While we were developing our home theatre in our newly built home, we were initially settled on a dark grey colour for the walls. While this colour rejected the majority of the light from the screen, it wasn’t exactly a black cave. So we knew we would either have to go with a grey screen, which I am a big fan of for unideal room setup, or an Ambient Light Rejecting (ALR) screen.
After much research, we settled on the Elite Screens Cinegrey 3D material. Around this time, my friend John (not his real name) decided to go with the Cinegrey 5D material.
Installation of Angular-Reflective ALR Screens
Both screens are angular-reflective screens, which means that light is reflected back at the same angle as it hits the screen. This is in contrast to retro-reflective ALR screens which reflect light back in the direction that the light hits them. Please see below for the illustration for angular-reflective screens.
Angular-reflective ALR screens are meant to be used with medium and long-throw projectors as they have a minimum distance requirement that needs to be observed to reduce the occurrence of hot-spotting ruining the viewing experience.
Hot-spotting is basically having a much higher brightness in the middle of the projected image or where the light from the middle of the projection lens is reflected back to the viewers’ eyes. It is slightly different dependent on your viewing position. But it can be very distracting if the projector is mounted too close to the screen.
The other mounting rule you need to observe with angular-reflective screens is the incidence of reflection. The projector must be mounted at the correct height dependent on where the screen is mounted and where viewers are viewing the screen from. If this is not followed, you could end up with reduced brightness which can lead to a dull image.
Let’s have a look at the specifications quoted from the manufacturer, then we’ll talk about some of the important metrics in more detail.
Features – Cinegrey 3D
- Gain: 1.2
- Viewing Angle: 90° (45° L/R)
- ISF Certified for accurate color points, color temperature and dynamic range
- GREENGUARD® / GREENGUARD® Gold UL 2818 Certified for Safety Indoor Emissions free
- Angular Reflective CLR®/ALR Front Projection Material for Standard “Long” Throw Projectors. (NOT Compatible with Ultra/Short Throw Projectors)
- Contrast enhancement over standard matte white surface
- 4K/8K Ultra HD, Active 3D, and HDR Ready
- Polarized for Passive 3D applications
- Capable of improving brightness, color, and contrast under ambient light conditions
- Flame Retardant – Complies with NFPA 701 Standards
- Mildew resistant, screen surface can be cleaned with a microfiber cloth and water
- Accurate color representation – Flat Spectral Response
- Reflects 65% of ambient light
So the gain is quoted as 1.2, but this is slightly misleading in that this is the MAXIMUM gain which only happens in the middle of the projection screen. The brightness drops off with viewing angle, which means the edges, and especially the corners of the screen will be less bright. Fortunately, Elite Screens does provide you with the exact brightness curve as long as you are willing to dig into their screen material documentation. Please see below:
As you can see, the 1.2 gain happens at 0 degrees off axis, and then drops off to just under 0.6 at 45 degrees. This affects both you being off-axis to the screen to the left and right of you, as well as off-axis viewing when sitting off-centre from the middle of the screen. It is also additive, so if you sit to the far right, the far left will be at a greater angle off axis to you. We will have a look at whether this is a big deal in day to day viewing.
The Cinegrey 5D has the following in its feature list that are different from the Cinegrey 3D:
Features – Cinegrey 5D
- CineGrey 5D® 1.5 Gain with 80º (L&R 40º) Viewing angle
- Minimum Lens Throw 1.5
- Reflects 75% of ambient light (compared to only 65% for Cinegrey 3D)
- All other Cinegrey 3D features
So basically, a higher gain screen, but likely with more artefacts for this reason. The minimum lens throw is also mentioned to be at 1.5, which means the projector should be at 1.5x the distance of the projector screen’s width. So if the projector screen is 100″, the projection width is about 87 inches, so the projector needs to be at least 87 * 1.5 = 130 inches from the screen (around 3.3 meters). This really applies to both the Cinegrey 3D and Cinegrey 5D.
If we have a look at the viewing angle documentation for the Cinegrey 5D, we can see that even though it has a higher gain, the drop-off is steeper from the middle of the screen to the 40 degree angle. However, because it starts at a higher gain, you still retain around 70% of the brightness compared to a standard white unity-gain screen. We’ll have a look at what this means in practice.
