Most enthusiasts have heard of Elite Screens, well known for their tremendous bang for the buck projector screens. Those same enthusiasts may not have heard of Elite Prime Vision, a divison of Elite Screens dedicated to the custom install and system integrator markets. Basically, you can’t buy these products on Amazon or eBay.
Elite Prime Vision (EPV) manufactures their DarkStar line of screens for front projection installs where overhead or ambient light rejection is required. Utilizing the same lenticular lens technology seen in other screens of their ilk, the DarkStar screens from EPV work wonders for those who can’t watch their content in a light controlled room.
Most recently, EPV gained a lot of notice when they brought the .9 gain DarkStar 9 to market, sacrificing some gain from their DarkStar (at 1.4 gain) to improve color balance.
I was sent the 110” version of the DarkStar 9 for review.
Setup & Installation
This section is somewhat redundant, since EPV won’t sell this product direct, however I was impressed by how the product shipped. The screen material itself ships separately, in a large box protected by a double cardboard tube. The screen material simply unrolls flat from the tube and is put onto the frame.
The frame ships in a separate box, and is quite similar to Elite’s other frames, with a total of 6 pieces (the longer horizontal are split into two pieces) and a brace bar to support the center of the frame. The frame is assembled by inserting metal supports into the corners that join the two adjacent pieces, while the two horizontal pieces are assembled by using a rigid plastic brace that inserts several inches into either half of the frame. The insertion of these plastic pieces proved somewhat problematic as the fit was extremely tight, actually shaving some of the plastic on the aluminum as I inserted it. A few minutes with my rubber mallet later, I had the screen together and used the supplied Phillips screws to attach the sides to the top and bottom.
Installing the screen into the frame is a pretty unique process, requiring the use of spring clips that insert into studded eyelets on the material itself. These are then stretched using a supplied tool and hooked over a lip that surrounds the frame. There were about 40 of these required for my particular screen, and it’s a rather repetitive process, however it results in a perfectly flat screen that is nicely taut.
The frame of the DarkStar 9 is made from solid aluminum and is extremely rigid despite its light weight. All the assembly components including the vertical brace, the corner joins and the spring clips are of the highest quality and result in a great looking finished product. The fabric itself, which is the really impressive part of the screen is extremely fragile, and it is imperative that it not be bent in any direction if at all possible.
In my case the material actually bent slightly while removing from the frame which resulted in some damage. This shouldn’t be a problem any of you potential buyers will have to deal with as a professional will be installing the screen, however if you ever plan to move with the screen after purchasing it, please do be very careful.
If I were to fault the DarkStar 9 for anything, it would be for the quality of the velvet flocking on the frame, which is a little thinner than I would expect in a product this expensive, and slightly more prone to damage compared to other screens I have worked with, including some very cheap models. Provided a professional assembles and installs the frame, this should not pose a problem however potential buyers should be aware of this one minor caveat to an otherwise outstanding product.
Using my Sony VPL-VW350ES projector, the DarkStar 9 was immediately quite a lot darker than my 1.0 gain white screen. Adjusting the brightness from 38 to 65 rectified this issue, and yielded a surprisingly natural picture with the lights out. Of course, that’s not what this screen is meant for, so I turned on the overhead light to see how effective the technology in the DarkStar was. It was at this point that I was truly impressed. The picture was almost as good as in a pitch black room, with a 120W halogen bulb just a few feet behind and above the screen.
Moving around to the sides, the picture remained consistent even off axis, well within the limits of my 12 foot wide theater.
I proceeded to watch several films with the lights on over the next few weeks, and was continually impressed at how little was lost from the dark room viewing experience. The most subtle of shadow gradations are obviously affected by having lights on, but the DS9 does an amazing job of preserving dark areas of the screen and lending depth to what should by all rights be a washed out picture.
As someone who can’t stand to watch anything on a projected image in a lit room, I found myself comfortably watching several films while my wife read with the lights on, at many points forgetting that I was breaking the laws of physics as I had understood them.
The DS9 really works as advertised, and thanks to a great design it looks great hanging on the wall. For anyone who is looking for a solution to watching their content on a projector in a non-light controlled environment, particularly with overhead light sources, the Elite Prime Vision Darkstar 9 is a tremendous product that solves this problem as well as anything I’ve seen. Retailing for just over $3000, the DarkStar 9 is not cheap, crossing the line into what I would consider a luxury item. New players in the screen space are bound to come out with an affordable light rejecting screen in the future, yet one hasn't materialized yet. For the immediate future, it must be accepted that the price of the Elite Prime Vision DarkStar 9 pales in comparison to the price of a 100+” television and is well worth the cost for those whose viewing environments fit this use case. Recommended.