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Projector Screen Buying Guide

Our projector screen buying guide is here to help you complete your home theater, whether that's a full-fledged basement setup with theater chairs and a popcorn maker or a living room with a pull-down projector screen. Learn about the equipment you'll need for the perfect entertainment space.
Projector Screen Buying Guide
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Projector Screen Buying Guide Video

Getting Started

The right projector should be paired with the perfect projector screen, but they're not all created equally. The right screen for a space that receives lots of light with a 4K projector won't be the same one for a dark room with an HD projector: learn all you need to know to pick the best combination for your home.
Projector and Screen on a Wall

Finding the Right Size

Projector screens have a long history that intersects with photography, the camera obscura, 17th-century magic lanterns and more. But the overhead projector was developed in the 1950s, and subsequently needed a place to throw its image. Image technology has advanced beyond even HD, with 4K versions becoming more and more common. Traits like resolution, seating and the lighting level within your room all affect what you should "throw" your image onto. First up: size.
For a long time there's been a golden rule: your viewing distance should be 1.5 x the diagonal spread of the screen. You don't want it to be too much bigger: it'll dominate the wall that it's placed on. That holds true for HD projectors with 1080p or less. But if you've got a 4K projector, we'd suggest you actually use 1 x the diagonal distance from the screen. If you've got a 10 foot diagonal version, sit ten feet away with a 4K projector, or 15 feet away with a 1080p projector.
Other things to keep in mind when it comes to size include position. You're choosing a projector screen because you want a large view, but you don't want to be overwhelmed (or have your space feel small). That's why it's always a good idea to keep the bottom at least two feet off the ground, and around a foot away from the ceiling if possible. That way, you'll have the optimal viewing position no matter what your furniture looks like.

Type of Projector Screen

While size is a relatively easy choice to make once you understand the relatively easy math, other elements require some more understanding. When it comes to the type of screen, there are a few components to keep in mind. One of the crucial elements is whether you'd want it to be fixed or retractable. A fixed screen is what it sounds like: one that's wall mounted and stays there, with no way to move or hide. This is best for a space that won't be bumped into or interacted with. The other choice is a retractable version that hides in plain sight for most of the time, but comes down when movie night arrives. There are a few different ways these retractable models can move: choose a manual one and you'll be pulling down on a handle yourself. Or choose a motorized one that moves down on it's own for extra convenience that comes with extra cost. Sometimes the best type of projector screen will be dictated by your space: if you're in a smaller space but still want that home-theater experience, a retractable motorized model will be best: there's no chance anyone in the family will bump into it once it's rolled up.
However, fixed projector screens have just as many benefits over their retractable cousins. You only have to install them once, and they're often much more affordable than their counterparts. Plus, they're easy to maintain. If used properly, there will be literally no wear and tear on your screen, and it will last a long time.
Due to constant motion, motorized models will tend to need a little bit of maintenance after a while, or even replacement.
Home Theater with Projector and Screen

Screen Material: Texture, Gain & Color

The screen material is just as important for those who want to truly see what they're watching. If you choose the wrong material or color, you'll have a hard time seeing your content, whether you're playing a video game, watching breathtaking documentaries or streaming the latest series. The main aspects of the material to consider include texture, gain and grit.
In the realm of projection screens, texture can be either smooth or gritty. For projectors that are 1080p or less, you'll want to opt for a smoother surface to best display your picture. But if your definition is higher, like in 4K or even 8K, a grittier texture will better display the fine details and depth of an ultra-HD image.
The amount of light that's reflected off of the surface and back at the viewer is called gain. Boosted gain reflects more light, and lowered gain is less light reflected. But it's not that simple: light can come from many areas, and where your seating is plays a heavy factor here, too. As gain increases, your optimal viewing angle decreases. That means you'll need to sit closer and closer to the center-front of the projector screen. There's the option to go for a version with negative gain as well. These negative models offer deep blacks and reflect little light, even pulling in some of the ambient light in your room. In order to offset this, you'll need a projector with a high-lumen bulb to throw images on-screen. Consider those factors when exploring gain levels. Finding the best balance for your seating arrangement is going to be, well, a balance.
When it comes to color, you might immediately think that the projector screen should be white, right? It's not that simple, actually. Different colors have an effect on the contrast between lights, darks and colors in between. While that classic white screen will allow bright whites to display their absolute best, you'll have a hard time seeing that contrast between light and dark shades. That makes these white hues a good choice for projectors that don't create a terribly bright picture. But for more common machines that can throw a brighter picture, you may want to go for a gray color. This shade balances contrast well, displaying both whites and darks in a measured manner. Gray screens can coexist with some ambient light in the room as well, ensuring that you won't have to turn off every lamp or source of light in the space to watch your show. That being said, your picture won't get quite as bright as it would with a white screen, but it is a happy medium.
Special Applications
There are a few other features to look for in your soon-to-be setup if you're searching for something a little...more. For those who want their home theater speakers to be completely hidden (even more than using an in-wall system), look for a perforated model and hide your speakers back here. You'll hear all the vibrant noise you love with none of the clunky speakers taking up space in your room. Or keep an eye out for a model designed to be used in ultra-bright rooms that always have a level of light coming in from outside, whether its constant sunshine or city lights in the evening. Meanwhile, the field of projector technology is constantly evolving, with the popular laser model becoming more and more mainstream. Even portable versions are being made. While these types of technologies shouldn't change how you choose your screen too much, it's good to note that there is always new technology available.
People sitting outside on the grass or in chairs watching a projector screen with an image of a couple

