Home theaters are great, but sometimes we just need to get outside, especially when we live in places with long winters and fleeting summers. I, for one, love movie night in the theater, but I also love watching 9:00 p.m. sunsets over the Rockies. Thanks to the growing number of wireless audio systems and home entertainment projectors designed with portability and flexibility in mind, it's easier than ever to combine big-screen theater and the great outdoors. And thanks to Visual Apex's new outdoor theater screens, it's also easy to add a big, big video screen for a small, small amount of cash.
The new ProjectoScreen lineup includes two 16:9-shaped models: the 120-inch ProjectoScreen120HD ($219) and a 144-inch ProjectoScreen144HD ($269). (Visual Apex will soon introduce 100-, 110-, and 132-inch models, as well.) Beyond weight and dimensions, the two screens are identical. Both use an elastic vinyl screen material that's matte white with a 1.1 gain and a listed viewing angle of 80 degrees. Four inches of black border surround the white screen, and the material has black backing to prevent light pass-through. It can be easily wiped cleaned, and it is mildew-resistant and flame-retardant.
When fully assembled within its frame, the ProjectoScreen120HD measures 9.3 feet wide and 7.75 feet tall. For those who are looking for a portable or inexpensive indoor screen solution, this one fits the bill, as long as your ceilings are at least eight feet tall. (The 144-inch model stands 8.7 feet tall, so you'll need higher-than-average ceilings to use that one indoors.) The entire screen package comes in a fairly unobtrusive bag that measures 40 by 13 by five inches and weighs 33 pounds. Two carrying straps make for easy transport.
Visual Apex's website boasts that you can set up the screen in "just minutes!" and that's not too far off the mark. The setup procedure is straightforward and, at least in the case of the 120-inch model, can be accomplished by one small person like me. As I've encountered with previous Visual Apex products I've reviewed, the owner's manual is poorly written. I know, I know...men don't typically read manuals, but I do, and it does not inspire confidence when the first page reads: "Thank you for purchasing our quality screen uses excellent matte white fabric and mechanical components to give you trouble free enjoyment for years. Please take a moment to read the user manual before installing and using to avoid trouble happened. Please subject to actual product if appearance and craft update." Um, okay...whatever you say. The text doesn't get much better from there, but thankfully the pictures are obvious enough that you can figure it out. Even better, the website includes a short setup video that shows and tells you everything you need to know.
The aluminum frame, which feels nice and solid for a product in this price point, comes in one large, foldable piece with locking joints. Once it's unfolded, you simply snap the two legs into the frame's bottom bar and secure the pieces together using supplied knobs. Next, you unpack and unfold the screen material. Yes, it's folded, and a lot of creases exist when you first unfold it, many of which will stretch out immediately as you secure the material into place via snaps that run all the way around the frame. Be prepared: it does take some elbow grease to stretch the material into place, but I was able to do it on my own, with no assistance. Once the screen is snapped in place, you just raise up the stand onto its feet; ground spikes and rope are included to secure it to the ground and prevent a good gust of wind from ruining movie night.
I mated the ProjectoScreen120HD with Epson's Home Cinema 2030; at $899, this LCD projector is a logical price match for the screen, and its good light output, small form factor, and integrated speaker make it a good choice for an outdoor theater. All you need to do is attach a source device, and you're good to go. I used my Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player, feeding demo scenes from Ironman, Kingdom of Heaven, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (plus a special private screening of the Curious George movie for my little 'un to enjoy outdoors). About halfway through the demo, I brought out my SoundCast Melody omnidirectional Bluetooth speaker, to get a higher-quality audio experience than the Epson's little speaker could offer.
As I mentioned, the ProjectoScreen120HD uses a standard matte-white material, with no light-rejecting properties. Obviously, few consumer-oriented projector/screen combos (and none in this price range) can compete with the sun's brightness, so dusk and darkness are the intended viewing conditions. If you're planning on using it as an indoor solution, this screen is still ideally suited for a environment with some light control, although that will also be dictated by your projector's light output.
I did my outdoor demos beginning at dusk and moving into the evening hours. What I saw was good brightness and color uniformity, with no obvious color shifts or hot spots. The image quality held up well at wider angles, too. While most of the creases vanished during setup, the one main crease running horizontally across the center of the screen was more tenacious. I could see it when I stood fairly close to the screen, but it really wasn't visible outdoors at a normal viewing distance.
For more on the ProjectoScreen120HD's performance, along with High Points, Low Points, Competition & Comparison, and Conclusion, go to page two.
Next, I moved the screen indoors to my testing room, where I grabbed my X-rite I1Pro 2 meter to do some quick brightness and color temperature tests, using a calibrated JVC DLA-X500R projector. In terms of brightness uniformity, the outer edges of the screen were one or two foot-lamberts dimmer than the center in some spots, but this isn't something that's obvious to the naked eye, especially not in a casual outdoor viewing environment. In a direct comparison with my reference Visual Apex VAPEX9100SE 1.1-gain screen, I could see that the outdoor material was just a little cooler (or bluer) with test patterns. Measurements confirmed this, showing the outdoor material to be about 475 degrees cooler, which is not excessive by any means and can be easily compensated for in projector setup. Then again, bluer looks brighter to our eyes, and brighter is better in an outdoor viewing environment.
The quality of the screen material was pristine enough to enjoy an image with good detail, but I will add that the crease running across the middle of the screen was more noticeable in the more formal, light-controlled environment of my theater room than it was when I used the screen outside, particularly with brighter, lightly colored content. However, its visibility did lessen as the material spent more time in the frame. Visual Apex recommends that you expose the black side of the screen to direct, warm sunlight to remove creases more quickly.
• The ProjectoScreen120HD is easy to set up and take down, and its build quality is better than expected at this price point.
• Image quality is good, with solid brightness and color uniformity.
• You get a lot of screen for a little cash.
• There's a helpful setup video on the Visual Apex website.
• The carrying case allows for easy transport and storage.
• Because the vinyl material arrives folded, creases are visible in the early-goings.
• The material needs to be stretched into the frame, which requires some effort. The manual says to do the corners first, but it's much easier to start on one side of the frame and work your way across.
• The owner's manual is poorly written.
Competition and Comparison
The prime competitor to the ProjectoScreen is the Elite Screens Yard Master 2 Series, which has similar build and setup and is available in sizes of 100, 120, and 135 inches. The 120-inch model is priced around $211. Camp Chef also offers a variety of outdoor screens. Retailers like Home Depot and Walmart offer value-oriented inflatable outdoor screens, if you don't mind your theater screen looking a bit like a bounce house.
Whether you're preparing for a company picnic, a church social, a community potluck, or just a family movie night in the backyard, Visual Apex's ProjectoScreen120HD is a great outdoor screen solution offered at a great price. Thanks to its good performance and build quality, it can also serve as the foundation for a value-oriented indoor theater. The detachable legs allow you to easily wall-mount it as a permanent fixed-frame screen, but its smart design makes it best suited for someone who's in need of a portable screen that's easy to set up and break down on a regular basis.