Elite Screens Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen Reviewed

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Installing the Osprey screen is a job for two people, especially if you plan on mounting it to the ceiling, which I was. A good friend of mine was kind enough to lend a hand and helped me install the Osprey screen to my ceiling as well as run power to a ceiling mounted outlet. Minus running power to a newly installed electrical outlet on my ceiling, the Osprey went up in just under an hour with almost zero fuss. While you can always hire a custom installer to install any screen, including the Osprey, its mounting procedure and bracket design are easy enough to understand and complete, DIY style.

Once installed, I familiarized myself with the Osprey's controls, though I didn't have to perform any adjustments to its factory set rise and drop settings, for they were spot on for my room. However, if you do have to tweak the screen's drop, it's a simple enough procedure that involves placing an Allen wrench into one of four holes located on the back of the Osprey's aluminum casing.

As for the rest of my system, I utilized my reference Anthem LTX-500 D-ILA projector, which was mounted approximately 14 and a half feet from the Osprey's screens in order to accommodate the throw distance needs of my newly installed Panamorph FVX200J anamorphic lens adaptor (review pending). In order to take full advantage of the Osprey's 2:35:1 screen I had to set my Anthem projector's vertical stretch feature to "on" so that native 2:35:1 material through the Panamorph lens would display properly. For standard 16:9 viewing I would have to turn the vertical stretch feature to "off" and set my projector's aspect ratio to 4:3 because of the way the Panamorph stretches the image - but that's for another review.

I opted to test the Osprey's 2:35:1 screen first so I cued up J.J.Abram's refresh of the Star Trek (Paramount) franchise on Blu-ray disc. I went ahead and just let the disc play, for the opening sequence is rife with demo material, from vivid highlights to rich, deep blacks; there isn't a stone left unturned in the opening ten minutes or so of the film. Right off the bat the most impressive observation with watching 2:35:1 material is one of omission - that is, the omission of black bars top and bottom. You don't get a sense of just how much real estate is lost to black bars when viewing 2:35:1 on a standard 16:9 screen until you're able to watch without them. The effect is amazing and the impact of the image itself appears to increase 10 fold. The image simply feels larger, grander and provides for a greater sense of immersion via a proper 2:35:1 setup, then via a 16:9 rig. Beyond that, because the boundaries of the image itself butt up against the Osprey's black surrounding material, the increase in perceived contrast throughout is tremendous. Also, because the Osprey doesn't use auto masking, there is no separation - no matter how minute - between the CineWhite screen material and its black material surround, which isn't the case with traditional auto masking screens. Because of this, the edge of the image itself is crisper, creating the illusion, at least in a darkened room that the image is simply "hanging" in space. However, in order to achieve rich, deep blacks on screen the Osprey really should be used or at least critically viewed in a completely darkened room.

I know my previous statement should go without saying, but there are a number of ambient light or light rejecting screens out there that do a phenomenal job of allowing you to view projected material with minimal light present in the room - but this is not the case with the Osprey, for even a single, low-level, reading light can alter its black level performance and contrast. Black levels are solid but aren't as deep or as sharp as you're going to find with some costlier screens and/or screen materials. The Osprey's CineWhite screen material gets you close to 90 percent of the performance in terms of black level detail, richness and overall depth as you'll get from screens costing five to ten times as much. Take for instance the sequence inside Niro's ship, which is largely a cavernous wasteland of metal stalagmites and atmospheric haze. The Osprey's CineWhite material allowed for plenty of black level detail that revealed layer upon layer of tortured, twisted hull; however the delineation between foreground and background elements wasn't as sharp as what you'll find with costlier or high contrast screens. Does it ultimately ruin or take away from the viewing experience? Not at all.

Now, contrast (away from the screen's edges) is very good between light and dark elements on screen and even better in more brightly lit environments. Within largely dark scenes or low light sequences it's not quite as sharp as I've seen from the competition, but again we're talking about a value for dollar product in the Osprey, not a cost no object assault. What does this mean? Well, for one it means edge fidelity is a bit softer overall. Don't mistake the word "soft" for vague or blurry, for I found the Osprey's edge fidelity to actually appear more natural and more cinema-like than what I've grown accustomed to from the current crop of high contrast screens, which I appreciated.

In a truly darkened room, colors projected upon the Osprey's CineWhite surface are rich, vibrant and well saturated with good uniformity throughout. I like white screens when it comes to color reproduction, for I find ambient light or high contrast screens tend to enrich colors a bit artificially, not to mention make them appear a touch darker across the entire spectrum, which isn't the case with the Osprey. While Star Trek is an artificially saturated film in terms of color, there were enough subtle cues in some of the film's less hectic sequences that allowed me to view things like skin tones and such in their natural state and the Osprey did a great job displaying all the nuance, texture and detail contained within.

Lastly, the surface of the material itself didn't inject any unwanted texture or light anomalies into the image and the tab tensioning system kept the surface of the screen itself wrinkle free.

Wanting to test the Osprey's 16:9 screen performance, I hit the button labeled "16:9" on the remote, which sent the 2:35:1 screen packing and dropped the 16:9 screen its place. There is some brief contact that happens between the two screens as their bottom supports pass one another resulting in a muted "thunk" but other than that, the operation is smooth and drama free. The process of dropping one screen or replacing one for the other takes approximately 30 seconds, give or take (yes, I timed it).

