Living room home theatre with hardwood floor, large projector screen and high tech equipment and furniture set up

The key to a great home theatre projector system is coordinating all the pieces to achieve an immersive movie experience.

Your projector quality and sound system are key elements, but a good projector screen is also essential. You might be tempted to save money by using a bare wall or even a white bed sheet as a screen, but don’t expect great image quality.

If you have a dedicated home theatre, then a fixed-frame projector screen is ideal. A retractable, motorized projector screen is perfect if your movie viewing room serves double duty as your family room or dining room.

To choose a suitable screen size, consider the dimensions of your room, seating distance and your projector. A modest investment in a high-quality projector screen will seem like a bargain when you see how the picture pops as the lights go down.

Your projector quality and sound system are key elements, but a good projector screen is also essential. You might be tempted to save money by using a bare wall or even a white bed sheet as a screen, but don’t expect great image quality.

A modest investment in a high-quality projector screen will seem like a bargain when you see how the picture pops as the lights go down.

Types of Projector Screens

Types of Projector Screens

Manual projector screens are affordable and easy to use. Simply pull down the screen when you’re ready to start viewing a movie or business presentation, and retract it again when you’re done.

Some manual projector screens come with a tripod for easy setup just about anywhere. When not in use, the screen and tripod can be folded and put away.

Other manual projector screens can be mounted on a wall or table. Most models are operated with a cord or handle that allows you to have the screen fully or partially extended.

A portable projector screen is a lightweight option that gives you the freedom to watch your shows and movies almost anywhere you like. Consider a portable projector screen if you travel with a Pico projector or mini-projector for business or pleasure.

A portable screen is also useful around the home because it lets you use your LCD projector in different rooms or locations. Portable projector screens are manually operated and have a built-in tripod or folding frame that fits into a carry case.

Portable screens are available in a range of sizes and come tensioned to provide a taut and smooth viewing surface.

Nothing says “home theatre” like a permanently mounted movie screen. A fixed-frame projector screen gives you that real cinema experience in your own home. It can be as high and wide as your space allows and, once installed, never has to be opened, closed or adjusted.

Fixed-frame projection screens are also less susceptible to issues such as waving and wrinkling, which sometimes afflict retractable and manual screens due to frequent handling and lack of tab-tensioning.

Rigid fixed-frame screens retain their tight, smooth surface and often feature dark-coloured frames that serve to heighten contrast and focus your eye on the bright, colourful images.

A retractable projector screen can be motorized or manual and stores out of sight in the projector screen mount until you need it. You can install it on the wall or ceiling or have it ceiling-recessed, which is more easily done if the room is under construction or renovation. A motorized projector screen opens and closes automatically at the touch of a wall switch or handheld remote control.

A retractable screen is a good choice in a multi-purpose family room, where you may already have a widescreen TV. If you install the screen on the ceiling above and just in front of your TV, you can simply pull down when you want to use your HD projector—with no need to rearrange your viewing space.

Look for a retractable screen with tensioning, also known as tab-tensioning, so the surface remains flat and resists bending.

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Projector Screen Features

Projector Screen Features

Screen size

Bigger is better in most instances, but the dimensions of your room, seating arrangement and projector type are key factors to consider in choosing a screen size. Aim for the biggest screen your space and projector will allow and downsize if necessary to find the right fit.

A screen that measures 100 to 120 inches diagonally (from corner to corner) is a great choice for serious home movie-watching. A 72-inch portable screen is fine for a budget-conscious set-up with a pocket projector or LED projector.

Screen shape

Screen shape generally refers to aspect ratio. Common width-to-height ratios for projector screens are square (1:1), TV/video format (4:3) and HDTV (16:9).

Square screens are commonly used in schools and offices for classroom and business presentations. The 4:3 ratio is adaptive to full screen and widescreen digital content, while the 16:9 widescreen ratio is the standard for home theatre.

Screen curve

Curved widescreen TVs have entered the home theatre mainstream, so it’s no surprise that the same concept has been adopted by projector manufacturers. A curved projector screen offers a number of viewing advantages, including a more immersive viewing experience due to the “wrapping” effect, less distortion at the outside edges of the screen and balanced image display from corner to corner.

