We think it is reasonable to assume that most people choosing an ultra short throw (UST) projector and screen are probably buying a projection system for the first time. The UST category has exploded this year and projectors have become price competitive in the 90 to 130-inch category. Established screen manufacturers like Elite Screens, Stewart, and Screen Innovations jumped on the opportunity to sell to new home theater customers and products like the Elite Screens Aeon CLR Series UST Screen make a lot of sense.
Some background first, if you are new to UST technology.
Ultra short throw projectors are placed just below the screen; in most cases between 12-20″ from the wall itself. They project images at a very steep viewing angle and are much more convenient and easier to setup as opposed to their regular (long throw) projector cousins.
That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to calibrate them, however, and we highly recommend learning how to do this yourself or making sure that your dealer is properly trained in projector calibration.
Like any projector, color accuracy, image brightness, contrast, and sharpness are less than optimum out of the box and require some effort to dial in properly. Don’t let any salesman convince you that UST image quality is perfect out of the box — it surely isn’t.
The other important part of the equation is the screen.
Yes — you need a screen.
UST projectors may be advertised as not needing a screen, but a bare wall won’t cut it. A screen will make a significant difference, especially when you have to deal with ambient light in your room. Most consumers are not setting these up in dedicated home theater rooms and will have to deal with light during the day impacting the image quality.
Any screen will be better than no screen, but screens specially designed for UST projectors have key advantages. Typically, they are labeled ALR (ambient light rejecting) or CLR (ceiling light rejecting) and use a special screen material that uniformly reflect light from the projector towards the viewer. Often such screens appear gray, or even black when not in use, depending which angle you view them from.
The next major consideration is whether to choose a cinema screen or daylight screen. Each is optimized for a different use case, and you’ll need to factor that into your decision. In general, cinema screens work best with the lights off, while the daylight screens will look better with lights on.
When I mentioned to Elite Screens that I was reviewing The Premiere by Samsung (model LSP9T) in a living room with a lot of windows and ceiling lights, they recommended the Aeon CLR Series (model AR103H-CLR).
It currently sells for $1249 at Amazon (when in stock). It is also available in a 123-inch size (model AR123H-CLR) for $2054 at Amazon. Both screens should have the same characteristics regardless of which size is purchased.
Note: When shopping for this CLR screen, the model name can be confusing. Elite Screens also offers screens labeled the Aeon CLR2 and CLR3 Series, which are both different than the non-numbered (original) Aeon CLR Series. Here’s how the company explains the differences.
- CLR = Best ceiling ambient light rejection for use in brighter rooms. Wide Viewing angle. Works with ultra-short throw tabletop mounted projectors only. For dark room viewing it can improve black levels. Near black material with lower gain 0.6.
- CLR 2 = Good ceiling ambient light rejection. Narrower viewing angle. Works with both Ultra and Short throw tabletop bottom mounted projectors. Scratch-resistant and not as delicate as CLR/CLR 3. Silver Gray material with slightly higher gain 0.9.
- CLR 3 = Good ceiling ambient light rejection for use in moderate ambient light rooms. Wide viewing angle. Works with ultra-short throw tabletop mounted projectors only. Great for dark room viewing can slightly increase black levels. Dark gray material with slightly higher gain 0.8.
To help understand the differences, I reached out to Brian Gluck, owner of ProjectorScreen.com. He said the original Aeon CLR series screens should look the best of the three versions for most people using UST projectors.
The Elite Screens Aeon CLR Screen arrived in a large rectangular box designed for easy shipping. The screen material is rolled up in a tube, along with over a dozen neatly packed metal frame parts. This particular model also includes LED edge lighting for those that like that effect. It doesn’t change the performance of the screen, but can provide added appeal. The main downside to LED lighting is that you have to plug it in to a wall outlet, which can leave a visible wire dangling below your screen. For aesthetics and the extra installation time requirement, this feature went untested. See photo above for reference how it can look.
Assembly is required. It’s not fun, but the video on the Elite Screens website (embedded above) makes it look easy. Granted, it’s not complicated, but it was time consuming. I spent around 2 hours putting it all together in conjunction with re-reading the manual and re-watching the installation video. I’m sure I could assemble it much faster a second time, but that’s irrelevant for most people unless you plan on moving soon and will have to reassemble it.
