No, your eyes haven't deceived you (though after seeing the SI Black Diamond Screen in person, you may think they have). This is a review of a projection screen. Not a projector/screen combo, but just a screen. Why? Since becoming a front-projection video enthusiast some years ago, I have never encountered a product that has done more to bridge the gap between traditional flat-panel displays and front projection than the SI Black Diamond II Screen reviewed here. It is such an innovative and revolutionary product that, upon installing it in my own home, I had to give it the attention it deserves. What makes the SI Black Diamond II Screen so good, you ask? Read on and I'll tell you.
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It's no secret that, to achieve a theater-like experience in the home, you need a big screen and, despite recent advancements in larger than life LCD and Plasma displays, the most cost-effective way to go big is through the use of a front mounted projector. Now, every front-projection enthusiast knows the Achilles heel of any projection-based system is light. Light is the enemy and unless you're willing to paint your room Batcave black or use blackout curtains on every window in your home, you're at the mercy of light.
While most screens are white or a dull shade of gray, SI Screens has taken their Black Diamond II screen material to 11 and made it just a shade or two north of absolute black. While this may seem counterintuitive, it makes a great deal of sense. Traditional screens, white or light gray, reflect a great deal of ambient light even in darkened environments, producing a washed-out image. By using a black screen material, the Black Diamond II effectively stops those reflections dead in their tracks, allowing the brightest, most direct source of light in the room, your projector's bulb and subsequent image, to get a proper footing on the surface material itself. Lately, projector manufacturers have been pumping up the lumen output of their products in an attempt to make front projection a viable viewing experience in ambient light environments. However, they're still projecting across a screen that is more or less a giant reflector for all light sources, be it the projector or outside window. You can have the brightest projector on the block, but if your screen isn't absorbing that light, you have nothing more than a fancy flashlight that you turn on during the day.
The Black Diamond II material works with any projector and features a new higher gain of 1.4, which is up from .8 with the previous Black Diamond material. The Black Diamond II screen is virtually impervious to light shift caused by changes in room lighting and/or overall room color. For example, say you calibrate your projector in a totally darkened room but, come movie time, you find yourself with a small reading light on by your viewing position. With traditional screens, depending on whether or not you use a cool or warm bulb, that small light will shift the overall color of the image, either warm or cool. With the Black Diamond II, that simply doesn't happen. It keeps your calibration and viewing experience intact, regardless of whether or not the lights are on or not. Beyond the ambient light benefits of both the higher gain and black surface material, the Black Diamond II virtually eliminates the need for expensive masking in order to preserve contrast and control light spill when watching variable aspect ratio source material. Because the Black Diamond II is essentially a black hole for light to disappear into, when presented with the absence of light, such as projected black bars, there is virtually no difference between the screen's velvet-wrapped frame and the screen material itself, making costly masking systems a bit of a waste. Allow me to get back to that point.
The Black Diamond II screen comes in a variety of sizes, starting at 80 inches diagonal to 215 inches plus. You can even get a curved screen with the Black Diamond II material for the ultimate home theater experience. The Black Diamond II material is offered as part of SI's Reference lineup of screens, with prices starting around $2,000 and up, depending on your needs. SI sent me a rather standard 80-inch diagonal 16x9 screen with a three-and-a-half-inch velvet contoured frame, which retails for $2,199. SI Screens are currently distributed worldwide by Paradigm (yes, the loudspeaker manufacturer) and their vast dealer network, so finding an SI Screen to demo or purchase shouldn't be too difficult.
Normally, if you were to purchase an SI screen, you'd most likely have your dealer install it for you. However, I'm going to detail the process, for it is not impossible for a DIY'er to build and mount, though I'd recommend enlisting a friend to help.
Read more about the Diamond II on Page 2.