but it does measurably and visibly outperform everything else. The Silver Ticket has larger errors, but very few of them get close to the green line that indicates a visible error. On the Designer White there are clearly visible issues in cyan all across the spectrum, and visible errors on the lower percentage saturations in other colors. The GooToob is also effectively perfect here.
Since most people do not calibrate their projector but, hopefully, use the most accurate mode mentioned in reviews of it, having a screen that doesn’t alter that image (i.e., make it worse) is important. A calibrator with tools can fix the projector to account for the tint of a screen, but that’s an extra $300 to $500 expense after you buy the screen.
As far as gain goes, the Elite CineWhite and Stewart Cima Neve come in at 1.1 gain, compared to our NIST reference, while the StudioTek 130 is right at 1.3. The lowest gain is the Behr Silver Screen paint, at 0.48, and the Screen Goo paint, at 0.66. The paint numbers are very low and you’ll need a bright projector for those to look presentable. The other gains are all close enough to 1.0 or beyond that with any current projector they will look very bright.
When we talk about an accurate projector, we are targeting a specific level of performance. When you think of HDTV or UltraHD, you likely think in terms of pixel count. While this is the most recognizable specification for these technologies, there are many more behind them—color, for example, and others.
The importance here is that you see on your screen what the creators of your content intended you to see. Look at the original Matrix film which has a green tint to the virtual world scenes and a more saturated, natural color scheme to the real world images. With an incorrect image, storytelling cues like this are lost, since you don’t see what the director had intended you to see. Call us video purists, but we prefer accurate images over inaccurate. Since the Silver Ticket is very neutral and costs less than the competition, there’s no trade off. If you want to adjust your projector to look differently from accurate, the Silver Ticket will reflect back to you whatever you want.
HDTV color temperature and color points (explained below) are defined by the Rec. 709 specification. Among the specifications we target with an accurate projector are:
A screen has to enable a projector that is accurate, to remain accurate. If it throws off the gamma, adjusts the white point, or can’t reflect the full color spectrum, then it will be incapable of producing an accurate image no matter what projector you have.
The Stewart Cima line is their most affordable line, and the Neve 1.1 is their closest product to the Silver Ticket. It also measures superbly but costs $1,435 compared with $200 for the Silver Ticket. The StudioTek 130 has the extra gain and pop that make it look better in use, and the GooToob offers almost identical performance at a fraction of the cost. It is a very good screen, but others offer more value or better performance.
The $1,600 Screen Innovations SolarHD 4K material is a direct competitor to the StudioTek 130 and my personal screen. In measurements it comes up short compared with the StudioTek, with a blue tint, while costing almost as much. The measured performance isn’t good enough to recommend it over our choices. If you want a premium screen, you should pay the extra for the StudioTek 130.
The $322 Monoprice Fixed Frame Projection Screen looks very similar to the Silver Ticket. It uses a similar tension pole system to mount the screen, but has single-piece top and bottom frame sections that are higher quality. It also requires more tension to mount the screen, which can keep it free of wrinkles. It also causes far more cursing and sweating during assembly. The wall mounting system is also a bit nicer than the one that comes with the Silver Ticket.
However, the screen material itself is different, and the Monoprice has a heavy blue tint compared to the Silver Ticket. The single-piece top and bottom frame sections are nice, but offer no benefit in real life. They also make it a much larger, and more expensive, box to ship. Since the Monoprice costs more, is harder to assemble, and offers worse performance, it isn’t a good option compared to the Silver Ticket.
Screen Materials from Carl’s Place are the top sellers at Amazon, but there are better options. The blackout cloth looks very poor when compared with a real screen material, and has a low gain and a noticeable texture to it. The FlexiGray material adds too much of a blue tint, even more than the white surfaces we tested, but does improve black levels. The darker base color makes the blacks from our Epson projector inkier and closer to a model like the Sony HW40ES but dims whites and adds that blue tint. The FlexiWhite has similar measurements to our pick, but isn’t as easy to setup. You need to build your own frame, using hardware from Home Depot, and it doesn’t look nearly as nice and professional as the Silver Ticket does. You get a larger screen, and it will work well outside as it’s easy to break apart and move, but I wouldn’t put it in my home theater room.
Goo Systems made their name with their paint for walls, and their Screen Goo comes in many varieties. While testing the Reference White, I found it has a blue tint compared with the GooToob, and it’s harder to install than a screen. Painting a screen means sanding a wall to be perfectly flat and free of any texture, and then spraying multiple coats of paint. If you don’t own a paint sprayer it’s another piece of hardware to buy (or rent), and one you might not use again. If you ever move you have to paint the wall again. Hanging a screen leaves just two holes in the wall that are relatively easy to patch. If the performance offered a huge benefit over that of a screen it might be worth the effort, but we don’t think it is.
Behr Silver Screen is a paint you can pick up from Home Depot for only $3 for an 8-ounce sample. For $6 you get enough to paint a 100- to 120-inch screen, making it by far the cheapest option. Painting this onto a 2-foot-square section of drywall I found it to be very low gain, offering 40% less brightness than our picks. Unlike some of the other low-gain options, it didn’t do much to improve blacks either. It makes everything darker, which might have made it good with cheap projectors a few years ago, but today that isn’t as important. The image has a very bad color tint, and it just doesn’t impress.
Wilsonart Designer White is a laminate meant for putting on furniture and other uses, but it has found a niche in the home theater world. It offers more gain and pop than the GooToob but has the worst measurements of everything we tested. If your local Home Depot or other store stocks it you can build a 94- to 96-inch screen for $90 without a border. You add a border and some hardware to attach it to the wall, hassle with everything involved … and wish you had just picked the easier, higher quality Silver Ticket in the first place.
Some people are using spandex materials for a screen as it is something you can take down easily and is supposedly acoustically transparent for placing speakers behind it. Since we are looking at permanent screens neither of these benefits applied here, so we didn’t test it out.
Sintra makes a closed-cell foam board that some people have used, but it is fairly rigid, which can make it impossible to fit into certain rooms. It also costs $120 to $140 for just the board and still needs all the DIY materials (mounting, frame) to go along with it, making it more expensive than buying our pick.
Da-Lite makes screens and is second to Stewart when it comes to top screens for custom installers. Their most affordable 100-inch 16:9 screen with material is close to $500, making it too expensive to compete with our picks, and their high-end materials rival Stewart in price.
Similarly, Carada is well-known for making affordable, high-quality screens that measure very well. When they were one of the first Internet Direct screen companies, $550 for a 100-inch 16:9 screen was a huge savings, but now there are more companies that offer really nice screens for far less. Their screens might generate better performance than our pick, but since our pick is only $200 and already very accurate, most people would not notice enough of a difference to fork over almost three times as much.
If you want a really quality screen for your projector, you don’t need to spend any more than $200 to get one. The Silver Ticket 100″ 16:9 screen is easy to assemble, reflects a great image, and comes in a large variety of sizes.