SI Screens Black Diamond II Projector Screen Reviewed

SI Screens Black Diamond II Projector Screen Reviewed

SI Screens may be a fresh face in the projection screen universe but their Black Diamond II screen has more than made an impact-it's set the bar for affordable, ambient light rejecting screens everywhere.

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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.

Additional Resources
• Read more projector screen reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com's staff.
• Learn more about SI Screens and its products.
• Find the perfect projector to pair with the Black Diamond II screen.

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.

The Hookup
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.

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The SI screen arrived in a large tower-like box and, once unpacked,
revealed two long velvet-wrapped bars and two shorter velvet-wrapped
bars. The material itself is rolled around the whole package, carefully
sandwiched between a layer of protective film and thin foam. Building
the frame is fairly straightforward, though you'll want to insert the
mounting pegs before tightening up the frame, a little point the
instructions fail to mention. The Black Diamond material is not made of
fabric, so there is no snap assembly here as common with other screens.
The material is tension-mounted to the frame via small rubber bands
looped through pre-existing holes punched through the material itself.
The Black Diamond screen is fairly ridged, more or less a thin plastic
composite, which can crease if not handled properly. Once the material
was properly mounted to the frame, it was time to put it on my wall.

SI was kind enough to send me display legs for the screen, so I
wouldn't have to mar my fabric wall for the purpose of a review.
However, after one night of viewing with the screen mounted on
temporary legs, I had to hang it permanently. I cut a small hole in my
custom fabric wall that conceals my Meridian reference in-wall speakers
and, using the supplied mount, was able to hang the screen securely
with little effort. On the wall, with no image being projected, the SI
Black Diamond Screen looks like a large LCD or plasma display on
standby, as opposed to a large blank canvas, as with other screens.
Because of its non-perforated nature, remember the screen is a solid,
not a fabric, my center channel speaker had to sit out this one out,
since the screen rested directly in front of it above the fabric.

Since I flush-mounted the SI screen to my wall, I was still able to
utilize my long-term reference screen from Screen Research, which is a
motorized drop-down perforated screen that is both THX- and
ISF-certified for image and sound quality. The effect of being able to
essentially A/B the two products proved most beneficial, which I'll
talk about in a moment. For the duration of the review, I used both
screens with Anthem's new D-ILA projector (review pending), which is
essentially a re-badged JVC projector with a few added tweaks and
features. From delivery to show time, the whole process, not including
the night I spent deciding whether or not to permanently mount the
screen, took about two hours.

Performance
Unlike other reviews involving my main theater rig, I decided to kick
things off in the middle of the afternoon, with a fair amount of
outside light pouring into my living room/theater. I figured that if
the Black Diamond Screen was as good as SI and Paradigm said it was,
then this would be the ultimate test. I started with some Discovery HD
Theater viewing, beginning with the series Chasing Classic Cars
(Discovery). Chasing Classic Cars is a weekly show that follows car
enthusiast Wayne Carini as he tracks down some very rare vintage autos
and restores them to their original glory. The episode I happened to
have recorded on my DVR featured a 1969 Ferrari 365 GTC, which Carini
was taking to Pebble Beach for auction. I began with my current
reference screen from Screen Research down, covering the SI screen.
Though the Anthem projector is bright and produces a wonderful image,
in the midday sun, the image was washed out and barely visible, with
the exception of the brightest, most vivid elements of the image,
mainly the graphics and sky. As the show played, I retracted my Screen
Research screen and, halfway up, the difference between the two screens
was instantly apparent. With enough light in the room to read a book
without straining, the image projected on the Black Diamond II screen
was shocking and easily enjoyed. Black levels were still a bit muted
and lacked ultimate detail and the same was true for lower midrange
values, but overall, the result was very impressive. Brighter elements,
for example, the sheet metal of the Ferrari itself, were rife with
detail, complete with proper color saturation and sharpness, even with
surrounding black levels being less than perfect. The grass of Pebble
Beach was not only crisp and colorful, but very natural and lifelike in
its presentation. Even in the presence of some pretty bright ambient
light, the whole image was incredibly dimensional and possessed a
clarity I'd never experienced via a projector in these conditions,
short of a rear-projection set-up using Stewart Filmscreen's
lust-worthy StarGlass.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "But I can watch my LCD in these
types of environments, no problem." True, but turn on your LCD or
plasma display and then turn all the lights on or open a window nearby.
While you will still see an image, it will be washed out a bit or,
worse, have massive reflections across the screen from the light
sources. The slight washing-out of the image is a commonality between
the Black Diamond II screen and its flat-panel counterparts. However,
unlike flat-panel displays, the SI screen showcased zero reflections
across the image surface. I dragged my Samsung 42-inch LCD TV down from
my bedroom, placed it on a table under the Black Diamond screen and
compared the two side by side. The two images were more alike in
overall quality and clarity, given the conditions, than they had any
right to be. However, my enjoyment of the Samsung display was greatly
diminished by the presence of large reflections cast over the screen
itself. Needless to say, the Samsung returned to my bedroom and I
continued enjoying the Black Diamond Screen.