Installation Experience – Custom Aeon Frame
The Cinegrey 3D was ordered in a custom 125″ cinemascope size on an Aeon frame. The frame itself looks very sleek with only a tiny border with Elite Screens written on the frame.
I won’t lie: I don’t like the mounting system of this screen: you need to stretch the fabric over the screen and attach it to the back of the frame with velcro. The issue with this type of mounting system is the danger of over-stretching the screen and causing permanent stretch-marks. This can happen if the screen material was cut even a tiny bit too small and can happen if you do this quickly in a cold room.
The end result wasn’t great with the screen material having arrived with some scratches due to the velcro having been sawn on, likely in a Chinese factory with not as much care as there should have been. Secondly, the material having to be stretched did cause some slight stretch marks.
The below videos try to show the issue I am talking about. Look for the unevenness on the top left of the screen, which is likely due to the stretch marks or manufacturing variability.
While Elite Screens offered to replace the screen material, due to the custom size, it needed to be remade and took ages to arrive. In fact, it was so late, that Elite Screens offered to either refund part of the cost or wait another 3 months for another material. In the end I choose the partial refund as we decided to replace the screen for other reasons, which I’ll get into below.
The morale of the story:
- Don’t order a custom size.
- Don’t go with a mounting system that doesn’t use springs – ever! This was not my first rodeo with this sort of mounting system and it never comes out 100% perfect.
Installation Experience – Sable Frame / ezFrame
My friend John got the Cinegrey 5D material in a spring-tensioned system. This mounting system works very well, because the springs stretch if the fabric doesn’t have any more stretch in it, without over-stretching the fabric and causing stretch-marks.
However, his experience with the screen material wasn’t 100% satisfactory either. The first material wasn’t totally square, so it ended up having creases in one of the corners after mounting.
Thankfully, his screen size was not special-order so he was able to get a new screen material relatively quickly. The second screen material didn’t have the same issue, but it had scratches on it. The 3rd material was without any of these issues.
While he was happy with this 3rd material, I actually wasn’t. Both my 3D and his 5D screen material had visible lines and unevenness that is either because the material was folded during manufacturing or it was due to lack of tight tolerances during manufacturing. I feel like it is likely the former as both the velcro and mounting holes for the two mounting systems need the material to be handled during manufacturing. I have a feeling that there need to be a lot more tightly controlled processes as to how the material is allowed to come off a roll, go through the machines, folded, etc. I am not sure the Chinese manufacturer got these memos.
Let’s just say that these incidents didn’t fill us with trust that Elite Screens has high standards with regards to its manufacturing. This is one of the reasons why I was hesitant to write this review for so long. But ultimately, if we only review products that we have a positive experience with, it isn’t providing a balanced view and isn’t going to force manufacturers to improve their quality control.
Now having said all that, if you have a look at Elite Screen’s reviews on Amazon, this isn’t the experience of the majority of users, and may only be noticeable if you are a perfectionist like I am.
However, my personal opinion is that one of the benefits of buying from a higher-end manufacturer is the care they take with the screen material. My current Acoustically Transparent screen is of a very high quality and the screen material was flawless. It also had warning signs on it about how to roll out, how to handle and not to even touch the surface without a glove. I simply didn’t find the same care with Elite Screens.
Viewing Impressions – Cinegrey 3D
I viewed this screen with an Epson UB6050 projector.
One of the first thing that strikes you is the contrast. This screen rejects a lot of ambient and reflected light in the room, so even with all the lights off, the image has more pop, more contrast and literally just floats. Any projected black bars seem less intrusive, which is helpful if you are using an LCD or DLP projector with average contrast.
What’s even more impressive is its performance with some light in the room. The image retains contrast even with the lights on in the back of the theatre or during the day with some daylight streaming in. While this isn’t going to allow for all the shadow detail to be retained, it is surprisingly watchable.
From a resolution perspective, the screen seems to be able to resolve pixel-shifted 4K without issue.
