Projector Screens

UST Projector Screen – Does It Have to Be ALR?

We’ve discussed when you might need an Ambient Light Rejecting (ALR) screen. However, one common refrain we hear online and in stores is that you MUST have an ALR screen if you buy a UST (Ultra Short Throw) projector. That’s just not true. Let’s discuss.

Do ALR Screens Refect Differently or Better?

The implication of most of the marketing of UST projectors is that they have to be paired with an ALR screen. They are constantly shown in a brightly lit room displaying a vibrant image. Like so:

There is a window to the side and plenty of light in the room. Heck, some dude is so impressed that he’s taking a picture of the image the UST projector is throwing!

But do you really need an ALR screen for your UST projector? If you only use your UST projector in a very well-lit room, the answer is probably yes. But if you do some or all of your viewing at night, the answer is a resounding no! Heck, if you have any sort of light control in your space, ALR screens are mostly overkill.

All they really do is reject light from all but one direction (the direction of your projector). This keeps the image from becoming as washed out, but it isn’t like it somehow reflects the light from the projector differently or better, it simply doesn’t reflect as much light from other directions.

ALR Makes Everything More Expensive

The real problem with ALR screens is that they are expensive. This is, of course, why retailers and salespeople are so bullish on pairing ALR screens with UST projectors. They cost more so their sales are higher and they get more commission. But if you have a room where you can control the light, or you watch mostly at night, you don’t really need an ALR screen. That can save you big bucks. How much? We went to Amazon to find out.

Editor’s Note: We tried to use screens of the same size from the same manufacturer but many products were out of stock. The prices, we feel, are pretty representative of what you can find most of the time on Amazon. If you shop locally, expect screen prices to be much higher from the “name brand” manufacturers.

Let’s start with a basic screen. For a 135″ fixed-frame screen you can expect to pay around $250-$350. We found this Elite Screens model for $279. That’s fairly inexpensive but will still give you really good performance. If you want an ALR screen of the same size, you are at least doubling that price (this model from Elite Screens costs $674). Want to put your speakers behind your screen as well? This model from Elite Screens is both ALR and acoustically transparent and will run you $1499. That’s a big jump in price!

Regular Screens Reflect Light Just Fine

You may be worried that you’ll be missing something if you don’t pair your UST projector with an ALR screen. That’s just not the case. The only reason to buy an ALR screen is if you are doing the majority of your viewing in rooms with lots of light. If you aren’t, or if you can control that light with curtains and such, then a regular screen will give you not only a good image, but the BEST image.

In low-light situations, the advantages of ALR screens not only disappear but become liabilities. While they will show a more vivid image in high-light situations, they will hot spot (have brighter portions of the screen) in low-light environments. They tend to have less accurate colors (which are not as noticeable in high-light rooms but will be noticeable when you dim the lights). They have worse off-axis viewing angles…the list goes on. Generally, if you really want the best picture in a darkened room, ALR is not the way to go.

Wrap Up

Our intent here is not to say that ALR screens are bad or that there is never a reason to buy one. That is surely not the case. If you have your UST (or traditional) projector set up in a room with a lot of ambient light, and you mostly or solely use your projector when there is lots of light in the room, then an ALR screen is the best choice. Our issue is that UST projectors are now being paired with ALR screens as if they are the only option. As if you MUST have an ALR screen if you buy a UST projector. That is often not only untrue, but it will give you a worse picture than a traditional screen.

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