So, are SI's claims about the Black Diamond II screen correct? In a
word, yes. You can watch and enjoy your source material via a
front-projection set-up (provided your projector has a decent light
output) in ambient light or midday conditions, so long as you don't
expect it to be equal to its performance in darkened or dark room.
Sports broadcasts, like the NBA Finals (NBC) and studio recorded
sitcoms or dramas, fared best in bright conditions, though movies like
The Matrix (Warner Home Video) could still be enjoyed. But I haven't
even gotten to the best part yet.

With the lights off, as impressive as the Black Diamond II's ambient
light performance is, nothing, and I mean nothing, will prepare you for
what it can do when the lights go off. With the lights down, I cued up
Pixar's Wall•E on Blu-ray (Walt Disney Home Entertainment) and hit
play. I don't know how else to describe this, other than to say ...
DAMN. The image just appeared and seemingly hovered in space 12 feet in
front of me. I could see very little of my surroundings, due to the
fact that the Black Diamond II screen was throwing little to nothing
back at me. I mean it; I couldn't see the surrounding walls, ceiling,
floor or even the frame of the SI screen itself. The image simply
seemed confined by some sort of magic box that hovered in space. Now I
know this may not sound like a big deal, but when I lowered my
reference screen in front of the SI screen my room became illuminated
and I could even read the text on the spines of some of the larger
books resting on a shelf some five to six feet away. With so much light
being reflected back into the room, you'd think the image was too
bright, yet it wasn't. With my reference screen down, the image was not
as vivid, accurate or sharp. Rolling my old screen back up, my room
became dark once again and my focus returned solely to the film being
projected.

Black levels, especially when Wall•E launches into space, were
superb and were among the best I'd ever seen via a front-projection
set-up. Color, color separation and gradation were spot-on and natural,
though I'll admit animated fare excels in this arena. White values were
equally impressive, possessing no bloom of any kind. Everything was
very composed and tight, which lent an added sense of depth to the
images that, during certain scenes, especially the wide shots back on
Earth, had a three-dimensional feeling to them that is difficult to
describe, other than to say the images truly seemed to go back into my
wall. The effect is awesome and unlike anything I've ever seen.

Not willing to call the game at half-time, I cued up The Matrix:
Revolutions (Warner Home Video) on HD DVD and chaptered ahead to the
epic battle between Agent Smith and Neo. This time, I didn't bother
with my reference screen. Instead, I focused all of my attention
squarely on the Black Diamond II's performance. Matrix: Revolutions is
presented in 2:35, or "scope," which means there are black bars on the
top and bottom when projected on a 16:9 screen like the Black Diamond
II. Just as Wall•E showcased earlier, the black bars on The Matrix:
Revolutions were a non-issue, as the SI screen seemingly transformed
from a 16:9 to a 2:35 aspect ratio surface. The black bars were
undetectable from the velvet frame of the screen and, due to the fact
that the Black Diamond II emits nearly zero light back into the room,
the aspect ratio. Additionally, the contrast and image clarity were
presented in full force.

