Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity - Best Of Awards 2016
In 2012 I had the chance to review a new kind of projection screen, the borderless ZeroEdge from Screen Innovations. It’s designed to look good even when there’s no image present.

In fact, once it’s hung on the wall it looks like a high-end flat panel television. Today I’m looking at a brand-new product from Stewart Filmscreen, the LuminEsse. It’s a rigid panel with only a slim 3/8-inch border and an integrated bias lighting system.

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse

Introduction

In the time I’ve been reviewing projectors, 30 different models have taken up temporary residence in my home theater. But on only four occasions have I had the chance to check out the other half of a two-piece display system – the screen.

Volumes have been written on what constitutes a good-performing projector and one can spend countless hours researching the ideal purchase. But if you don’t put at least some of that effort into choosing the right screen, much of that potential is wasted. I use a fixed-frame model from Carada. This is a value-priced brand that delivers a great image from nearly any projector and doesn’t cost a mint. But the high-end products from Stewart Filmscreen have always made me curious.

STEWART FILMSCREEN LUMINESSE REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
Design:

Rigid Front Projection Screen with Bias-light

Available Materials:

GrayMatte 70, StudioTek 100 & 130 G3, UltraMatte 130 & 150, FireHawk

Tested material:

StudioTek 130 G3, Gain 1.3

Half-gain angle:

80 degrees

Color:

White

Max size:

59.25″ x 143.25″

Size as tested:

45″ x 80″ (92″ Diagonal)

Structure:

Extruded Metal with Metal Trim

Bias-light:

Integrated RGB LEDs with RF Remote Control

Price as tested:

$3676 (92″ Size w/Bias-light)

SECRETS Tags:

Stewart Filmscreen, Filmscreen, LuminEsse, Screen

Every year at the CEDIA Expo I see impressive demos at the Stewart booth. And that’s no surprise; they’ve been in the business for over 65 years. If anyone has figured out how to make an impact, it’s them. They started out as manufacturers of cinema screens and they still do that today. Since the advent of home theater, they’ve added suitable products for that genre as well.

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Today I’m looking at their newest rigid borderless design called the LuminEsse. It’s available with six different materials that are bonded to a rigid panel and bordered with a super-slim 3/8-inch black bezel; and you can add a bias-lighting system if you wish. To best match my Anthem projector, I chose Stewart’s tried-and-true StudioTek 130 G3 material. It’s white with a gain of 1.3 and an 80-degree to half-gain viewing angle. Let’s take a look.

Design

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse

Fully-rigid projection screens are something of a rarity for a couple of reasons. First they’re extremely awkward to ship. My sample arrived in a large wooden crate that I could barely lift over my front doorstep without help from the freight truck driver. The majority of that mass was in the wood; the screen itself isn’t that heavy.

Obviously it’s fully assembled which is a plus but if you buy a screen like this, make sure you can get it through the door! Second, they are limited in size; in Stewart’s case 59.25 x 143.25 inches (2.35:1 aspect, 151” diagonal) is the largest one you can specify. This is plenty big for most small to medium theaters but if you’re looking for a 200-inch diagonal screen, you’ll have to turn to Stewart Filmscreen’s commercial division. They can build a larger product using glass or acrylic as the substrate.

There are also several advantages to a rigid form factor. Since the material is permanently bonded to a flat surface, there is no possibility of wrinkling or distortion. The LuminEsse’s screen board is attached to a beefy aluminum frame which holds everything together and serves as a mount for the bias-light system.

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse

With the nearly-flush thin border you also have an ideal surface for short-throw and ultra-short throw projectors. I’m talking about the kind that sit right under the screen and project the image upwards. Traditional fixed screens will cast a shadow due to the angle and placement of the lens, and the depth of the frame. This makes the LuminEsse ideal for boardrooms or living rooms where you can’t hang a traditional projector from the ceiling.

