My first projection screen some years ago was from a budding young screen company that, at the time, set out to make a name for itself, within a world dominated by Stewarts, Da-Lites and Vutecs, by offering truly affordable front-projection screens. That company was Elite Screens. While time has passed and there are now copious affordable solutions, the argument could be made that Elite was one of (if not the single foremost) companies that drove the industry towards embracing more competitive pricing. Elite Screens has come a long way since its simple beginnings, offering a vast array of products, some even competing favorably against costlier competition. I’ve owned a number of screens over the years, even an Elite or two in that time, though admittedly no Elite has served as a personal reference – until now.
It’s not that I’ve shunned Elite due to a lack of quality, but rather that my system has undergone a great many changes over the years and our paths just haven’t crossed. Well, I recently moved into a new home and, with the move, decided to do a top-down rebuild of my personal home theater, which included not only a new screen, but a new type of screen. For years, I’ve been largely reliant upon drop-down screens, for my home theaters have always had to share space with a living or family room. Not so in my new house, where I got to build my very own dedicated screening room, albeit on a very tight budget. My goals for the room were simple: to recreate the commercial cinema experience in my home. This meant I needed to find an acoustically transparent screen, for the one thing you don’t see in a commercial cinema are loudspeakers next to or below the screen – they’re behind it. Using an acoustically transparent screen also meant that I was going to be more focused on the story, as there would be no gear fighting for my attention within my direct (or indirect) field of view. With more focus being placed upon the screen, it was important that the screen not hinder the visuals in any way.
Enter Elite Screen’s AcousticPro 4K acoustically transparent screen material. AcousticPro 4K is Elite’s premier, top-of-the-line acoustically transparent screen material, featuring the company’s tightest weave to date, which should well suit higher-resolution projectors, such as the VPL-VW1000ES. It’s not that the AcousticPro 4K is especially 4K-ready or compatible, as any flat surface is technically 4K-ready, it’s just that the weave is so fine that it shouldn’t result in moiré effects that would be visible in the otherwise heightened resolution image put forth by the upcoming crop of UltraHD and 4K projectors. If you have an HD projector, you can still use AcousticPro 4K. The AcousticPro 4K material is available in a variety of sizes as well and can be fitted to most of Elite Screen’s fixed frame screens, such as ezFrame, Cinema235, Elite Prime Vision and Lunette. This also means that price will vary with size, as well as with your choice of frame, though in its least expensive configuration, the MSRP is $826 (84-inch diagonal ezFrame Series with AcousticPro 4K material). For that, you get a screen that has a gain of 1.1, with a reported viewing angle of 160 degrees. You also get a surface that offers (near) perfect color neutrality, as well as being moiré-free. The AcousticPro 4K comes with black backing that is said to help eliminate backlighting artifacts resulting from bleed-through. Furthermore, the AcousticPro 4K material is flame-resistant and complies with NFPA 701 and ASTME84 standards. Lastly, and this may come as a surprise (it did to me), the AcousticPro 4K material from Elite Screens is 100 percent manufactured in the USA.
In terms of performance, let me break it down into two parts, first sound and then picture. Because the AcousticPro 4K material is woven, it allows for sound to pass through it. Exactly how much sound was the question I needed answered. I put a pair of Tekton Design Pendragon loudspeakers behind the screen and sent a calibration tone through each one. With my Radio Shack SPL meter, I actually could not detect enough of a difference to safely quantify how much of an effect the screen had on overall SPL. Keep in mind that the Pendragon speakers come standard without grilles, so in this instance the screen acted more or less like the speakers’ grille cloth. Also, my room is not acoustically dead, meaning that even after level-matching each speaker, it wasn’t uncommon to get my meter to fluctuate plus or minus a full dB. Does the AcousticPro 4K material have an effect on the sound? Only in terms of overall output, and even then, the difference in SPL is so small (if perceivable at all) that it shouldn’t be an issue.
