Screens have always been lacking in the industrial design department. After all, there is not much you can do with a bright white or murky grayish flap of material other than hang it on the wall and enjoy the great image it has to offer. Even screen frames are lackluster–literally. They are often made of black velvet material meant to absorb light spilling over from the designated image area onto the frame.
When the lights are turned up, home theater screens are nothing special to look at. That’s why people try to hide them, stashing them behind curtains, stuffing them in the ceiling or floor, and covering them with tricky artwork.
And while Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond Zero Edge screen is known for its great image even with some ambient light in the room, my position is that it is the screen’s industrial design that makes it a true game changer for home theater enthusiasts and the average Joe alike. But I’m getting ahead of myself as I always do. Let’s start at the beginning.
My Existing Screen Innovations Screen
Below, you’ll see a picture of my “before” screen. It’s a white, 110-inch Screen Innovations screen, and it’s at least seven years old. It has served me well over the years. But ever since I moved and had to put my theater system into a room which, as you can see, has a large window caddy-corner, I have found myself wanting more. Because this is a dual-purpose room, for one, I wanted the screen to look great when it was off, and I didn’t want to carve any holes in the ceiling for a motorized screen. To enjoy the view (above left), I wanted to be able to leave the windows open, yet still catch up on my backlog of DVRed shows whenever I wanted, regardless if the sun was up or down. I’d heard many a great thing about the Screen Innovations Black Diamond Zero Edge screen, so I decided to see if it would be up to these key tasks, while also looking incredible in total darkness.
The Screen Innovations Black Diamond Screen Arrives
The first thing you’ll notice about purchasing a Screen Innovations Black Diamond screen is that it is rather a logistical affair. That’s because, unlike other screens that you have to set up by hanging the actual fabric on a frame that you assemble yourself, Black Diamond is rigid. It’s shipped totally assembled, in one complete piece.
A little bit about the screen itself: It is made up of eight layers of optics coating. These optics reject or absorb ambient light in the room coming from vertical and horizontal angles and only allow the light coming from the direction of the projector to be reflected back to the viewer. The fact that Black Diamond and Screen Innovations latest screen, Slate, are able to reject ambient light in both the vertical and horizontal planes makes them both unique in the screen world. According to Screen Innovations, no other screen technology rejects ambient light both vertically and horizontally. The actual formula used to create the overall Black Diamond experience is a closely held secret known only to Screen Innovations founder Ryan Gustafson. Because of their ambient-light-rejecting technology, Screen Innovations says that they sell as many Black Diamonds for multipurpose family rooms as they do for home theaters. The first layer of a Black Diamond is actually a laminate that adds a great deal of durability to the screen as it allows for the screen to be cleaned with either the supplied screen cleaner (or even a wet Sham-WOW).
If you have an installer to help get this bad boy up on the wall, that’s the best case scenario. You’ll need a good AV installer to help you get it mounted properly and to really dial in the image. My installer, Glenn Thomas of Reel Home Theater, is nothing if not meticulous and happens to be a huge fan of Screen Innovations. I made arrangements for him to come over and help with the screen install. More than anything, I was worried about scratching the screen’s surface and fitting the image on the screen, which has incredibly tight tolerances due to its stunning 10mm bezel.
This is not Glenn’s first rodeo. He has 30 years of experience doing this sort of thing. His philosophy is quality above all, which probably evolved from his passion for music and his experience as an engineer at LA’s Griffith Observatory. His son Charlie was there to help. Glenn recommends taking a video when you unpack the screen in case there is damage to the screen. Good idea. We encounter no damage, probably due to the top-notch packing job.
A little backstory: Before the screen arrived, I had spent hours online trying to figure out which LED lights to get to go behind the screen for that “floating” effect that you see in pictures. So it was probably the most exciting surprise of the day to find that my review unit came with built-in LED lighting strip and accompanying IR remote control. The LED perimeter lighting produces 256,000 colors, including 6,500 Kelvin White, has 20 presets so you can match colors to decor, six custom color settings, and six light-show patterns like color scan, fade, and step.
Needless to say, I was delighted and so was Glenn. We were both blown away with the craftsmanship of the screen, the professionalism of the shipping, and the sublime beauty of the screen itself. Now that it was unpacked and duly gawked over, it was time to get this behemoth out of the garage and into the home theater.