The battle between Agent Smith and Neo takes place at night under
the flashing lights of an overhead lightning storm. Beginning with the
black-level performance, every detail and nuance were visible, down to
the fibers that make up Neo's trademark black coat. The weave pattern
was so pronounced that I could easily detect which parts of his jacket
were becoming more saturated with rain than the others. Speaking of
rain, the droplets in the scene were rich and rife with detail, which
is hard to achieve, given their whitish/transparent nature. On the
Black Diamond II screen, seemingly every droplet had character all its
own. Skin tones, albeit greenish in hue due to the coloring of the
film, were rich and natural. The texture presented in the mid-tones and
highlights were superb and extremely lifelike. Speaking of colors, be
it a punchy animated film or semi-monochromatic fare as in The Matrix,
everything just leaps off the Black Diamond II screen, not in an
artificial or "dynamic" setting way, but in the way a true cinematic
experience should, though I'd argue that even in a public multiplex,
colors have never resonated quite the way they do on the Black Diamond
II screen. The three-dimensional quality I discussed earlier was
present in spades during The Matrix: Revolutions demo from the contours
of the actors' faces to the buildings in the furthest reaches of the
image. The edge fidelity was about as good as it gets this side of 2 or
4K. The image was just so utterly brilliant and complete from top to
bottom that I drifted away from taking notes and began watching the
film, which is a rarity, given how many times I've seen this movie.

Wanting to ensure the Black Diamond II's performance was truly
universal, I disconnected the Anthem D-ILA projector and fired up my
reference Sony Pearl SXRD projector. The Pearl is not a light saber by
any means as far as projectors go, but with the Black Diamond II in its
light path, it didn't much matter. The image, while a tad dimmer, was
just as visually engaging as with the Anthem. I'll even go so far as to
say the Black Diamond II improved the overall perceived performance of
my now-dated Pearl by several notches. Turning the lights on in my
living room washed out the image a bit, but even with the duller Pearl
in the system chain, I was still able to watch and enjoy the end of The
Matrix: Revolutions.

Competition and Comparison
To compare the SI Screens Black Diamond II projector screen against its competition, read our reviews for Stewart Filmscreen's Cine-W and dnp's Supernova Epic screen.  There are more reviews available in our Projector Screen section.

Low Points
Okay, I love SI's Black Diamond II screen. However, I think you can
tell there are a few things that I didn't like. First, the instructions
are a bit vague and provide for a little bit of trial and error when
setting up the screen, though I have to imagine that most Black Diamond
II screens will be installed by dealers making this less of an issue.
Second, because of its design, regardless of lighting conditions, the
Black Diamond II screen looks best when seated on center or within 30
or so degrees of center. While you can see a rich, viewable image
inside of a 150-degree arc, those sitting on the couch in front of the
screen will see a better show. It's not a head-in-a-vise scenario at
all, so don't think this is a screen built for one or two, but be aware
that in some media room-like environments, the friend sitting in the
corner may not be experiencing all that you are. Lastly, because of the
material itself, you cannot get a Black Diamond II screen in an
acoustically transparent model, meaning those of us with fabric walls
or in-wall speakers behind the screen may have to adjust our speaker
placement or have to look elsewhere for our needs. Personally, I'm
moving a center channel speaker, installed in my wall, to accommodate
the Black Diamond screen. That's how strongly I feel about its
performance value. The material itself is not a smooth or glass-like
surface. It has a texture to it that is noticeable in brilliant whites
or brightly lit scenes if you're sitting too close or looking for it. I
noticed it when I got up close and personal with the screen during a
few of my tests. However, as soon as I took a seat in my primary
position, it wasn't noticeable.

Conclusion
For a little over $2,000 retail for an 80-inch diagonal screen, SI
Screens has seemingly done the impossible with their new Black Diamond
II screen material, which bridges the gap between traditional
flat-panel displays and front projection like no other. As great as
their screen is, and it is great, I'll leave you with this little
tidbit: a little over a year ago, I reviewed the massive 103-inch
Panasonic 1080p plasma, which retailed, after installation, for a
mind-boggling $100,000. That massive TV takes a 240-volt connection
just to turn on, and in ambient light, it is more a mirror than a
display. The next closest size, as near as I can recall, is a 75-inch
display made by LG, which retails anywhere between $15,000 and $25,000,
yet it too is a giant mirror in anything but a dark room. Now, consider
a complete SI solution. An 80-to-100-inch Black Diamond Screen will
cost you between $2,200 and $4,000 all in, and a good 1080p projector
can be had for under $3,000 these days. The value that is being
presented is astronomical. While anything more than a 99-cent download
can be considered big money in these trying times, imagine the look on
some rich guy's face when he finds out that you have all of the
performance and more of his 100-inch flat panel, yet spent less than
the sales tax on such a luxury item to achieve it. The SI Black Diamond
II screen is an absolute revelation and a breakthrough product if I've
ever seen one.

Read more video screen reviews from brands like SI, dnp, Stewart Filmscreen and many others by clicking here.

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