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Stewart Filmscreen Starglas Video Screen Print E-mail
Monday, 01 December 2008
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Stewart Filmscreen Starglas Video Screen
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When discussing front-projection video, many of us focus solely on the projection aspect of the equation and with good reason.  If your projector is sub-par, the surface you point it at doesn’t much matter.  This said, with a few exceptions, the projector market seems to have hit a plateau, with nearly every manufacturer offering a 1080p-capable device at increasingly lower prices to consumers.  This year’s CEDIA show in Denver proved this more forcefully than ever in recent memory, with top-flight manufacturers claiming 1080p to be the final frontier.  2k and 4k resolutions are coming, but for those looking to the next level of performance from your video system, I suggest we take a look at video screens.

When it comes to screens, no one does it better than Stewart Filmscreen.  Stewart screens are used in more professional theaters and post-production houses than those of any other screen manufacturer in the game today.  Stewart has been at the bleeding edge of screen technology for decades and, unwilling to rest on their laurels, the company has come up with a truly unique and rather inspired surface with their latest offering, Starglas.  Starglas is, in fact, a glass surface that allows for a rear-projection set-up that utilizes either a mirror-type configuration or full rear-projection throw.  What makes Starglas unique is the fact that, when used properly, you can view your source material in ambient/full lighting conditions, making a Starglas installation more like a plasma or an LCD then a front-projection system.  Going one step further, you can even use Starglas outdoors for a truly unique home theater experience by your pool, deck or barbeque.  Don’t worry about damaging or marring your Starglas surface, for its tempered glass is rated for commercial applications and can be cleaned via hose or, perhaps a little more prudently, with Windex.

Moving things back indoors for a second, Starglas can be ordered in a variety of shapes and sizes, from 126 to 204 inches (though I’ve been told smaller sizes are possible), in any aspect ratio from 4:3 to 2:35 and everything in between.  You can even get Starglas installed on a table or floor, provided you can mount a projector properly to shine an image on it, for a James Bond-like projection system.  Starglas runs about $200 a foot in most markets, which isn’t cheap, but when you consider the alternative, it is assuredly less than 100-inch or larger plasmas, which retail for easily six figures.  By this standard, Starglas is an absolute bargain.  Starglas boasts a peak gain of .60 percent, with a viewing angle around 47 degrees.  47 degrees isn’t quite as good as the viewing angle provided by most plasmas or LCDs, but many manufacturers’ claims of 170 degrees are clearly exaggerations.  I consider Stewart’s claims of a 47-degree viewing angle to be more honest and also adequate for everyone in the family to enjoy the film.  Starglas is ambient light-resistant due to its proprietary coating and blocks 100 percent of all UV lighting.  Starglas is abrasion- and stain-resistant, making it a versatile solution for those with young children or pets.

I want to get back to the various available applications and sizes of Starglas.  For starters, you can equip Starglas with any of Stewart’s masking options, including the touted ElectriScope, which gives you perfect masking to adapt a 6:9 screen for 4:3 and 2:35 images.  You can even get Stewart’s Cinecurve screen in Starglas for the ultimate home theater experience.  Starglas can be mated to any of Stewart’s award-winning auto-masking systems, ensuring the absolute best image quality, regardless of your source’s aspect ratio.  This, of course, drives the cost upwards a bit, but still keeps it well below the price tag asked by large-scale LCD and plasma manufacturers.  I’ve been spending a lot of time in postproduction houses lately and the new thing in cinema (besides 4K resolution) is 3D.  Starglas is 3D image-ready and actually preferred by most of those who are developing the format for home use. What makes Starglas a real value, though, isn’t its versatility or wow factor, (more on that later) it’s the fact that, while you can get 100-plus-inch plasmas, the day 1080p becomes the equivalent of SD you’re out a second mortgage on your investment, whereas with Starglas, all you have to do is replace your projector and you’re back in business.  Unlike what’s required for huge plasmas, you won’t have to structurally engineer your wall to allow for Starglas’ girth or run hospital-grade 220 power to light it up, making it a more environmentally conscious solution in a world where going green is an ever-more desirable option.

Without question, Starglas is best installed by your dealer or custom installer.  My dedicated theater is not equipped to handle Starglas, though I tried to figure out a way to make it work.  I had to venture down to my local dealer for this particular review.  I spoke with one of the installers at my dealer and he informed me that Starglas is one of their most asked-about screen surfaces and the number of installations is growing as more and more people see the benefits over costlier flat-panel displays.  My dealer had recently done an installation where the homeowner built out a faux wall that allowed him to bounce his projector’s image off a large mirror, then onto the back of the Starglas surface itself.  The entire installation was completed in a weekend.  Since the faux wall was built out about two feet from the actual wall, he flanked the sides of the screen with custom bookshelves for a cozy study-like vibe. The leather club chairs, rich earth tones and subdued artwork made it one of the more inviting home theaters I’d seen in a long time, as you were never really aware you were sitting in a screening room, since the projector was mounted on the floor behind the drywall.

Another installation found the homeowner putting Starglas in his master bedroom.  That’s right, in the master bedroom.  He placed the projector in the guest bedroom, which shared a common wall with the master bedroom.   My installer had not yet installed Starglas in a front-projection configuration, nor had he heard of anyone else doing this – his reaction was, “It kind of defeats the purpose.”  Regardless of the client’s needs, minus any finishing or specialty trim, etc., the process of installing Starglas in a rear-projection type configuration is fairly straightforward and easily completed in a short amount of time, provided you plan right, scout the location and use a qualified custom installer.  According to my dealer, once Starglas is installed, the only maintenance needed is done at the projector level – oh, and the occasional wipe-down.

My dealer’s Starglas installation had it in a medium-sized theater, featuring a Runco 1080p projector being fed a signal via a Sony Blu-ray player, with the rest of the electronics coming by way of McIntosh.  The speaker configuration, which consisted of the beloved Definitive Technology Mythos ST towers for front, left and right channels, mated to a matching Definitive Technology center and in-walls for the sides and rear, was about as perfect as one could ask for, at least to this reviewer.  Not wanting to waste any time, I cued up the first disc.


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