The Aeon CLR has a new updated frame system with a very thin bezel. The inner-frame holds the screen in place, while the outer frame forms the thin black bezel. Most of the frame can be put together by one person, but you absolutely need two people to carefully lift the frame atop the screen while it’s upside down. From there, almost one hundred spring clips need to be attached to stretch the screen material into position. Upon finishing, the screen was perfect. No wrinkles, no bubbles, no scratches.
The next step was hanging it on the wall. You’ll want an extra person for this too. Fortunately, the screen is very light once put together. Four wall brackets are provided, but I was able to hang it just fine using two brackets on the wall, so the screen could hang like a picture frame. I think most installations would be fine using two brackets, especially if screwed into studs, but if using drywall anchors (provided), it’s probably a better idea to use all 4 brackets.
Measure twice, hang once should be your motto.
UST projectors don’t provide a huge range for error since they sit so close to the screen. Also, every UST projector doesn’t have exactly the same throw ratio. For example, even Samsung’s two UST projectors display images at slightly different angles. Essentially, don’t mount a screen until you know which projector is being used with it.
Mounting a screen too low is more of a problem than too high, because you usually can’t lower the projector to align with bottom of the screen, but you can raise it. I found that out the hard way as you’ll note in my photos that I didn’t perfectly fit the image inside the screen. There is a simple solution. I just needed to hang the screen a couple of inches higher.
With the screen in place, it was finally time to test. It was clear within seconds, the Aeon CLR series offered tremendous improvements in daylight viewing. Content that was nearly unwatchable during the day was suddenly bursting with colors.
To say it was a completely different viewing experience, would be underselling the improvement with the ALR screen.
Watching football during the day on a 103-inch screen provided the most enjoyment. With bright, high contrast scenes from football games, the screen worked wonders. Run-of-the-mill cable TV shows and news also looked great, and suddenly watching on a 103-inch screen was quite easy to get used to.
However, that’s not to say daylight viewing looks just as good as dark room viewing. The darker viewing environment will always win. That became apparent during certain movie scenes in my daytime movie stress test.
The most troubling example I could find appeared while watching Dune (2021) with all the window shades open. It’s the scene at dusk in the desert just after a dramatic battle near the end of the movie. The sun had just set, and the extremely low lit scene just doesn’t generate enough light output from the projector to make out the scene (in a very bright room). However, minutes later the scene changed and was watchable again. Such issues were rare among hundreds of hours of testing.
For context, our open-concept living room has windows on 3 sides with 9 recessed in-ceiling LED lights equally spaced across the ceiling. I threw the gauntlet at it, and the screen still passed 99% of the time. Light from overhead was most effectively blocked, while light coming from windows less so.
So the Elite Screens Aeon CLR delivered during the day, but what about at night?
I had even less to complain about in a darkened setting. Even though the Elite Screen CLR technically isn’t optimized for dark theater viewing, it can certainly hold its own. Dynamic range improves greatly, black levels deepen and whites brighten as one should expect. Everything just gets better, and when you’re watching 4K HDR, the images can be breathtaking.
As noted in my Samsung LSP9T projector review, to my dismay I could never quite get color accuracy right, and experienced oversaturated reds. Since I experienced the same color issues with less expensive white screens, I suspect the problem stems from the projector and not the screen. However, there is one thing some may notice on the screen. White areas can be “glittery,” when they should be flat white. The farther back you sit, the less noticeable it becomes, and I suspect most people would never notice. Nobody else in my family did.
On the plus side, there are two features that I really grew to appreciate. The screen has a very wide viewing angle and there is no glare to contend with. The picture stays consistent no matter where anyone sits, even when seated at an extreme angle or walking around. Interestingly, it’s the lack of any glare (screen reflections) that was most pleasing. It’s part of the secret that makes movies look and feel like movies.
As with any projector/screen setup, it’s the combination of the two that matters. Without another screen of equal or higher price on-hand, it’s hard to estimate what could be improved. However, I can say that the Aeon CLR raised my expectations for what’s possible with a screen and UST projector at its combined price point.
There are more expensive screens to consider, but ultimately it comes down to your budget, your viewing habits and the UST projector’s capabilities. Remember that you need both to work in harmony. I was quite pleased with Samsung LSP9T and Elite Screens Aeon CLR combo and I think many consumers would find the combination to be the ideal setup in their homes.
Where to buy: $1,249 at Amazon | elitescreens.com
- BDI Elements 8879 Media Console Review (pictured in photos above)