ezFrame High Contrast Gray, Fixed Projector Screen Review

Elite ezFrame High Contrast Gray, Fixed Projector Screen Review:

Overview
I initially reviewed the first "version" of this screen over a year ago when it first reached the market. In my initial findings (read the review) this screen represented the least expensive commercial high contrast grey screen available, and overall, a good value. It did, however, also have a major shortcoming, and that was a visible hot spot in line with the projector. Now, hot spots, to the best of my knowledge, cannot be 100% eliminated, even on the best screens, and high contrast screens are more sensitive than basic matte screens.

Several months later, Elite asked me to review a new version of the screen, or, rather, the updated version (the original was the R100H, the newer one the R100H1), which sported a new screen surface material, and black backing on the screen surface, which they told me significantly eliminated the hot spot tendency and improved performance.
Let's get started:


The Elite ezFrame R100H1 (100" diagonal) reviewed, is a High Contast grey surface fixed screen, with a 16:9 ratio.
Suggested List Price is $629. (Dealers sell them a significant discounts.) 
There is also an R100WH, but that one is a matte white surface, which we did not test.

Overall, Elite offers the ezScreen series in 4:3, 16:9, and 2.35:1 configurations. 
There are 8 sizes available in 4:3 screens, from 84" diagonal to 200" diagonal.
There are 16 different screens (10 different sizes) of 16:9 screens from 84" to 200" diagonal.
Finally, there are 5 sizes of 2.35:1 screens, from 96" to 138" diagonal
Well, I've finally broken down, and agreed to take a second look, as part of our efforts here to start reviewing more screens.

Assembling the Elite ezFrame Projector Screen
The frame is fairly easy to assemble, although I must confess, I didn't have to assemble it myself, I just watched it being done. Elite is located about 40 miles from my location, and in Elite's enthusiasm to have it reviewed, they drove down the screen (boxed) and one of their people assembled it. I'm sure the Elite guy assembling it is far more experienced at it than you or I, so assembly time, will be longer than for us "normal people". The point is, it took definitely less than 30 minutes from sealed box in his SUV, to having it completed (and I was talking with him part of the time). I already have another (Carada) fixed screen mounted on the wall of my testing room. The 100" Elite was placed just in front of the other screen (slightly leaning against the frame of the other screen). As a result, the time mentioned does not include finding wall studs, installing the wall brackets, and hanging the screen.

Documentation has plenty of diagrams, but text (no doubt translated from the original Chinese), leaves something to be desired, there seem to be more "letters" (point J,K) on the manual, than discussion of them. Still, if you figured you could assemble a screen you shouldn't have any problem doing so. If you are a complete klutz, and are counting on an extraordinarily good manual to save you, look out, or find a friend who has "skills".

The screen surface attaches to the frame at 22 separate points, which creates a tight flat screen surface without any visible waves, that would distort the projected image.

Projector Screen Image Properties - Gain
I would describe the R100H1 as a light gray surface. Despite this Elite claims a gain of 1.0. In comparing brightness with my Carada Brilliant White (gain claimed of 1.4), the Elite screen was not quite as bright. I do not have a viable method of measuring the actual gain of screens, but find the gain of 1.0 to be reasonable assuming the Carada meets its 1.4 claim. If anything I suspect that the gain is slightly lower, say, 0.9.

The end result is a screen that will work well with larger screens, or some of the less bright projectors, if you are looking for a screen that can lower black levels, but don't want to sacrifice as much brightness as some of the darker gray surfaces.

The image below, shows the brightness difference between the Carada (top) and the Elite (bottom) separated by the Elite's velour border.

Projector Screen Image Properties - Color Accuracy
Following the same procedure above, we measured the grayscale balance at 100 IRE directly from the projector - measuring R, G, and B, values. We then performed the same measurements with light reflected off of the screen. Below you can see two images of my calibration software. The first is the RGB balance measured directly off of the projector, the second reflected off of the screen.

From an overall color temperature change, the direct temperature measured 6654K and reflected off of the screen, 6456K, about a 200K difference, which is very slight and easy to correct for. Essentially this Elite screen reflects back just the slightest more red, than blue. The percentage measurements between Red and Blue, go from 99.62 (red) and 101.19 (blue) on the direct measurement off of the projector. Off of the screen, red increases slightly to 100.17 while Blue drops to 99.69.

Better still, the amount of green compared to Red and Blue remains virtually unchanged. dropping from 99.99% to 99.98%

In summary, this Elite screen would have to be considered very color neutral, with the shift to red being barely detectable to the eye, even if you could show the same image with a perfect neutral screen, and then switch back to view the Elite screen.

