Draper hit a sort of milestone earlier this month. After decades of use, word finally came that we would no longer sell glass beaded screens.
It was, as the old saying goes, the end of an era.
Glass beaded projection screens have been around for a long time; Draper started selling them in the early 1970s. Typically they were made by fixing tiny glass beads to a matt white surface.
Glass-bead screens are retroreflective; that is, they reflect light more intensely back to its source than in other directions. The reason glass beaded screens were needed, back in the day, was that even the best projectors were really dim. As late as 1999, a huge, expensive “light cannon” might produce 2000 ANSI lumens.
However, glass beaded screens did have their drawbacks. First of all, they didn’t work well with ceiling mounted projectors. They also had a very narrow viewing cone—because they reflected light back to the source, the image brightness and quality would deteriorate rather quickly as you moved off-axis.
Another disadvantage which became more of a problem with advances in projector technology was resolution. Glass beaded screens could affect the resolution of an image, and with 4K and even 8K projection, this was especially evident.
Finally, glass beaded screens could not easily be cleaned without removing/damaging the glass beads. We always recommended light brushing with a feather duster at the most. In the days of smoking indoors, this was an even bigger problem, and in fact Draper literature from the early years of glass beaded screens specifically mentions they were not for use in areas where people would be smoking.
However, that reflective beaded surface bounced back quite a bit more of the projection beam than a classic matte surface, and users needed the light so much that they accepted sparklies, grain, and other drawbacks mentioned above.
In the end, however, projection screen technology reached the point where we could accomplish the same thing as glass beaded screens—higher gain—without the disadvantages of a narrow viewing cone. For instance, Draper’s TecVision line includes white screens with gains of 1.3, 1.6, and 1.8, all with extra wide viewing cones. They are also certified by the Imaging Science Foundation for color accuracy. They can also be cleaned with mild soap and a soft cloth.
Projectors have also come a long way in the past 20 years. But a projector that can light up a big auditorium screen still takes quite a lot of power, and comes with a big price tag. The right TecVision screen—whether higher gain or ambient light rejecting—often allows a system designer to downsize the projector and cut the project budget.
With advances like these, it was only a matter of time before glass beaded screens became a thing of the past.
The rise and fall of glass beaded screens is a tale indicative of projection screens—and the AV industry—as a whole. There will always be technological advances, and if a company is going to survive, it needs to be able not only to adapt, but to proactively seek and develop new technologies.
And that’s just what we’re doing at Draper. Stay tuned. With TecVision, you never know what might be coming next!