Architectural Record BE - Building Enclosure

Match Game: Specifying the Right Projection Screen for the Presentation Space

This course is no longer active
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Sponsored by Da-Lite Screen Company, Inc.
Continuing Education

Learning Objectives - After this course, you should be able to:

  1. Explain the steps to easily specify the right projection screen for the space.
  2. Discover how best to match the projection screen size to the material projected.
  3. Identify the relationship between projection output, the projection environment, and projection screens to ensure optimal viewing and comfort.


Conference rooms, classrooms, auditoriums, and theaters are spaces that are uniquely purposed for presentations. Quarterly reports, a lesson about the Spanish Inquisition, keynote speakers, and the latest Vince Vaughn or Meryl Streep movie each find its time to shine in these rooms specially designed to be a stage for the conveyance of information or entertainment. While architects are not responsible for ensuring that the material presented is accurate or even interesting, they are given the task of with making sure that every member of the audience can comfortably see and experience the presentation or performance.

The projection screen is a key component of a successful presentation space. Specifying a projection screen that does not fit the needs of the room can sink a presentation faster than a bad joke. When audience members are squinting in the back row or the people on the fringe are forced to crane their necks or contort their bodies to see the presentation, the space is working against the presenter. A misfit between the presentation and the available screen space can be equally as dismal. Evidenced by distracting black lines or blank space around the carefully prepared board presentation or by the projected image spilling off of the screen and onto the surrounding walls, specifying the right projection screen is of paramount importance to creating a functional presentation space.

To prevent these presentation snafus, the projection screen on the project should be specified in terms of size, surface, and physical characteristics.

The Best Screen Shape is Not a Square

In the beginning, projection screens were square. This original shape was due more to the available projection technology and less a result of what made sense in the space. Overhead projectors started gaining popularity at the end of World War II. Over the next 20 years, overhead projectors and their counterparts, the square screens, became common fixtures in classrooms and conference rooms throughout the United States. Teachers and presenters placed one square transparency at a time upon the glass plate, cranked the focus knob until the page slid into clarity on the square screen, and tried to keep their hand cool underneath the hot overhead light.

As projection technology advanced, every piece of the projection puzzle has been improved to create a better experience for the audience and establish projection as a more functional medium for communication. Projectors became smaller, lighter, brighter, and offered better resolution. A wider selection of formats now provide more options to best share the presentation or video with a captive audience. Better projection capabilities coupled with advances in software made it possible to use projection to display data as well as images.

The projection screen is a key component of a successful presentation space. Selected correctly, the projection screen is a resource for the presenter and the right fit for the audience and material.
All photos courtesy Da-Lite Screen Company, Inc.

All of these advancements in projection have had an interesting impact upon the shape and size requirements of the projection screens. Those original square projection screens have been replaced by a variety of rectangular screens. There are two reasons for this new shape. First, it is a better match for the natural visual field of the human eye, which is also rectangular (135 degrees by 160 degrees wide). Second, as the selection of formats has evolved, they have become steadily more rectangular or wide-screen. Instead of trying to display a rectangular image on a square screen, the market has modified the shape of the projection screens to offer clients and audiences a perfect match. It can be noted that the rectangular screen shape is a better match for the natural visual field of the human eye and the latest formats on the market.


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Originally published in Architectural Record