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As you can see from the specs, six different materials are available with the LuminEsse. All are Stewart’s standard home theater products made for a variety of projectors and viewing environments. Since my Anthem LCoS model isn’t terribly bright, I went for a small amount of positive gain and chose the StudioTek 130 G3. It’s a white surface with a gain of 1.3 and a half-gain angle of 80 degrees. It makes no pretense toward preserving the image when the room lights are on. You’ll want to watch it in total darkness for the best quality. The nice thing is that your seating can be fairly wide and even viewers at the end of the row will see a bright, saturated picture.

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse

The bias-light system on my sample comes as a $600 option. It’s already installed and hooked up. All I had to do was plug it in. It consists of four LED strips permanently mounted to the aluminum frame behind the screen. The RGB lights are inset from the edge by 2.5 inches so all you see is a soft diffuse glow when it’s on.

I spoke recently about bias lighting in my review of the SI Slate .8 screen but the benefits bear repeating. You can increase perceived contrast of any image by providing a light around the edges with a 6500K color temp and an intensity of 10 percent of the display’s peak output. By increasing the overall light reaching the viewer, the pupils close down just like the iris in a projector. This action increases perceived contrast without allowing light to spill onto the image.

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse

Of course Stewart’s system does far more than just that. You can set the light to one of nine different brightness levels. It can be any color you wish, and you can have it pulse, flash, change color or a combination of the three. There are 15 different programs you can toggle through. Or you can simply choose a single color. It’s all controlled by a slick remote.

The remote is extremely well-designed and operates the lighting system via RF commands. You don’t have to point or worry about positioning a sensor when installing the LuminEsse. The top half has five keys that toggle through the color modes, change the brightness, set the white light mode and toggle the power. The ring at the bottom works like an Apple thumbwheel to select colors in the fixed mode. Just slide around until you achieve the desired hue.

Setup

Since the LuminEsse is already assembled all I had to do was unpack it and hang it up. Stewart has a number of mounting options available but I was able to use the bracket already on my wall to engage the aluminum support frame around back. It’s very stable and the screen was perfectly flat on the wall when I was done.

The bias-light system is already installed and hooked up only requiring a plug-in to operate. The default setting is a pulse mode but I only used the fixed white preset during my viewing. That’s achieved by pressing the right-hand button. Then I adjusted the brightness to the second of nine intensity levels which equaled roughly 10-percent of my projector’s peak luminance.

After aligning the image, which took all of five minutes thanks to my projector’s motorized lens controls; I was ready to watch some movies!

In Use

To see the best possible performance with your projector, it’s important to pair it with the right screen. A bright DLP model for example, works best with a low-gain gray material like Stewart’s GrayHawk RS. My Anthem LTX-500 LCoS on the other hand requires a little positive gain to brighten up the image without negatively affecting its high native contrast and deep black levels. Stewart offered to ship me the LuminEsse with any of six possible surfaces and I chose the StudioTek 130 G3 which has a gain of 1.3.

Regarding the bias light: I watched content with the system off and on in equal measure. Overall the perception of contrast is definitely greater when the light is on. I used solid white on level two of the nine available, finding it the best match with my projector’s output. I’m accustomed to seeing the image float in front of me on a completely blacked-out background since my theater is painted black and light-tight. Using the bias light defines the edges of the picture so you’re a little more aware of its size. I can’t say I preferred one over the other; the two experiences are different and each enjoyable in their own way.

The Mummy

The Mummy

I started with Stephen Sommers’ 1999 classic, The Mummy. If you’re in the small group of enthusiasts that hasn’t seen it, it’s a modern treatment of a monster flick from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The Blu-ray transfer isn’t the best with visible edge enhancement and grain that varies from fine to not-so-fine. It has fantastic saturated color and deep contrast though and that quality shone in abundance from the LuminEsse. Detail was also excellent, especially in close-up shots of actor’s faces. The high resolution of the screen does serve to bring out flaws as well as the good elements but that’s what I prefer in a screen. I’m looking for neutrality and allowing the quality of the source material to display without modification.