Since Star Trek was filmed in cinemascope, I went ahead and popped in James Cameron's Avatar (20th Century Fox) on Blu-ray disc. Avatar, in its 2D form, was released in cinemascope; however for its initial Blu-ray release we're treated to a 1:78: or 16:9 image, because that's how it was displayed for its 3D theatrical release. Ugh, one more example of how 3D is "changing" the way we watch movies. But I digress.

Right off the bat it was evident the image wasn't as large or as visually overwhelming as with the 2:35:1 screen, but it's not really a fair comparison. The "floating" image phenomenon I commented about earlier with the 2:35:1 screen was present and accounted for. The image quality was identical between the two screens. I even raised and dropped them one after the other to make sure and there was no visible difference in performance. Even the distance separating the 16:9 screen and the 2:35:1 screen behind it was so slight that my projector didn't even notice, keeping all four edges of the image sharp and in stark contrast with the surrounding black material. That's really cool and a good thing.

Overall I found the Osprey to be a very capable and solid all-round performer that packs an awful lot of performance and convenience into a very easy to use solution. Is it the best screen there is? No. But for where it sits in the marketplace and the issues it solves/gets around for enthusiasts looking to add a little cinemascope magic to their system whilst staying on budget, it's phenomenal.

Competition and Comparison
There is no real direct comparison for the Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen as no one else makes a two-screen-in-one solution like Elite does at this price. However, the Osprey does compete with traditional auto masking screens, of which there are many. At the highest end of the spectrum rests the dnp Supernova Epic, which is a true cost-no-object auto masking screen designed for the most discerning of videophiles. The dnp Supernova Epic is arguably the finest screen I've seen; however it's not really aimed at the typical Osprey buyer so it's a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. Stewart Filmscreens also makes several fine auto-masking screens, be they fixed or drop down, and I've spent considerable time with their ElectriScope Screen and have found it to be a very capable performer. However, like the before mentioned dnp screen, the ElectriScope is not really aimed at the typical Elite customer. One screen that could be considered a direct competitor is not an auto-masking screen at all, but instead a high contrast "black" screen from Screen Innovations. Screen Innovations' Black Diamond II screen material is ambient light-rejecting and can be ordered in either a 16:9 or 2:35:1 aspect ratio. Why the Black Diamond II makes this list is because the material itself is so good at rejecting ambient light and displaying crisp, true blacks that one doesn't really notice projected bars, thus creating the illusion of an auto masking or native aspect ratio screen. Also, SI's Black Diamond II Screens start at around the Osprey's asking price, but you can only get them in a fixed screen configuration - thus the savings.

If you need help deciding which screen is right for you and your system, please check out Home Theater Review's Front Projection Screen page for guidance, information and reviews.

The Downside
There are a few items that keep the Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen from being perfect, though they must be taken in the proper perspective given the Osprey's asking price and supreme functionality. For starters, the internal motor is a bit noisy if I'm honest and not as fast as some. While the visual impact of a drop down screen is undeniable, the motor noise from the Osprey does rob it a bit of its sex appeal. However, once your favorite film starts playing in its native format, all is forgiven.

I wish Elite would also offer white as a finish option for the Osprey's aluminum case, for its all black metallic finish is a bit "bulky" visually, especially when ceiling mounted. I know having the casework done up in black is most likely a cost saving measure, but I wouldn't mind (and I don't think others would either) paying a nominal upcharge for a white fa´┐Żade.

As of right now the Osprey screen is only offered in one material, Elite's own CineWhite 1.1 gain material, which is a solid performer but for users with ambient light considerations it isn't ideal. Elite offers other screen materials, including an acoustically transparent material, in their other drop down screens so I'm curious as to why they're not offered here.

Lastly, and this isn't a knock or a downside to the Osprey, so much as it is a downside to going with a 2:35:1 aspect ratio setup, in that it requires an anamorphic lens adaptor. There are projectors coming out that will be able to display anamorphic content without the need for a special lens attachment, but they too are costly. If you want to enjoy 2:35:1 material the way it was meant to be seen, then plan on spending at least $1,500 on an anamorphic lens or adaptor to go along with your new Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen.

It's hard to fault Elite Screen's Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen, especially considering its sub $2,000 starting price and feature set. Elite has managed to make a product that appeals to the wine and cheese crowd but delivers on a beer budget. Nowhere are you going to find a front projection screen that allows you to enjoy both native 16:9 and 2:35:1 aspect ratio content without first thinking about which of your children would be worth more to science.

Yes there are added costs associated with displaying 2:35:1 material properly, mainly the use of an anamorphic lens attachment, but given the Osprey's low starting price, you can use the money you save on the screen to offset the cost of an anamorphic lens. For instance, the base Osprey costs $1,999 and the Panamorph FVX200J used in this review retails for $2,995. Couple both the Osprey and Panamorph with an affordable front projector from the likes of, say, Epson and you're looking at a total package price of around $7,000 give or take - which is still less than what you could conceivably spend on a competitor's auto masking screen.

So while the Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen may have its quirks, albeit minor, they're overshadowed by its sheer value proposition, darkened room performance, ease of use and convenience. For the vast majority of consumers the Osprey is bound to be all the screens they'll ever need.

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HTR Product Rating for Elite Screens Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen

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