The two images below (if you can read the small print - show (first) the color balance measuring directly off of the Optoma HD7100 projector. (You can see the RGB percentages on the right, and the target slightly off from a perfect 6500K, in the lower area. The second image shows the numbers and target, with light measured reflected off of the screen.

Projector Screen Image Properties - Evenness of Illumination, Hotspots, Roll-off and "High Contrast"

The original version of this screen, reviewed over a year ago, had a very visible hot spot, reflecting back light from the projector.

The new R100H1 is greatly improved. So much so, that, the hot spot and evenness, which were the weakness of the earlier version, are now a definite strength. There is minimal uneveness which I could barely detect viewing a pure white image. This image (underexposed by one f-stop) captured below, exaggerates the differences more than your eye can see. Even so, you can barely detect the hotspot in the lower center. I would attribute most of the barely detectable unevenness to the projector. In this regard, I find the Elite screen, is even better than my more expensive Firehawk. The Firehawk, does however, offers more contrast, which would excerbate the tendency to hot spot.


Overall the image illumination appears to be very, very good. Remember, the Optoma projector used for this shot, only claims 85% evenness of illumination. (especially seen in the the upper left hand corner)

Roll off, when viewing the screen from off angle is also not significant. Definitely less than my Firehawk, but again, the Elite doesn't seem to be be as "high contrast" a screen as the Firehawk. Unless your seating area will have people sitting more than 45 degrees off angle (rare), I don't think it's going to be an issue.

As you would expect, since the screen doesn't roll off significantly when viewed from side angles, it also means that the Elite screen won't reject side lighting as much as a higher contrast screen.

Below are twoshots of the screen in use, with the projector being the Panasonic PT-DW5000U (a high power, 2500:1 contrast ratio widescreen business projector). The first from the Lord of the Rings DVD, and the second, from the HD-DVD of Phantom of the Opera.



That about covers it. click below, for a summary of the Elite R100H1 screen, and thoughts relating to what type of projectors will pair well with it.
Summary:
We awarded the original ezFrame fixed screen our Hot Product Award last year, primarily based on price. Although we found fault with the screen, primarily the significant hotspot causing uneven illumination, we took comfort in that it represented a low cost alternative to better performing screens such as those from Da-Lite and Stewart. One could say that it was a bargain, in that there were no low cost alternatives that could rival it.

In the case of this new version of the ezFrame screen, the Hot Product Award is given for a screen that not only remains perhaps the lowest cost screen of its type, but provides superior price performance. This time around you get a screen that is not only more affordable than the competition, but definitely appears to equal or exceed the capabilities of some of the more expensive screens. We are looking forward to reviewing some of it's competition this fall, especially either Da-Lite's fixed screen CinemaVision or HC Da-Mat screens. One is a darker gray surface, the other lighter. I am well familiar with both from having sold them for years, and both are excellent products. Whether they can provide better performance than the Elite screen remains to be seen. Certainly, though, they do cost a bit more.

This Elite screen, although a bit different (less "high contrast"), I would have to say, is still not a match for Stewart's closest equivalent, the Firehawk (I use a motorized Firehawk surface in my own home theater). I say this, even though it's illumination is actually more even, due, no doubt to being less of a High Contrast surface. My Firehawk is a bit brighter, and does do more from a contrast standpoint, but then, a fixed frame Firehawk is going to run at least twice the price of this Elite screen.

What home theater projectors will work best with the Elite ezFrame screen?
That of course is the big question. In this case I would say that the Elite screen is an excellent match for a wide range of projectors. Originally, high contrast screens were mostly dark gray, absorbing a lot of the light, and creating an overall darker image than a standard matte white surface. This was highly desireable, because 3-5 years ago, few projectors could produce respectable black levels. Thus, a high contrast screen darkened the darkest areas, while only slightly darkened the brightest areas of an image. The result, instead of your blacks coming out medium dark gray, they came out very dark gray.

Today's projectors however are much improved. While a few years ago, a claimed 2000:1 or 2500:1 was considered excellent projector contrast (DLP projectors primarily, the LCD models were no where near as good at black levels), today, however 2500:1 is pretty much "entry level" contrast. As a result, today, few home theater users need a really dark gray surface, such as Stewart's Grayhawk.

Quicktip: In the past, contrast ratio was the primary method of measuring black levels, but today, various techniques such as "AI", dynamic irises and lamps that brighten and dim frame by frame to adjust for the image, have somewhat negated the link between contrast, and black levels.

At this point, considering the overall brightness levels, certainly any of the LCD projectors, despite their often high contrast ratios of 5000:1 or even 7000:1, will be good matches for this projector screen.