Star Wars Rebels

Star Wars Rebels

Turning to some truly excellent animation, I checked out the newest series from everyone’s favorite sci-fi franchise – Star Wars Rebels. Unlike its predecessor The Clone Wars, Rebels animation has a lot more texture and some really nice reflected lighting effects. It also has a much more metallic color palette favoring blues and greens over red and orange hues. This is also a great way to see if there are screen artifacts like sparkles or grain. These are usually associated with positive gain. Stewart makes some of the finest projection screens out there and the LuminEsse is no exception. All I saw were perfect smooth tones and the screen surface did not draw attention to itself. This Blu-ray also has deep contrast which looked amazing on the Anthem/Stewart Filmscreen combination.

Star Trek The Next Generation Season 7

Star Trek “The Next Generation Season 7”

Watching a few episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation Season 7 was an interesting and somewhat literally, an eye-opening experience. The image looked rich and saturated as I expected but when I tried the backlight, detail seemed to pop just a little more. Not only that, the film grain became less evident. I can only attribute it to my pupils closing down a bit due to the extra light. That is of course why a bias-light increases perceived contrast. It’s just like closing the iris on a projector to increase native contrast. The effect of the LEDs is to increase overall light and shrink the pupils without casting unwanted reflections on the image. Having the option to use the system with specific content is nice. And adjustments are easy to make with the well-designed remote.

On The Bench

When I evaluate a projection surface I’m looking for two major things – color neutrality and contrast performance. It’s important to remember when calibrating any projector, one should measure color, grayscale and gamma from the screen to be sure that the entire system is adjusted to spec. If you only measure from the lens, the screen may introduce color errors that are visible to the viewer.

To perform these tests I measured my Anthem LTX-500 projector with an i1Pro Spectrophotometer and CalMAN 5. Patterns came from an Accupel DVG-5000 signal generator. Each chart below shows the results from the lens, representing the projector’s native image; and from the LuminEsse StudioTek 130 G3 screen. We’ll start with RGB levels which represent grayscale tracking.

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse

The two charts are for all intents and purposes identical with no differences visible to the naked eye. The meter can see a slight addition of blue in the higher brightness levels but it’s completely invisible to the naked eye. One or two clicks of the blue gain control would correct this tiny error, and it may not crop up in every sample.

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse

Although the Delta E errors are slightly higher, they’re still well below the threshold of visibility. It’s safe to say there is no effect on grayscale when using this screen material.

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse

My Anthem projector doesn’t have the greatest gamma tracking once the bulb is broken in. There is a dip at 10 percent (too light) and a gradual slide as levels increase. It isn’t a huge problem but even the multi-point gamma editor couldn’t improve tracking.

When the same measurements are taken from the screen, the 10 percent level is now just a tad too dark. The same decline in gamma takes place up to the 90-percent mark. Again the visual difference here is tiny. I consider the screen result to be a little better.

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse

When comparing the gamut results at 100-percent saturation, you can see just a hint of bonus color in the red and blue primaries. Cyan and magenta also show just a tiny bit more vividness. Again we’re talking about a tiny difference but in my opinion a little more color saturation is welcome and the measurements are still on-target.

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse

The luminance chart shows virtually no change from lens to screen except in the blue primary. Like the grayscale result above, it’s not something you’ll be able to see with the naked eye.

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse

The final Delta E result shows no visible difference between the lens and screen measurements. It’s safe to say the StudioTek 130 G3 material is color-neutral and has a positive effect on gamma. While I always recommend calibrating a projector from the screen, it’s not necessary in this case. One could bench-calibrate a projector from the lens before installing it if you’re using this screen.

Uniformity and Off-Axis Tests

An important measure of any projection screen is its ability to display a uniformly bright image from edge to edge. To test this I measured a 100-percent white field pattern divided into nine zones. The center zone is the baseline brightness value. I then measure the surrounding zones and express those values as a percentage of the center one, either above or below. The average of that number tells us the screen’s uniformity as it relates to the center zone.