In terms of image quality, the AcousticPro 4K material performed more or less the way I’ve come to expect from a typical 1.1-gain surface. There screen’s fine texture imparted little (if any) of itself onto the image, unlike earlier-generation woven screens. Some have noted that Elite’s AcousticPro 4K material has a very subtle blue shift to it. This is difficult to measure outside of a laboratory as one’s wall, ceiling, floors and even ambient light can color such bare screen measurements. Furthermore, if a slight blue shift is present, then it would be dealt with in the calibration stage of setting up your home theater, as any shift would be corrected for in the calibration of the projector. In other words, if such a shift is present, it too is largely a non-issue. If you’re a person who deals in absolutes, then I suppose knowing such a shift may or may not exist might keep you from buying. For those who just want to get on with the show, I used the AcousticPro 4K with over half a dozen projectors of all makes and models; if such a shift exists, it didn’t bother me or my THX calibration specialist, Ray Coronado Jr.
One thing you have to be aware of when looking at any acoustically transparent screen is light loss. Because the AcousticPro 4K is not a solid surface, there is going to be some light lost to its woven DNA; on average, you can expect to see losses in the 12 to 15 percent range in measurable foot lamberts. In my tests, I found these general figures to be true. Again, this isn’t a deal-breaker, as all acoustically transparent screens suffer from the same issue. It’s just something to keep in mind if you’re also shopping for a projector. If you already own a projector and know it to be a bit on the dull side, then you’re either going to want to make doubly sure you can control the ambient light in the room or potentially move your projector closer, i.e., get a smaller screen to maximize your viewing experience, at least from an overall light output standpoint.
Read about the high points and low points of the AcousticPro 4K on Page 2.
The AcousticPro 4K screen material features one of the finer, if not the finest, weaves I’ve seen in an acoustically transparent screen and still manages to be affordable.
The AcousticPro 4K material comes in a wide range of sizes and aspect ratios, making it ideal for virtually any installation where a fixed projection screen can be employed.
The AcousticPro 4K material had no real discernable impact on my loudspeaker’s overall SPL output in my tests.
The AcousticPro 4K material proved to be every bit as good, in terms of its visual acuity, as its solid surface counterparts, including materials available elsewhere in the Elite line. The AcousticPro 4K’s weave is so fine that it didn’t impart any visible texture to the image and the weave itself was not visible in even the brightest regions of the image or in test patterns from proper viewing distances. Colors always appeared natural and uniformity was edge to edge.
As with any acoustically transparent screen, there is going to be some light loss; the AcousticPro 4K is not exempt from this issue.
Despite coming with black backing material, there is still some light spill that occurs behind the screen, though it is easily dealt with either via flat paint, preferably black, or by lining the wall behind the screen with fabric such as black velvet. I did the latter.
I don’t particularly care for Elite’s method of stretching and affixing their materials to the respective screen frames and I fear the AcousticPro 4K material is no different. It is tedious and frustrating at times.
Competition and Comparisons
Virtually every screen company offers an acoustically transparent solution. Some of the products that I’ve had direct experience with – i.e., have lived with – include Screen Research, SI Screens and Vutec. I won’t say that one is necessarily better than the other, except to note that the AcousticPro 4K definitely deserves to be included in the conversation and performs at a level befitting a higher-end product. For more on these screens and others like them, please visit Home Theater Review’s Front Projection Screen page.
For well under a thousand dollars, it is possible to get a true big-screen experience in your home, courtesy of Elite Screens and its AcousticPro 4K material. Going with an acoustically transparent screen surface, such as the AcousticPro 4K, allows you to put your front loudspeakers (and possibly subwoofer) behind the screen, much like the setup in a commercial cinema. This means your focus is more on the story unfolding in front of you and less on the gear surrounding you, which is a good thing and which the AcousticPro 4K doesn’t get in the way of one bit. While it may seem odd for a person to be excited about a screen surface, I am, because I found the AcousticPro 4K material from Elite to be every bit as good as the competition, at a price I feel more people can truly afford. I dig it, which is why I use it.