On the DLP projector side, the Elite screen should prove to be an excellent match for any of the projectors that use the Darkchip2 technology (just about all selling below $3000). As you move to the naturally higher contrast/better black levels of the Darkchip3, however, black levels are inherently better, and do not need gray surfaces to get those blacks pretty dark.

With that in mind, I watched sements of movies on two projectors, the Panasonic DW5000U which I recently reviewed (a commercial Darkchip2 DLP projector with a 2500:1 contrast ratio) and the Optoma HD7100, the lowest cost Darkchip3 DLP home theater projector on the market (at this time, less than $3000). The Optoma is fairly typical of Darkchip3 HT projectors with a claimed contrast ratio of 5000:1.

The Panasonic definitely matched well with the screen's gray surface, and for movie viewing was a better choice than the Carada in my room. Before I started with the Optoma, however I seriously doubted I would prefer the Elite screen to the Carada Brilliant White fixed screen in my testing room. The Carada screen has an impressive claimed gain of 1.4, guarantying a bright image. (My Carada is 106" diagonal, only slightly larger than the Elite's 100"). Because the Carada is so bright, black levels are compromised a bit. As I think I may have noted in my review of the Carada many months ago, I wouldn't normally recommend it for Darkchip3 type projectors if the screen size was 100" or smaller, unless the user had to deal with more than minimal ambient light.

There is no question that the Carada is brighter, and also no question that the Elite produces blacker blacks. I really ended up (since I viewed the Optoma on the same video clips perhaps 15 minutes after the Elite), rather torn between the two. Brights or blacks?

I tend to favor in most cases, getting those blacks as black as possible, but less critical viewers probably will prefer the slightly brighter image. I'm talking movies now, and dark scenes. If you are looking for sports viewing, I would definitely favor the Carada or another screen with moderate gain, but for movie viewing on smaller screens (depending on your projector's brightness) but for the average projector - under 106", my recommendation would normally lean to the Elite.

Screens, by and large, are harder to recommend than the projectors. Why? Ultimately many factors come into play, most notably, ambient room light, size of screen, brightness of the projector, abilities of the projector (in terms of black levels), but ultimately, personal preference may be the the biggest factor. I'm pretty confident that if I packed a half a dozen knowledgeble home theater people into my testing room, under the aforementioned circumstances, I would get people picking out one over the other for different reasons than mine. And, to make matters worse, if I moved both screens into my theater room, with its different conditions, some of those people would likely change their minds, and again, not necessarily for the same reason.

Just keep these things in mind:

If you have some side ambient light, the Elite's gray surface may help a bit by absorbing some of it, but it does not help out as much as a higher contrast screen such as my Firehawk does. In this regard, it's only slightly better than a good bright matte surface.

If your projector is a bright one, such as Optoma's Darkchip2 HD72, unless you are going very large screen (over 110"), I would say that the the Elite is a superb match, not gobbling up much brightness, but definitely lowering the black levels.

If your screen is going to be 100" diagonal or smaller, the Elite should be an excellent match with almost any DLP (Darkchip2 or 3) or LCD home theater projector.

Final comments
To summarize, this Elite ezFrame screen should be excellent with any Darkchip2 DLP business or home theater projector, and do equally well with today's LCD home theater projectors ( especially business LCD models with their far worse black levels). When it comes to higher end projectors sporting the Darkchip3, the Elite is certainly a perfectly acceptable screen that many will like,
 but others will be more than satisfied with the black levels of a non-gray surface screen. For those not seeking to improve black levels, many will choose a white surface with some gain, like my Carada, or the StudioTek 130 from Stewart (by many considered the industry standard). Note: Elite, like essentially all screen manufacturers also offers fixed, motorized and pull-down screens with white surfaces.

Of course when it comes to personal preference, I just can't help you there, except to say again, that the Elite screen is not that dissimilar to a matte surface, just a little darker, just a tiny bit more roll off to the sides, and perhaps a very slight help with side ambient light. It is, in my opinion, closer in performance to a matte white surface, than a dark gray like Stewart's Grayhawk. I personally like the "not too High Contrast" aspect of this High Contrast screen.

Considering all of that, ultimately, the Elite's color balance is extremely close to neutral, with just the very slightest shift to red, it assembles pretty easily, and the screen surface is taut with no waves. Overall construction appears pretty good, (I'm certainly no expert in this area), and I doubt you'll find another screen that will do better when you take price into consideration.

Bottom line. This new version of the ezFrame, is a rather significant improvement over "last year's model". As such it should have much wider appeal, and it exhibits very good overall performance, despite its low price!

And, I swear I didn't say all these nice things just because Elite assembled the screen for me!