Widescreen Review - Lunette Series

Elite Screens Lunette

Curved Projection Screen
Doug Blackburn

For the last seven years, Elite Screens’ primary focus has been on home theatre screens with high-performance-to-cost ratios. Elite Screens’ secondary markets are government, house-of-worship, educational, and military. The Lunette screens combine Elite’s high-performance CineWhite® screen material with curved extruded aluminum frames. The reviewed 106-inch diagonal Lunette 2.35:1 Lunette screen has an MSRP of $1,129 (frame model Curve106WH1). The 100-inch diagonal model (Curve100WH1) is currently the most popular Lunette screen size and has an MSRP of $1,029. There is also an acoustically transparent option offered at $1,299 MSRP for the same curved 106-inch diagonal size that was reviewed. The Lunette screens are currently Elite’s highest-performance screens, designed to compete with high-performance screens from other manufacturers, but at a lower cost.

All Lunette screens have a curved frame. The largest 2.35:1 size is 158-inch diagonal, and the smallest available size is 85-inch diagonal. The same screen material is available with a flat frame in Elite’s ezFrame screen series. A 103-inch diagonal ezFrame (flat) version of the curved Lunette has an MSRP of $798 (a 103-inch curved Lunette model would have an approximate MSRP of $1,079). Curved screens are popular in home theatres using an anamorphic lens combined with a 2:35:1 or 2.40:1 aspect ratio screen. The curve of the screen reverses the inevitable small amount of pincushion distortion caused by the anamorphic lens. Curved screens can be used without an anamorphic lens to good effect, especially if the projector throw distance is long enough to avoid barrel distortion (the opposite of pincushion) that can be more obvious at short-ish throw distances. Alignment of the projector-to-screen will also affect the amount of geometric distortion. Minimizing distortion requires that the projector lens height remains within the height of the image area of the screen. The more above or below the top/bottom edges of the screen, the more geometric distortion will be introduced. A ceiling mount that puts the projector lens two feet above the top edge of the screen would have quite a bit more geometric distortion than if the ceiling mount was low enough to place the projector lens at the same height as the top edge of the screen. There are typically four reasons a curved screen might be chosen over a flat screen. The previously mentioned anamorphic lens combined with a 2.35:1 screen is one reason. The second reason is that a curved screen may produce images that are slightly sharper than a flat screen at the far left and far right sides of the screen. However, viewers tend to look directly at the central one-third of the screen most of the time, with the outside edges of the screen taking on a less critical “peripheral vision” role that heightens immersion. Viewers rarely look directly at the left and right one-third of the screen during movies. That means the slight advantage in sharpness at the outside edges of images may not be obvious while viewing movies. This sharper-at-the-outside-edges factor may not be true for every projector/lens combination or every system/setup. If the projection lens is optimized for sharpness on a flat surface or if the throw distance is long, there may be no sharpness advantage for a curved screen. The third reason people use curved screens is simply that a curved screen has a “cool factor” that you don’t get with a flat screen. The fourth potential benefit of curved screens is that more light is reflected towards the viewers, with less light reflecting to the sides and bouncing off of walls, leading to light-contaminated black levels. This is a more significant factor when the sidewalls are somewhat close to the screen and when the walls are painted something other than black or very dark neutral gray. Color on the walls will create colored reflected light that can contaminate images. When it’s not possible to make the room completely black or very dark gray, or a very dark shade of some color (less ideal, but better than a medium-to-light shade of any color), a curved screen can help reduce unwanted side effects from the non-dark walls.

Setup
The Lunette screen arrived nicely packed. As with any screen, you need quite a large clear floor-space to assemble the screen. The frame rails went together easily. Each frame corner has a beefy angle bracket that holds the frame rails together. Some screens I’ve assembled have had to be “tweaked” to remove some trapezoidal shape after initially fitting the four frame rails, but the Lunette frame came out “square” (perfectly rectangular in this case) without having to be tweaked. You always want to double-check any screen frame after assembly. This is easily done by measuring the two diagonals. When the two diagonals are the same, the frame is “square.” If the two diagonals are different, the frame has some trapezoidal distortion.