Charlie and Glenn loaded the screen into the theater with ease. But before we mounted it, it was time to do some AB comparisons with my existing screen. Glenn brought along some of his favorite test DVDs, so we threw some up on the screen and left the windows wide open. The day had turned overcast and drizzly, so there was quite a bit of refracted white light bouncing all over the place. Tough conditions for ambient light tests, to say the least.
We started with one of Glenn’s favorite demo Blu-rays, Avatar. We projected the image simultaneously on both the white and black Screen Innovations screens, with the window open. Blacks where much richer and the image was actually watchable. With the lights off and the window closed, the differences were interesting. The white screen was very, very bright. But black levels were not nearly as good. This was best displayed when we watched Gravity on Apple TV. You know those black bars that go top and bottom of the screen when you are watching a cinemascope movie on a 16:9 screen? Gone. Well, ok, technically they were still there, but you couldn’t see them, that’s how good the black levels were. The image and the black bars were equally black, so the black bars seemed to fade away. This movie looked incredible on the Black Diamond. On the white screen, blacks look more like a dark grey. Additionally, because the white screen is sooooo bright, in my small room it was very apparent how much light actually gets reflected around the room, lighting it up like the Fourth of July. With the Black Diamond, light was quietly absorbed by the screen, not reflected back at the audience. Colors were rich, blacks deep as can be, and whites were never overblown like bad flash photography.
Mounting the Screen, Dialing in Image
Now that we had done a little comparing, it was time to actually mount the screen. While I did receive the suspension cables that allow you to hang this screen from the ceiling for that modern, slick look, I really wanted the floating image. Glenn felt that the cables might interrupt that effect. So Glenn and Charlie went about installing the screen with their signature attention to detail.
Once the screen was securely mounted on the wall, which was a relatively simple affair (save for the slight bow in my wall), it was time to fit the image from my Panasonic HD projector onto the screen. Glenn spent about 30 to 45 minutes moving the projector image left, right, up, and down so that no light spilled over the screen’s incredibly thin 10mm bezel.
Once the projector’s image fit on the screen with no light spilling over, we began to play with different scenes to get a beautiful image. Glenn put my Oppo Blu-ray player in zoom mode so we could see what the image would look like with no black bars. As you can see, it looks crazy cool. The image from Pearl Harbor was slightly blurry because it was in zoom mode, but the edgeless floating image effect is rad.
Next, we went back to Avatar. Glenn spent a good bit of time finding a great, detailed image that didn’t blur when we paused it so that we could take a picture of the screen in its full glory, with the windows open. As you can see, with the windows open, the Black Diamond doesn’t have any of that hazy look of the white screen that makes you feel like you are watching a movie through a veil of fog. The image was crisp, detailed, rich, and dynamic, and even more so in total darkness.
Now it’s time to circle back to what I said in the beginning of this review. This screen performs like a true champ with the lights on or off. But when the projector is totally turned off, it’s still beautiful. At the end of the installation, Glenn, Charlie, my kids, and my in-laws all mingled a bit in the theater with the projector turned off. We played with the backlighting. My mother-in-law, Sarah, said she wanted one. She’s in her late 60s and loves movies and watching the Bachelor. However, for her to say this before the projector was even fired is a testament to the screens gorgeous industrial design. As Glenn said, “It’s like having a huge flat-panel on the wall.” I think it looks even better than that. My father-in-law, Chuck, was more impressed with the onscreen image during the Oscars and Gravity (as well as the surround sound on Tombstone through the M&K surround system).
The Black Diamond Zero Edge 110-inch screen that I reviewed costs $3,699 without LED lights and $4,199 with LED lights installed on the frame by the factory. I highly recommend the LED lights. It gives the screen a cool aesthetic when the lights are on, and makes the screen “float” in the room when the lights are off. If the $4,199 price tag shocks you, think about what you would pay for a similarly sized flat-screen TV. And if it’s still too rich for your blood, then consider the step-down Slate screen, which was just introduced and offers a similar image to the Black Diamond. You can check out a video of it at Screen Innovations website.
My family and I love the Screen Innovations Black Diamond Zero Edge screen and have never used our tiny home theater more.
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Photography by Charlie Thomas