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What is an ALR Projector Screen? Why would you want one?

Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock.comHome theaters are ballooning in popularity, and projector owners are now obsessed with ALR or  “ambient light rejection” screens. Unlike standard white screens, which are shockingly affordable, ALR screens cost well over $600 and promise to improve image quality in unfavorable theater environments—particularly in rooms with lots of unwanted light. It’s true; ALR screens are…

A daytime photo of a projector and a screen.
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Home theaters are ballooning in popularity, and projector owners are now obsessed with ALR or “ambient light rejection” screens. Unlike standard white screens, which are shockingly affordable, ALR screens cost well over $600 and promise to improve image quality in unfavorable theater environments–particularly in rooms with lots of unwanted light.

ALR screens are incredible. ALR screens can be four times more expensive than standard white screens. And, most often, you can improve the image quality of your projector without buying a new screen. Are ALR screens worth purchasing?

The Problem With Normal Projector Screens

A projector screen over a woodgrain wall.
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Projectors aren’t made to be stared at. Projectors are the antithesis of TVs. Instead of shining light directly into your eyes, they bounce light off a surface (usually a screen). The problem, of course, is that screens reflect all light, not just the light from your projector.

If a theater is dark, the ambient light from the room will reflect off a screen white, creating a glare that washes out the projector’s image. Ambient light can also be a problem in the daytime. A projector’s light can bounce off walls of light colors, creating ambient light in dark rooms.

First-time projector owners often run into problems with ambient light, even when they’ve done their research and dumped a small fortune into heavy curtains. Living rooms aren’t the best rooms for projectors, especially in large spaces.

If you are unable to black out a room properly, an ALR (ambient light rejection) screen may be your best choice. These screens reduce ambient light’s impact, giving you better pictures in the daytime and rooms with white walls.

How Does Ambient Light Rejection Work?

An example of an ALR screen in the daytime. Looks crisp and clear!
An example of an ALR screen in the daytime. It looks crisp and clear. Josh Hendrickson

Unlike a regular projector screen, which reflects light in all directions, ALR or “ambient light rejection” screens selectively reflect light toward an audience. These screens reduce or eliminate ambient light’s negative effects, resulting in a crisp and bright picture that is free from glare and washout.

The technology behind ambient light rejection can be a bit complex and each manufacturer has their own method of doing things. The basic idea behind ALR screens is a collection of microstructures and layers of optical filters that direct light in the desired directions.

For our purposes, there are only two directions for light to reflect from a screen: towards an audience or away from an audience. Obviously, we want to see the image from our projector, so light that hits an ALR screen head-on reflects back at viewers.

But, we don’t want any ambient light to be visible on our screen. An ALR screen is not designed to receive light from outside sources.

There are many types of ALR screens. An angle reflective screen will reflect the projector’s image from the opposite angle. For example, if your ceiling-mounted projector is pointed down at a 5-degree angle, then the image will bounce off of the screen at that angle (toward viewers). Retro reflective ALR screens offer a better image quality and reflect more light back at your projector. However, they are much more difficult to install.

Companies like Aeon also sell CLR or “ceiling light rejection” screens. Although it rejects ambient light, this technology is particularly effective at negating light from ceiling fixtures.

ALR screens are required for ultra-short throw laser projectsors that shine light at extreme angles. You just need to make sure that you buy an ALR screen that’s intended for ultra-short throw projectors, such as the VAVA ALR Screen Pro.

Bear in mind that ALR screens have a reduced viewing angle due to their precision. Most new ALR screens have a “viewing cone” of around 160 degrees, which is quite good, but some models are stuck at 90 degrees, which is terrible in wide rooms. This is something you should be aware of when shopping. )

An ALR Screen Isn’t Always the Best Option

A person installing a ceiling mounted projector.
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Because ALR screens cost over $600 and magically reduce the effects of ambient light, people often assume that they’re the best option for every home theater setup. This is not always true. While these screens are beneficial, they don’t replace a proper viewing environment.

Let me quickly put things in perspective: movie theaters do not use ALR screens. An ALR screen is useless if there are dark walls and no ambient light.

You’re likely using your projector inside a living, basement, or guest bedroom. Although these rooms aren’t as dark as movie theaters, they can be dark enough to allow for quality projecting. You should darken your room as much as possible and not spend a lot of money on a screen. That means painting your walls, installing some blackout curtains, and eliminating light leakage from other rooms (by patching the draft space at the bottom of a door, for example).

You should also know a little about your projector. If you have a decently dimmed room, a projector that shines at 3,000 lumens should still look pretty good during the daytime. Plus, the way that you install your projector can impact image quality, clarity, and brightness–throw distance and other ratings provided by the manufacturer are very important!

I want to add a few things. Projectors cannot project black. An ALR screen can make your projector appear better in daylight or in rooms with white walls. However, it is always best to have a dark room. A slight decrease in quality during daytime is not necessarily a bad thing. )

And while most new ALR screens have a wide viewing angle of around 160 degrees, some models have a very narrow “viewing cone” that’s as small as 90 degrees. If you want to use an ALR screen in a wide living ro

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