The Lunette screen material has rod pockets on all four sides. Four plastic “rods” are inserted into the pockets on the four sides of the screen material. This was reminiscent of assembling a camping tent with flexible support poles. The edges of the screen, now with the plastic rods in the pockets, are pushed into channels in the aluminum frame. Plastic “keepers” lock into grooves in the frame rails, which hold the plastic rods in the channels. You begin installing the plastic retainers in the center of the long dimension, then install retainers in the center of the left and right sides. More plastic clips are installed from the center-outward on the long dimension of the screen. As the remaining unsecured area of the vertical edges is similar to the un-anchored space on the top and bottom, you begin adding retainers to all four sides uniformly, still working from the center towards the corners. This keeps even tension on the screen (assisted by the plastic rods in the pockets). The screen material stretches lightly over the aluminum frame so the screen material follows the curve of the aluminum frame with no waviness. The process was simple to complete, and there were no wrinkles or unevenness in the screen anywhere once all the retaining clips had been installed.

Wall-mount brackets are included. These should be anchored to wall studs to support the weight of the screen safely. Elite does not currently offer a stand or legs for the curved Lunette frames. Since I have about 8.5 feet of space behind the screen to accommodate equipment racks, my only options are stand-mounted screens. I used a stand-mounted 2.40:1 screen as the support for the Lunette screen by turning the wall-mount brackets into trick “hooks” that hooked around the back of the other screen’s frame. That left protruding “hangers” hanging over the front edge of the flat screen. The Lunette screen was hung from the two brackets like a framed picture. Careful attention had to be paid to getting the Lunette screen lined up with the projector so that the left and right edges of the Lunette screen were both exactly the same distance from the projector. My first attempt at hanging the Lunette screen resulted in the right edge being about 1 inch farther from the projector than the left edge. This produced an easily visible
difference in image size between the left and right sides of the screen. The projector axis has to be exactly right, and the screen’s position also has to be exactly right in order to not have unwanted geometric distortion.

In my room a JVC Professional DLA-RS60 projector is 14.8 feet from the screen. Viewing distance is 8 feet for this 8-foot wide (nominal) screen, giving an angle view of 60 degrees. Elite recommends a minimum viewing distance equal to the diagonal screen measurement. For this 106-inch diagonal screen, I was about 10 inches closer than their minimum recommended viewing distance. If there were going to be any visible problems with the screen material at my closer-than-recommended viewing distance, I certainly would have seen them.
The projector is on the top shelf of a tall rack. The center of the projector’s lens is the same height from the floor as the top edge of the viewing area of the screen. With no anamorphic lens in the optical path, this setup produced straight lines at the top of the screen and slightly “barreled” lines at the bottom of the screen. The amount of barrel was about 1/8-inch between the center and either the right or left edge of the screen. This slight curve at the bottom of the image was easy to hide by zooming slightly so the bottom quarter-inch or so of images falls on the black velvet-covered frame.

The front of the screen/frame assembly is featureless, except for the small Elite Screens logo in the lower right corner of the screen, offset to the outside edge of the frame, as far from the image area as possible. The frame is thicker around the outside edge, with about half of the 3.5-inch width of the frame rails tapered to a thin edge right at the screen surface.

In Use
The surface of the Lunette screen has a slight texture, a very fine “grain” that is smaller than individual pixels. Touching the screen, it feels smooth, as the texture is too fine to be detected by the sense of touch. The only way to see the texture is to get close to the screen, and if you’re like me, you have your high-magnification reading glasses on so you can get even closer than your minimum focus distance. Shining a flashlight on a diagonal helps to reveal the texture.

