Which Projection Screen is Best for Watching 3D?

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Q I recently bought an Epson Home Cinema 3700 LCD projector after reading a review of it in Sound & Vision. The projector remains boxed up as I decide on a screen to install in my light-controlled basement. While I plan to watch regular 2D content with the projector, my main interest is viewing my Blu-ray 3D movie collection, which I continue to add to as new titles become available.  

I understand from reading your magazine that active 3D glasses considerably reduce image brightness. Another Sound & Vision review of Da-Lite’s 2.8 gain High Power screen , led me to believe it would be a perfect screen option, but Da-Lite has discontinued that model. As an alternative, Da-Lite recommends its HD Progressive Screen, which has a gain of 1.3. Will the HD Progressive provide a bright enough image for 3D viewing? I feel that I should look for a higher gain screen, but don’t want to spend more than $2,000. —Mitchell Ulrich

A It’s true that viewing with active 3D glasses reduces image brightness. In our 2012 review of the Da-Lite High Power screen, for instance, there was a 88 percent reduction in measured light output when shifting from 2D to 3D display mode. And while that drop is significant, it does correspond with what you see in many movie theaters where passive, rather than active, 3D projection technology is used.

The main benefit to using a high gain screen like the now-discontinued Da-Lite High Power is increased brightness. To achieve that boost, a high gain screen reflects light back at the viewer in a narrow pattern. For that reason, someone seated at center-screen experiences maximum brightness, while the image appears substantially dimmer to viewers at off-center seats. High gain screens are also known for issues with hotspotting (random bright patches) and off-axis color shifting, both of which can be a distraction when viewing 2D or 3D content.

Da-Lite’s High Power model was a popular choice during the early Blu-ray 3D wave due to its performance and reasonable price. Now that interest in viewing 3D at home has waned (most new TV models no longer support 3D display, though it continues to be a feature of projectors), there are, as you’ve likely discovered, fewer high gain screen options.

Should you use a screen with a more standard 1.3 gain instead? Two things about your situation tip the scale in that direction. First, the Epson Home Cinema 3700 delivered notably high light output — 38 ftL in calibrated Cinema mode, and 125 ftL in Dynamic mode — when we measured it. Second, you plan to install your system in a light-controlled basement where both screen brightness and contrast can be optimized. As long as you limit the screen to reasonable size like 100 inches diagonal, you may find 3D image brightness to be acceptable.

When I ran your question by David Rodgers of Elite Screens for input, he had this to say about screen materials for 3D viewing: “Use a projection screen with ambient light rejecting (ALR) material, which compensates for 3D light loss by enhancing image brightness and contrast levels. For best results, seek out a material that’s ISF certified since it will provide superior color contrast and black/white dynamic range while maintaining a neutral color balance.” Relevant Elite Screens models include the CineGrey 3D (1.2 gain) and CineGrey 5D (1.5 gain). Some good news: whether you choose an Elite Screen model or the Da-Lite HD Progressive 1.3, in either case you’ll spend substantially less than $2,000.

walt0291's picture

I have a 100" SI Slate 0.8 screen, which is ALR, paired with a Sony HW-VPL45ES and while 3D is a tad dim it's never been something that has bothered me at all while watching a 3D blu-ray. Given how much brighter the Epson is compared to the Sony, I would think that the Slate 0.8 or even the Slate 1.2 would be a good match. Both also now come in AT models too, if that's something you need. My room is reasonably light controlled, but not blacked out. If yours is blacked out, then you may not need as much gain from the screen as you're thinking.

Consider that the brightness of projectors is so much greater than it was just a few years ago. The JVC that was tested with the Da-Lite model you're questing for only put out approximately 16 ftL compared to 22.6 ftL from my Sony in reference mode (low lamp) and brightness is bumped up automatically in 3D.

All this is to basically say that the older projectors needed a screen with a crazy high gain because of how dim the projectors were back then. With the Epson you've picked out, you should be able to get very watchable 3D from a screen with a much lower gain. I went with the 0.8 because I truthfully value black levels (a weakness of my projector) over an incredibly bright picture and figured that I could always increase brightness on a low gain screen, but could only decrease so far on a high gain screen. If lack of brightness is a serious concern for you, then the 1.2 gain screen could be the way to go.

Best of luck in your search for a screen! I'm a fellow 3D lover and wish you happy viewing!