Projector screen vs white wall

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Projector screen vs white wall: The debate 

There are two types of people in the world: those who use projector screens and those who are content with projecting onto a white wall. Many will argue the benefits of projector screens, but is it warranted? Owning a projector screen is definitely a point of contention, but many argue in favor without fully understanding the benefits.  It’s time to settle the projector screen vs white wall debate.

Objective of projector screens

The three main objectives of projector screens are to:

  • Reflect light 
  • Increase contrast 
  • Absorb ambient lighting

Unlike TVs, projector screens don’t emit light, but instead reflect it. The more light your projector screen can reflect, the brighter the image will appear. This is incredibly important in situations where you have no control over ambient lighting, like a classroom. 

Of course, just reflecting light is not enough to ensure high quality images. If the only objective was to reflect light, white light would appear incredibly bright and darker tones would look washed out. Because of this, having a screen that can increase the contrast of the image whilst reflecting light is imperative. 

It’s also important that ambient lighting isn’t reflected by a projector screen as it would wash out the projected image. 

In 2001 this lead to the popularisation of gray projector screens. 

Gray v.s. White 

Before the introduction of gray projector screens, white screens were used. This makes sense as before the 2000’s, projector screens were only used in theatres, where there is complete control over ambient lighting. 

Of course, in an ideal world where there is no external lighting and all other room fixtures are dark or black, white is the logical choice. Especially in combination with a high contrast DLP projector , high reflection screens work miracles. 

White vs Gray

However, the gray screen was developed to combat common problems associated with having a home projector:

  • Low contrast levels (washed out images)
  • Reflection of ambient lighting 

Gray screens are also known as high contrast screens as their main purpose is to boost the contrast of projected images. Gray absorbs just as much light as it reflects. Because of this, gray screens carry black tones very well whilst simultaneously reflecting light. 

The result? Higher contrasting images. This means the ability of a projected image to depict the whitest white and the blackest black is increased. 

A byproduct of this is more shades of colour between white and black, thus increasing contrast. This is ideal as the increase in shades make darker scenes more viewable. 

Gray screens also work well to absorb ambient lighting. As such, they’re an excellent choice for those of us with little control of lighting conditions or with lower contrast projectors. The absorption of ambient lighting will stop the image looking washed out. 

Overview:

  • Gray screens are more realistic for those looking to set-up a home cinema system
  • White is great when you have full control over ambient lighting conditions
  • Gray screens are imperative for classrooms or meetings
  • Gray screens absorb ambient light and increase contrast 

Projector screen vs white wall: Key differences

The colour debate is applicable to both projector screens and walls. Although the material of projector screens allow for more reflection, the ability of gray to absorb and reflect light is based on colour theory. 

As a result, the main differences between a wall and screen are:

  • Texture
  • Reflection ability 
  • Framing
  • Portability
  • Installation

Texture 

When you run your hand across a wall you will notice small bumps and indents. The texture across a wall varies. When you apply light to an uneven texture, it falls into the crevices, creating small shadows where they shouldn’t be. 

This means walls will inevitably disrupt the flow of the image to some degree. Unless you have huge holes in your wall, this shouldn’t be too bad. But it still isn’t ideal. 

Texture showing behind screen

Projector screens on the other hand use one flat material. The result? An evenly distributed image. This is not to say projector screens are without fault, they can wrinkle if they aren’t placed properly. 

However, I think we can all agree, straightening a projector screen is infinitely easier than flattening a wall. 

Winner: Screen

Reflection ability

Projector screens measure their reflectability in gain. Of course, having a high gain is not always recommended. For example, a high gain will often centre the brightness, leaving the edges of a screen to appear duller. 

In general, having some reflection is beneficial to the viewing quality. Gain is measured against the reflectability of a white board. Assuming that to be similar to a white wall, any projector gain over 1 will be brighter than a white wall. 

With this being said, if you decide to paint your wall gray, it’s going to have a similar impact to a screen.

Winner: Both 

Framing 

Framing an image is incredibly important. By adding a frame to an image, the perceived contrast within the frame increases. More contrast equals better viewer immersion. 

Projector screens usually come with a black or gray frame in order to achieve this contrast increase. Your wall on the other hand, does not. 

Image without frame
Image with frame

It is possible to paint your own frame. However, it requires a lot of effort and when the projector is off, the wall is a little distasteful. 

Winner: Screen

Portability 

It would be unwise to assume your projector will sit in one room for the entirety of its existence. The likelihood is, you’ll move homes or want to take it to a friends for a movie night. 

Having a portable projector screen becomes pretty handy. 

Of course, walls aren’t portable. But there is a wall in every apartment you visit. Viewing conditions might not be optimal, but if it’s a one off it shouldn’t be an issue. However, if you’re moving apartments having to paint a new wall, frame it correctly and setup the projector becomes a hassle. 

There of course are different types of projector screens and each type varies in portability. You can buy projector screens that are portable and those that are fixed or installed in the wall. There is a lot of preference for fixed projector screens due to their discretion. 

Winner: Projector screen 

Installation 

If you plan on using a white wall, of course the installation becomes easier. Hell, even if you plan to paint the wall gray it’s pretty easy. You can set up the projector in any position you like and the wall is going to do the job. 

The issue comes when painting a frame on your wall, but realistically the effort and cost this would take would constitute buying a projector screen. 

The installation process for a projector screen is far more complex. Especially when moving into the realm of fixed projector screens

It ultimately is more difficult to centre a screen, drill into the wall, hang the screen and make sure there are no blemishes or wrinkles on your screen. 

Winner: Wall

Projector screen vs white wall: The winner


WallProjector
Texture

Ability to reflect

Framing

Portability

Installation

TOTAL24

Using a screen is going to improve your viewing experience in a variety of ways. Although the installation process is an undeniable burden, it’s not a repeated process. In all honesty though, it’s not like you can’t use your projector without a screen. It boils down to a budget related issue as projector screens can be pricey. 

So, projector screen vs white wall?

It’s not worth the investment if you have a cheaper projector or you’re testing out different projectors in your transition from TV.

Screens are recommended for: Expensive projectors or dedicated home cinemas

If you liked this, check out some of our other debates:

If you want to know more about projectors, check out our guides:

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