There is absolutely no prismatic effect visible at any time. Some screen materials produce prismatic effects due to reflections from fine glass or other reflective particles on the surface of the screen. This can have the appearance similar to the “silk screen effect” often seen in RPTV screens or in higher-gain front projection screens. The Lunette screen never had this issue. The fine texture of the screen is completely random, with no visible orientation that could cause density streaking in the horizontal or vertical directions due to directional surface coating in the factory. There’s nothing I see in the Lunette’s images that indicates any coating issues that lead to a visible image defect due to less-than-perfect reflection of light. There were a few times when I thought I saw some slight vertical density patterning in bright areas of images, but this remained present when a different screen was temporarily moved into position, so this effect was either coming from the projector or the Blu-ray Disc™.
Used with Panamorph’s DC-1 anamorphic lens, the amount of downward tilt of the lens made a big difference on how effectively the curved screen eliminated the pincushion distortion from the anamorphic lens. Getting the tilt just right did eliminate the slight amount of pincushion distortion so that less zoom was needed to hide the pincushion distortion. Small adjustments to the tilt of the lens made a difference, so it took some fiddling to find exactly the right angle for the anamorphic lens. Once the anamorphic lens tilt was set as well as possible, anamorphic 2.35:1 images were close to perfect, geometry-wise. Only a small amount of zoom was needed to hide edges of the frame.
I compared images on the Lunette screen to images from a Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 100, Stewart’s no-compromise reference screen. As you read these comparison comments, keep in mind that a flat StudioTek 100 in a 103-inch diagonal size will cost very close to three times as much as Elite’s flat ezFrame screen. The flat StudioTek 100 screen will cost roughly two times more than a curved Lunette screen of the same size. The StudioTek 100 reflects light in all directions and requires a blacked-out room to eliminate reflections that affect the StudioTek 100 images quite a bit more than they would bother reflections from other types of screens. Any nearby reflections will wash out the black levels. Colored light reflections will impact image “purity.” The theatre room is fully blacked out to allow use of the StudioTek 100 screen… black carpet, flat black ceiling, and flat black walls. I find the StudioTek 100 screen has the uncanny ability to appear as though the images were coming from the screen itself, as if the screen was the world’s best flat panel display rather than being a projection screen. The only other screen I’ve seen that does the same thing is the DaLite/JKP Affinity screen, another reference-grade screen. Both the StudioTek 100 and Affinity screens have a surface that reminds me of my wife’s cosmetic powder. The particle size is so small you can’t detect particles or texture at all. The surface of both of these reference-grade screens even has a unique feeling when touched… it feels like an ultra-fine powder, much finer and smoother feeling than even “baby powder.” It’s almost a creamy smooth feeling. Not that I recommend ever touching these or any other projection screen on purpose. If you can’t help yourself, be certain you’ve removed any fingerprint/skin oils or other contaminants from your fingers before touching.

For side-by-side comparisons, the two screens were overlapped with a single 3.5-inch frame rail down the center of the projected image. The most obvious difference was how quickly black levels were disturbed by turning on a dimmable floor lamp in the room. The Lunette screen remained considerably darker than the StudioTek 100 screen, all the way from just barely on to full brightness. With the room completely black, differences were surprisingly small between the two screens. The Lunette screen was a little brighter, but the StudioTek 100’s black level was just a little better, as you might expect given the 1.1 Lunette gain versus the 1.0 StudioTek 100 gain. As usual, the StudioTek 100 screen produced images that appeared to originate in the screen rather than looking like they were projected on the screen. The Lunette screen’s images had about half as much of that “in-the-screen” look. That may sound disappointing, but you should realize that this effect is not common in projector screens in general. So it was very promising that the Lunette screen at least brought some of that effect to the table. The StudioTek 100 images were just slightly more “real” looking, due to the lower black levels and the slightly enhanced sense of the image originating in the screen itself. This difference was subtle. I wasn’t really aware of it until placing the screens in the side-by-side evaluation mode. There were no observable color or luminance problems, though, it is difficult to compare luminance measurements from a curved screen to a flat screen since the curve of the Lunette tends to direct more light back to an optimally placed viewer. The uniformity of illumination of the screen matched the illumination profile of the JVC projector precisely, meaning that the screen itself wasn’t changing the measured center-to-edge illumination profile of the projector, as measured on the Stewart StudioTek 100 screen. There were some small measured differences, but they were just as likely to be due to the differences in flat versus curved screen material as they were from any real unevenness. There was certainly no visible unevenness of illumination. Measurements varied 4 percent or less, but when you’re dealing with 14 footLamberts (fL) or so, 4 percent is just over half a footLambert.