With regards to hot-spotting, it is there if you are looking for it. My projector was mounted at the 1.5x limit specified by the manufacturer so this isn’t an installation issue. What is a bit more obvious is the brightness drop-off towards the edges of the screen. However, it isn’t distracting during day to day viewing, and is only noticeable with white and single-colour video frames, or if you are looking for it.
The most distracting thing for me with this screen is the texture. In addition to some of the scratches introduced by some sloppy manufacturing and over-stretched fabric due to the mounting system, the screen also has a visible texture. This along with the uneven brightness feels distracting on bright scenes especially. I feel like I am looking at the screen and not the content, as if something was in-between me and the movie. Ultimately, I found this so distracting that the screen had to go.
Conclusion – Cinegrey 3D
I actually think that this material is great for a media room where you don’t have full light control. There, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. However, for reference home theatre viewing, this is not the material to use. In fact, even a painted screen done on a forex sheet has much higher subjective viewing quality that the Cinegrey 3D. This is only for rooms without adequate light control.
Viewing Impressions – Cinegrey 5D
This screen material was viewed using a JVC DLA-X9900 projector.
This screen definitely rejects more ambient light than the Cinegrey 3D. John’s room had white walls and only some curtains drawn during the day. The image was certainly watchable during the day, in so far as being able to see the content with black levels and contrast retained to an adequate degree.
However, the hot spotting on this screen and the brightness drop-off was more obvious than with the Cinegrey 3D. In fact, this aspect was a lot more distracting than the 10 degree difference would indicate between the two materials. This is likely because the Cinegrey 5D has a higher gain to make up for the slightly higher light rejecting properties, so the brightness drop-off is a lot more steep as we looked at earlier.
But the most distracting aspect of the Cinegrey 5D for me was the texture and how it brought out the noise in JVC’s eShift system. Unfortunately, the JVC X9900 has a sharper, but noisier eShift system than the JVC X9500 had. This means that dither / crawling noise is a lot more noticeable with it to my eyes, and a screen with a texture like the Cinegrey 5D brought this out even more.
If you are going to invest in this material, make sure your projector does not have any crawling / dither noise. Non-pixel-shifting or LCD projectors are your best bet. But even then, if you are sensitive to screen texture, the Cinegrey 5D is not for you.
Conclusion – Cinegrey 5D
The same applies to the 5D as to the 3D, but with one more caveat: you are giving up a lot in terms of brightness uniformity and screen texture just to have higher light rejecting properties. Is this worth it? Maybe for rooms with a LOT of ambient light. But if dark-room viewing is important to you, either go with the Cinegrey 3D or forget ambient light rejection entirely. This is not a reference-grade material due to the artefacts.
This review needs to be taken in context: this is a home cinema site, not a media room site. I also have very little tolerance with regards to screen uniformity and texture issues, as they can seriously distract from reference-grade viewing and an enjoyable home theatre experience.
ALR projection screens have their place in media rooms and living rooms where ambient light is an issue. However, due to the fact that angular-reflective screens are paired with medium and long-throw projectors that need a dedicated space, these kind of materials should only be used where going the extra mile to darken the walls and the space is not possible.
In every other circumstance, a unity-gain white (for dark-coloured rooms), or grey screen (for light-coloured rooms) will provide a better viewing experience, especially at night. Please see our article on home theatre paint colours for choosing the best colour for your home theatre.
If I had to choose between the two materials, I would go with the Cinegrey 3D material even for problematic installations, as in my opinion, night-time viewing is too compromised with the Cinegrey 5D material.
If you are unsure which to go with, you can order screen samples from Elite Screens. However, be aware that the brightness drop off on the edges of the screen is difficult to emulate with such a small sample. Texture is also a bit more obvious on a larger screen than it is on a small sample. However, a sample will give you an idea of what to expect.
Finally, I would like to see Elite Screens’ manufacturing to improve. These screen materials should really be handled with a lot of care and not scratched or folded during manufacturing. While it might not be as obvious to the casual observer, I could see the impact of this to some degree on all 4 screen materials (1x 3D and 3x 5D) we had in hand for this review.