By definition, a curved projector screen must be a fixed-frame design. This type of screen is typically a pricier option than a flat fixed-frame screen. Curved screens are intended to pair with a new generation of projectors that uses the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. There would be no benefit to using a curved projector screen with a non-compatible projector.


Those pesky black bars that appear occasionally on your screen reveal the aspect ratio in which the program or film was shot. Vertical black bars on either side of the picture may appear when you’re watching 4:3 content originally formatted for television. Horizontal black bars above and below the image indicate a widescreen format like 16:9.

Masking is a feature of some projector screens that effectively replaces those bars with a solid, black “frame” so it’s as if the bars were never there. If you simply can’t stand the appearance of black bars on your screen, then masking is for you.


An acoustically transparent screen is perforated to allow sound to reach you from speakers located behind the screen, the same way it works in a real movie theatre. The drawbacks are that the tiny holes may be noticeable and might degrade the brightness of the projected image by allowing some light to leak through.

A fabric acoustic screen works on the same principle, but the textured woven material may distract from the image. You might need to turn up the volume as well to overcome a slight muffling effect from the screen material.

Screen material

Projector screens are made of various fabrics or vinyl at the lower end of the price range, and of special glass or rigid plastic in high-end fixed-frame models.

Colour and gain are the most important characteristics of any screen material. Matte white, the most common screen colour, is suitable for almost any home theatre arrangement. Silver, grey and black screens are less common and used primarily in bright rooms to prevent images from washing out.

Gain refers to the amount of brightness the screen reflects. A typical gain ratio is 1.0. That’s the ideal level for a darkened room in a typical home theatre. A higher gain ratio may be necessary in a bigger room with more ambient light or if you’re using a low-light projector. If that’s the case, a gain ratio of 1.3 will produce a brighter, more detailed image.

3D projector screens

As long as your projector supports 3D, you can watch 3D content on a regular projector screen with no special requirements. A dual 3D projector may require a specialized screen.

Tab tensioning

Tensioning, or tab tensioning, keeps retractable screens smooth, flat and tight for proper image display. In the absence of tensioning, your screen may be prone to wrinkling or curling at the corners and edges, eventually leading to early replacement when your picture becomes unwatchable.

Large 120-inch screens are susceptible to “waving” unless reinforced with some kind of tab tensioning system. In addition, a screen unsupported by tensioning simply hangs by its own weight, and any movement or bending can result in shadows or distortion.

Manual vs. motorized

A manual screen is cheaper because you’re doing all the work to pull the screen down, if it’s fixed, or set it up, if it’s a portable model. Lowering and raising a manual screen is not only inconvenient to you, it’s hard on the screen and leads to wear.

A motorized screen lowers and raises smoothly with the push of a button. Besides personal comfort, a motorized screen is kinder to the screen material and requires no physical handling. Once you’ve installed your motorized screen, you’ll probably never touch it again except for an occasional cleaning.

Consider a motorized screen for your home theatre as an alternative to a fixed-frame screen, which requires more frequent cleaning.

Screen mounts

Almost any projector screen (with the exception of portable models) can be mounted permanently on your wall or ceiling. If you’re building a new home theatre from scratch, consider having the screen discretely recessed in the ceiling or behind a bulkhead or valance.

Manually operated retractable screens usually have sturdy metal mounts and a spring-loaded feature to make it easier to pull down and retract the screen. An optional brake controller ensures that the screen retracts slowly without snapping back into the mount.

Any feature that minimizes your handling of the screen or protects it from mechanical stress will extend its life and save you money.

Viewing distance

In simple terms, you want to be sitting far enough away so you can see the image without panning your eyes across the screen. You probably wouldn’t sit in the first row at the movie theatre and the same principle applies at home.

The optimal viewing distance from a 120-inch diagonal screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio is between 13 and 14 feet. Any closer and you’re starting to move your head side to side; further back and you begin to lose a bit of picture detail.

If your room isn’t long enough for the biggest screen, you may have to go with something smaller.

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