Overall, the StudioTek 100 images were just slightly more “solid,” dimensional, and convincing. But it wasn’t nearly the difference you might expect given the price differential of similar sizes of StudioTek
100 vs. Lunette. The cost differential is two to three times more for the StudioTek 100 versus images that are subjectively five percent better on the StudioTek 100 screen. But turn on any light source in the room at all, and the Lunette screen has a clear advantage over the StudioTek 100 screen. If the room is painted anything other than flat black with black carpet, the Lunette will also have an advantage over
the StudioTek 100 screen. It’s not that the Lunette screen is unaffected by light or reflections, it is. But the degree of effect is much less than the StudioTek 100 screen. The Lunette screens are better able to deal with rooms that can’t be blacked out. The room itself can dictate that the StudioTek 100 would be a poor screen choice, while the Lunette screen would have clear performance advantages. Certainly, even more directional screens would edge out the Lunette screen, but those other screens would likely have less even illumination and they are likely to have some of the prismatic effect I find so distracting at times.

I never detected any sparkly pixels or visible screen texture in any images, including 3D Blu-ray. I’ve seen the sparkly pixel issue in some very well-respected (but not reference-grade) screens. It seems to be more of an issue with older screen materials that may have originated in the years before 1080 x 1920 resolution became the “standard” for good home theatre systems. The Lunette screen is completely absent
of any sparkly pixels or prismatic effects. That means the Lunette’s reflective properties approach the quality of reference-grade screens. The system had been calibrated with the StudioTek 100 screen. Switching to the Lunette screen produced measurement results that didn’t change enough to justify recalibrating. The Lunette screen matched Elite’s 1.1 gain specification closely enough that I have no concerns about the 1.1 spec. While the images may not have been quite as good as the StudioTek 100 screen’s images, the Lunette’s images were more similar to the StudioTek 100 images than they were to more typical screens that steadfastly cling to the look of light reflecting from a surface rather than being a window into the alternate reality of a good HD movie. There was an excellent sense of depth in Lunette
images. While the Lunette screen was less affected by light sources (or reflections) in the room than the StudioTek 100 screen, it’s not a screen I’d pick if there was always going to be light in the room. A very dark room still makes images from the Lunette screen look their best.

Conclusion
Elite’s Lunette screens definitely achieve Elite’s stated goal of high-end performance at mid-range prices. The Lunette screens fall just short of reference-quality performance, though, they may be a far better screen choice for the typical home theatre room than a reference quality screen that has to be used in a blacked-out environment to achieve reference-quality performance. At a cost of one-third to one-half the cost of a reference-grade screen, the Lunette screens (and ezFrame flat models) deliver near-reference images and are easier to live with in real-world theatre rooms. The Lunette screens are highly recommended for home theatre enthusiasts looking for a high-performance screen that’s easier to live with than a full-blown reference screen. WSR

SPECS
• Extruded aluminum frame, non-reflective black velvet covers, forward-facing frame surfaces
• 40-foot curve radius
• Wall-mounting brackets with adjustable “depth”
• Wide range of standard sizes available
• Stock aspect ratios of 1.78:1 and 2.35:1
• Custom sizes and aspect ratios available as special orders
• 160-degree viewing angle
• Opaque screen material with integral black backing eliminates light leakage through screen
• 2.35:1 screen size range – 85-158 inches diagonal
• 1.78:1 screen size range – 84-150 inches diagonal
• Matte CineWhite® screen material is standard
• Optional AcousticPro 1080P2 screen material
• CineWhite® screen material gain 1.1
• AcousticPro screen material gain 1.0

Specifications
• Frame width – 3.5 inches
• Warranty – Free replacement during first 7 days (2-way shipping included); 2 years parts and labor with 1-way shipping for retail customers; 3 years parts and labor for government, military, house-of-worship, and educational markets
• MSRP - $1,129, 106-inch diagonal Lunette curved screen, as reviewed

Manufactured By:
Elite Screens, Inc.
16410 Manning Way
Cerritos, California 90703
Phone: 562 483 8198
Fax: 562 483 8498
Email - info@elitescreens.com
Web Site - www.elitescreens.com

 

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