Screen Innovations Black Diamond G2 4K Projection Screen
The best projection quality has always required a completely darkened room. This takes the edge off that Super Bowl party, with guests stumbling around in the dark spilling their buttered popcorn and drinks in your lap.
Screen Innovations feels your pain. A few years back, it launched a range of projection screens designed to solve this problem. We reviewed the Screen Innovations Black Diamond II HD projection screen in our May 2011 issue (also available at HomeTheater.com). Since then, SI has updated the material, so we decided to take another look.
SI offers its Black Diamond G2 in three different specified gains: 0.8, 1.4, and 2.7. We requested the 1.4 version, the same as we tested last time, though this test was done on a significantly larger screen.
SI offers its fixed Black Diamond screens with a nearly invisible Zero Edge frame. And if you want to go all Vegas, SI showed a version with backlighting at the 2012 CEDIA. There’s also a curved option and a retractable version. Along with the Black Diamond G2, SI offers traditional screen solutions as well.
The Black Diamond G2 sample we requested had a flat, wide, fixed frame covered in black velvet. Setup was relatively painless. The screen material itself is thick and rigid (the retractable versions use a different substrate, so we cannot say from experience that they perform identically to our sample, though SI says they do). The screen is held to the frame by small, bungee-cord-like rubber bands.
With all room lighting off, the SI screen performed very well, with good contrast, well-saturated color, and excellent detail. It did appear to have about 15 percent more gain than the specified 1.4 (determined by a direct comparison to the brightness from a small sample of Stewart’s reference StudioTek 100 material—gain 1.1—using the same projector settings).
Viewed from straight on, with a full white field as a source image and the room lights still off, the center of the SI screen was visibly (but not disturbingly) brighter than the sides (see HT Labs Measures). On that same bright white field, there was also a sparkly quality at the center of the picture. Neither effect was obvious on most normal program material, but I did find that increasing the contrast setting slightly on the projector helped generate a visual impact similar to what I see on the lower-gain but more uniformly bright Elite.
Even in that darkened room, if you sit too far off center of the SI screen, you’ll notice that the side of the screen closer to you is brighter than the side farther away. The greater your angle from a specific area of the screen, the dimmer that area. This effect will be most noticeable in a wide room (such as our studio) where sitting well off axis is possible, but much less of a concern if the room is narrow at the screen end—typical of many home theater setups.
Our studio is not typical of a domestic environment. All its surfaces are dark gray, including the carpet and the ceiling. Any light source there will be less diffused than in most ordinary rooms. Nevertheless, I was able to position light sources either to the sides of the screen (these were actually other video displays sourced with full white fields of varying brightness) or overhead (fluorescents in the ceiling).
The SI’s performance under these various room lighting conditions was something of a mixed bag. With a light source off to one side of the screen, the side of the screen closest to the source suffered more fading and loss of saturation than the far side (since the source was subtending a smaller angle from the near side). As the source was moved farther back from the screen (thus decreasing its angular position from the screen), the degradation spread wider across the screen.
I would expect these differences to be less pronounced in a normal room, where the light from a specific source is more widely diffused than our dark-walled studio allows. But in no situation will you likely get a free lunch. For best results with the SI screen, keep any light source at as small an angle to the screen as possible. The worst case will occur with the light directly opposite the screen, near the projector and the viewing seats, and the best with the lighting directly at the sides of the screen, or even slightly behind it, and as well diffused around the room as possible.
With ambient lighting controlled as described above, the SI screen’s benefits over a conventional screen can be best appreciated on bright program material, such as news and sports. On films with a heavy dose of dark scenes, you’ll still get the most satisfying performance with the room lights off—from this screen or any other. I imagine the ideal viewer for the SI screen will be the sports nut who doesn’t mind some modest reduction in image contrast as long as it’s still a clearly visible, big picture. For the movie lover, we’d recommend that any ambient room lighting be limited to overhead can lighting that falls on the seating area but not directly on the screen itself. That will maximize the benefits of the SI screen.
Just as this review was being put to bed, I visited the Wolf Cinema room at CES 2013, where an 11-foot-wide SI Black Diamond was being used with Wolf’s new $8,000 Gray Wolf projector. The SI in this case was the lower-gain version (0.8), and the big screen image was compelling with a few of those down-firing can lights in the back of the room, well removed from the screen itself. There was no sense of the image being visibly dimmer toward the sides than in the center; I suspect this phenomenon may have been more evident with our sample’s higher gain.
In any case, our ratings and Top Pick here are conditional for the right viewer and appropriately planned lighting conditions. Many video purists will still prefer a conventional screen in a fully darkened room. But the SI screens are unique products that, under the right conditions, offer compelling performance for users who otherwise might not even consider a video projection/screen setup.