Obviously the projector isn’t perfectly uniform so I measured from the lens first. My Anthem LTX-500 displays a uniformity of 86.42 percent mainly due to a center hotspot. When I took the same series of readings from the screen, the hotspot was significantly reduced and uniformity measured 93.3 percent. To the eye there is no visible hotspot and the white field pattern looks perfect from edge to edge.

An off-axis brightness measurement will tell you how wide you can place your seating in front of the screen. In my theater each seat represents a 20-degree departure angle from the center. At 20 degrees, the light reduction (measured from the center of the screen) was 2.02 footLamberts. At 40 degrees which is as far as I can measure in my room brightness is reduced by 3.45fL. These are miniscule amounts and in actual content you can barely tell a difference in image brightness regardless of the seating position.

Contrast Performance

For contrast testing I compared the LuminEsse to my reference Carada Brilliant White (1.4 gain). With the Stewart’s .1-lower gain rating I’d expect it to show a little less output and a little deeper black level. Measurements were taken with a C6 tri-stimulus colorimeter off the center of the screen from a 10-foot distance.

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse w/StudioTek 130 G3

  • Peak White – 18.2078
  • Minimum Black – .0012
  • Contrast Ratio – 14742.2:1

Carada Brilliant White 1.4

  • Peak White – 15.0441
  • Minimum Black – .0007
  • Contrast Ratio – 21477.9:1

These results were a surprise considering the Carada has a higher gain rating. I cannot confirm the accuracy of either company’s number since I don’t have the ability to measure actual gain. However if the Stewart screen with its 1.3 gain rating measures 17-percent brighter, I must conclude that there is some difference in the two company’s measuring methods.

And check out those contrast ratios! With black levels on par with a Pioneer Kuro plasma is it any wonder I’ve kept using this Anthem projector as my reference for the past six years? It just doesn’t get much better.

The difference in contrast is due to the superior black level of the Carada. I had to make several attempts just to get a reading. That being said, I still prefer the brighter output of the LuminEsse and the difference in measured contrast is difficult to see with the naked eye. Both screens look great but I’d give the visual edge to Stewart.

Conclusions

Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse

THE STEWART LUMINESSE isn’t cheap but it’s hard to imagine a better screen for a small to medium theater and a high-contrast projector.

Likes
  • Fantastic image detail
  • Excellent color saturation
  • Bright and contrasty
  • No assembly required, just hang and enjoy
  • High-end build quality
  • Looks great when not in use
  • Bias lighting system works well with its RF remote
Would Like To See
  • A lower price, but in all fairness, this is a reference-quality product.

No matter which projector you choose, its full potential can’t be enjoyed without the right screen. Using the right material along with optimal sizing is more important than many people realize. Even though there are cheaper alternatives to a Stewart screen, it’s hard to beat the manufacturer that has been in the business for over 65 years and won two Academy Awards. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy with my Carada; and it costs quite a bit less than the LuminEsse. But there is a little something special about this product that I can’t ignore.

We’ve spoken here at Secrets about that final one percent of performance that comes when you go high-end. It’s equally true in video as well as audio. You can enjoy an excellent image from your projector without spending many thousands of dollars. A value-priced projector and an inexpensive roll-up screen will satisfy the majority of viewers. But to get the very best from any projector, a premium product like the Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse is a must.

Although one can get the StudioTek 130 G3 material in a roll-up or fixed-frame format, the LuminEsse with its super-slim border, perfectly flat rigid surface and super-cool lighting system really adds to the home theater experience. I really enjoyed the extra perceived contrast and image depth when the LEDs were turned on. And the remote is one of the best I’ve ever used with any AV product.

At the end of the evaluation period I felt the LuminEsse had rejuvenated my Anthem projector. With its extra brightness and vividly natural color rendering I decided to keep it as my new reference screen. I’ll be using it for all projector reviews going forward.