CES 2009: A screen worth screaming about

It's tough for a projection screen company to put on a captivating press event, but Da-Lite pulled it off yesterday at CES when it demonstrated a final production sample of the new JKP Affinity series screen. The screen was designed in conjunction with video guru Joe Kane, who personally conducted the demo.

I know you're thinking, "Dude, how could you be captivated by a frigging screen?" I have to confess that until I saw the Affinity, I had a hard time getting excited about the category. But the resolution I saw with the JKP Affinity (illuminated by a Joe Kane-designed Samsung projector) beat any front projection demo I can remember seeing.

According to Kane, the smaller pixels of today's 1080p projectors create problems that 720p projectors never faced. The pixels interact with the grain of the screen's coating, so when something in the image moves, "You see the pixels lighting up then not lighting up," as Kane put it. The JKP Affinity is designed so that the grain is practically nonexistent. "The screen practically disappears," Kane said. Then he put up some high-def images of a Space Shuttle launch and various test patterns to prove it.

The image was the sharpest I saw at CES. Even the pattern of an on-screen character's tweed coat showed up with lifelike clarity (in the corner of the screen, no less, where the projector's focus often goes awry). The image looked even better than in the impressive demo Kane conducted at the CEDIA show using a prototype; a Da-Lite rep told me Kane had done some refining since then, and that the screen shown at CES was the final version.

The screen Da-Lite displayed was a 110-inch, 16:9, 0.9-gain fixed model that lists for about $1,800—far from cheap, but not crazy-expensive, either. It's available in sizes up to 16 feet high, in any length or aspect ratio, with or without motorized masking. A roll-up model will be available soon, as will Affinity screens with 0.7 and 0.5 gain.—Brent Butterworth