High-end home theater systems need to take many aspects of the environment into account before choosing the right components. The projector light output, ambient lighting conditions, screen size and gain, etc. all play an important role in how the system will perform in the room. Screen Innovations (SI) has introduced the new Black Diamond (BD) II screen, which provides a high contrast image even with some ambient room light. The result is a picture that doesn't easily wash out when room lighting conditions are not ideal. This BD II high definition screen has a smooth surface that maximizes resolution with today's high resolution 1080p projectors and is compatible with 2D and 3D projectors. The BD II is part of Screen Innovation's Reference Series Fixed screens and features a 3.5-inch velvet contoured frame. The company also sells Motorized and Pull-Down screens.
Screen Innovations provided us with their 92-inch Black Diamond II with a screen gain of 0.8 for review. We considered the 1.4 gain screen, but decided the deep blacks were important enough to warrant the lower gain. What this means is about 80% of the light hitting the screen will be reflected back to the viewer. In controlled lighting environments, the black level will be deep when used with a projector such as the Anthem's LTX-500v (same as JVC's DLA-HD950). Even with projectors that are not as capable with deep black will benefit from the BD II. The screen material on the BD II is most certainly darker than many high contrast screens we have seen in the past.
The earlier Visage screen we reviewed from Screen Innovation came completely pre-assembled in a large and heavy wooden crate weighing in at over 200 pounds. The BD II design is a much better approach as far as we are concerned. Not only is shipping much cheaper, but there is no large wooden crate to dispose of. The new Black Diamond II screen is much easier to manage and unpack, although it does require assembly. The frame segments are rolled up in pairs with plenty of protection to prevent shipping damage. The screen itself has its own large protective 7-inch diameter heavy cardboard tube. The screen is rolled up with a protective layer of sheet foam and the surface material is protected with a thin film
that gets removed once the screen is assembled. The screen itself is actually quite rigid, yet care must be taken while handling to prevent damage from kinking or bending the material. A large clean surface area is advised and makes for relatively easy assembly once everything is laid out. We recommend an elevated surface such as a dining room table. The floor will also work with a clean sheet placed down first, but your back may not appreciate it.
The Black Diamond II frame comes in four segments and must be connected using the thick "L" brackets provided. Two sets of allen screws on each leg keeps the frame securely fastened (allen wrench provided). It is important to pull the segment tightly together to prevent a gap in the seam. Prior to installing all four segment together, 28 plastic T-slot post inserts need to be slid into the frame channel closest to where the screen is attached. The long sides require 9 post and the short side needs 5 each. The design provides a constant pull on the screen keeping it taut and flat. The spacing of the tie points are about every 12-inches and even less near the corners of the screen. To protect the screen from finger prints, a pair of latex gloves are included. Although I didn't use it, a bungee install tube is provided.
Attaching the Screen
Each hole in the screen is attached to a corresponding post with a rubber bungee. There are 28 posts in all with nine posts along the longer (horizontal) sides and five posts on the shorter (vertical) sides. This makes for a nice balanced and uniform tension on the screen material. To protect the screen from finger prints, a pair of latex gloves are included. Although I didn't use it, a bungee install tube is provided for pulling on the bungee loops instead of using your fingers. Either method seemed to work well. To prevent any damage to the screen material, it worked best for us to not remove the protective film until the screen was completely attached to the frame with all of the rubber bungee loops.
Once all of the bungee loops are installed, the screen will be firmly held in place with no sagging or wrinkles. Actually, this screen is quite rigid compared to our Stewart FireHawk. We found this to be a significantly better design than using snaps. While snaps work okay when new, I find that as screens age and stretche, they begin to sag. This is not the case with this design.
The BD II is not only straightforward to assemble, but also comes with an easy to install mounting system. The screen comes with a pair of brackets
that are designed to attach to the studs in the wall. Each bracket has two vertically positioned mounting holes with an upper angled flange. The lip slips into the BD II frame and is held in place by the weight of the screen. The installer just needs to make sure that the two brackets are level and the rest will take care of itself. This is a great design that works very well. The brackets easily support the weight of the screen when fastened to the studs, so there is no worry about it coming loose.
Once the BD II was mounted on the wall, we ran through a few tests to get a feel for how this screen performed in our environment. We immediately realized just how good the black level was on the BD II when mated to our LCoS-based projector. I have never seen blacks so deep and it was great to see that the white levels still looked good with the low gain screen.
Using the THX mode on our Anthem LTX-500v we measured extremely accurate primary colors. The THX picture mode on our projector locks out the Color Temperature and Gamma adjustments. However, standard brightness, contrast, color and tint settings can still be adjusted to maximize picture quality based on room lighting, projector output and screen type (model, size, and gain).
We used a Eye-One Pro spectroradiometer to measure the colors and were surprised to see just how good this screen can be. There was a slight shift in the blue, but nothing to get worried about. As the CIE chart shows,
all primary colors are near perfect with blue just slightly shifted off
the ideal spot. This is really impressive for any projector and screen combination. We only had about 100 hours on the LTX-500v before we started making
measurements. It is a good idea to break in the unit for a while to let
various parameters settle. Other factors such as lamp age will affect
the accuracy of the colors as well as other parameters over time. Therefore,
periodic calibration can ensure you are getting the best picture possible
even as your projector ages.
The downside to having a 0.8 screen gain is that larger screens may have difficulty achieving satisfying peak white levels. The 92-inch screen we used for this review was able to reach 12 ft-Lamberts using the high lamp setting. If brighter white levels are desired, the 1.4 gain screen would be a better choice in this case. Screen Innovations recommends going to a 1.4 gain if the screen size is larger than 92-inches or if the room lighting is not completely dark. We could have gone either way, but decided deep blacks were more important than higher peak whites during our review.
The image quality of the BD II was nothing short of amazing, producing a punchy and natural looking picture with excellent color saturation and realistic flesh tones. There was an immediate and noticeable difference from what we had been watching over the years when this screen went into action. Black levels were exceptional and the best we have seen from any screen. Due to the low screen gain (0.8), we preferred running the projector in the High lamp mode, especially if there was any ambient light entering the room. The BD II has a pretty tight optimal viewing angle with brightness rolling off significantly as the viewer sits more off-axis. We found the viewing to be best at around ±25 degrees. Anything more and you will have to put up with reduced light output. Therefore, we recommend sizing the screen accordingly and not just based on the seating distance to screen size ratio. Brightness uniformity was good on the BD II with just a hint of hot spotting near the center.
The gain you choose (0.8 or 1.4) will depend on your projector, screen size and lighting conditions. Larger screens (100-inches and up) will most likely need to move to the 1.4 gain to keep the white levels bright enough. Some smaller screen (80-inch) sizes can benefit from the 0.8 gain. We recommend using Screen Innovation's Screen Wizard to help you decide on a screen gain.
Screen Innovation's Black Diamond II is a great performer with significant advancements in screen technology. The BD II provided us with the best blacks we have seen to date on any screen. The ability of this screen to provide good contrast even with some ambient light makes it very practical. At just over $2000 for a 92-inch diagonal 16:9 screen, you can have a picture that will knock your socks off.