Outdoor Projector Screens

If you're planning on hosting watch parties in the backyard, you've most likely invested in an outdoor projector. Now you just need an outdoor projector screen to match. These types of screens are designed to hold their shape far better than a classic bedsheet and they're also stronger than an average indoor screen. Just as there are many outdoor projector choices, though, there are just as many outdoor screen options. Here's how to pick the best one for you.

Material & Finish

Because outdoor projector screens need to withstand the elements, they are already built to be more durable, so there is no specific or "best" material to look out for when shopping. Ideally, you want a screen thick and sturdy enough to handle wind. Because this screen will most likely permanently reside in your backyard, it will also be exposed to far more dust and dirt than usual. That's why, for your own convenience, you should look for a material that is easy to clean. Lastly, consider at what time of day you're planning on watching TV shows or movies on your projector. If you want the versatility of both daytime and nighttime, invest in an outdoor projector screen with a matte finish. This will eliminate the possibility of glare in the sunlight.

Screen Size, Dimensions & Aspect Ratio

Generally, the size of your outdoor projector screen should match the size of your projector image. For example, if your projector displays a 100" image, you'll have the best viewing experience with a 100" screen. On the other hand, you should also consider the size of the space you'll be watching in, as a certain distance will be needed between your projector and screen to display your image at its maximum size. Do not forget though, that as your display and screen get larger, the brightness of the image will dim naturally. Because of this, you may not be able to view your media at full size during the day and instead, will need to size down the image for better brightness. The aspect ratio of your outdoor projector screen represents the ratio of its width and height. It can also sometimes be thought of as the shape of the screen. For example, a screen with a 4:4 aspect ratio would look like a simple square. As most content is filmed and presented in 16:9 these days, we recommend a classic rectangular screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio so your content never gets cut off. Other things to consider when choosing a size? The height of the trees in your backyard vs. the height of your screen. If you have low-hanging branches that could block the movie and you're unable to move your setup location, perhaps a shorter screen is a better choice.

Outdoor Screen Gain

As we mentioned before for normal projector screens, gain refers to exactly how much light is reflected back off the surface of your screen. The higher the gain, the brighter the image. Remember: brighter isn't always better, as there's always a possibility for reduced viewing angles or diminished brightness from alternate perspectives. Just as you'd match your screen size with your image size, we recommend an outdoor projector screen gain that matches up with your projector's lumen capacity. Lower-lumen projectors ranging from 300-500 will match up nicely with a screen gain close to 1.0. Higher-lumen projectors ranging from 2000-3000 should pair nicely with a screen gain of around 0.8. These values are not set in stone as your environment will always affect the gain you might need, but this rule of thumb is still a great place to start.

Which Should I Choose?

Ultimately, it's all about the projector screen that's right for your space, projector and watching experience. While there are several options and features to choose from, it's all about finding what will make your films, shows, sports and video games look their absolute best. If you've read the projector buying guide and are still hoping for expert advice, you're not far from help. Our AV experts have been helping clients to pair their projectors with screens for decades: call us at 800-860-3577 to learn more and for help picking out the model that's best for your home.