While HDTVs have continued to get larger and larger, not to mention cheaper and cheaper, it must be said that in order to achieve a true cinema experience in the home, one has to go with a front projection video system. If front projection is the goal, then having a true Cinemascope or 2:35:1 aspect ratio screen has to be considered the Holy Grail. The only problem with native 2:35:1 screens is that HDTV broadcasts are traditionally 16:9 and nearly half of the films released theatrically are 1:85 or 16:9 when they arrive on DVD or Blu-ray. What this means for any front projection enthusiast, especially one who is looking to acquire a native 2:35:1 screen, is that you either have to invest in an auto-masking screen or live with black bars (or sometimes grey bars) on either side of your image. Oh, and let’s not forget that you’ll also have to invest in an anamorphic lens attachment/adaptor in order to properly view native 2:35:1 material – aka no black bars top and bottom.
• Read reviews of projectors to go with the Osprey Tension Dual Series screen.
• Learn more about Elite Screens.
It’s because of these factors that the majority of front projection enthusiasts ultimately end up buying a standard 16:9 aspect ratio screen, for the initial costs are far lower. How much lower? Well, fixed 16:9 screens can be had for as little as $300, with motorized drop down screens starting at around $400. In comparison, native 2:35 fixed screens start at around $700 without auto-masking, with motorized drop down screens opening at around $1,000. Auto-masking screens, be they motorized drop down or fixed, start at around the $5,000 mark for a cheap one and can reach prices in excess of $20,000. Of course, all of the prices I’ve just quoted increase the larger your screen gets and the more features you add to them. It doesn’t take a man in a white lab coat and suspenders to see that sticking with a traditional 16:9 screen is the more cost effective way to go.
So does that mean die-hard enthusiasts, like myself, have to go broke in order to achieve true 2:35:1 viewing bliss? Not anymore. For there’s a third option, one that affords viewers the convenience of being able to watch both 16:9 and native 2:35:1 aspect ratio material without the need for auto-masking or incurring the added costs associated with it.
Say hello to the Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen from Elite Screens – leaders in affordable front projection screen technology.
The Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen is an ingenious design, in that it gets around the auto-masking issue and its associated costs by simply housing two separate screens in one chassis. When I first learned of the Osprey’s existence I had one of those “duh” moments, for Elite’s solution seems so simple, yet no one has done it. They just took the two screens needed to enjoy both 16:9 and 2:35:1 aspect ratio material and put them together. It’s freakin’ genius, I tell you. And the cost for this fit of brilliance? Prices start at $1,999 for an Osprey screen containing a 78-inch diagonal 16:9 aspect ratio screen and a 97-inch diagonal 2:35:1 aspect ratio screen.
The Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen, as its name implies, is a dual, motorized drop down, tensioned screen system that ensures both its 16:9 and 2:35:1 aspect ratio screens remain taut and free from wrinkles when viewing. Both of the Osprey’s screens feature Elite’s own CineWhite 1.1 gain screen material and are black-backed for image uniformity. Both screens have a reported 160-degree viewing angle. Sizes start at 78 (16:9) and 97 (2:35:1) inches diagonally and go up to as large as 106 (16:9) and 133 (2:35:1) inches. The screens themselves are housed in a semi-gloss black aluminum case featuring an Enamel Coating that is moisture resistant. The Osprey comes with all the necessary tools and hardware needed to mount the screen to your wall or ceiling. There is an optional in-ceiling kit for those wanting a more stealthy installation. The Osprey’s case houses a dual tubular motor that is not as quiet or as fast as some, but definitely gets the job done. There is an adjustable vertical limit switch to aid in setting the screen’s proper drop/rise limits if need be, though the Osprey ships from the factory with proper rise settings in place and the drop set to max. Speaking of drop, the standard Osprey screens feature a 6-inch black drop, but Elite does make the Osprey with a 24-inch drop as well. Of course custom lengths can also be ordered and are built on a case-by-case basis. The entire Osprey system and all of its parts carry a two-year manufacturers warranty.
No motorized screen would be complete without a remote and Elite ships the Osprey screen with two: a standard RF remote and one IR remote to accompany the included low voltage wall switch. That’s right, the Osprey screen comes standard with a wall plate and switch kit as well as a separate IR remote. Now the wall plate isn’t what I’d call a standard switch plate; instead it’s more of a black “puck” that sits on top of your drywall and connects to the Osprey screen via an attached cable. The wall plate features the same controls as both remotes, individual buttons for up, 2:35:1 and 16:9. Press any of those three buttons on either of the remotes or the wall plate itself and the selected screen will begin to drop or retract. If you have the 16:9 screen engaged and you hit the button labeled 2:35:1, the 16:9 screen will begin to rise as the 2:35:1 screen drops below it and vice versa. Obviously hitting “up” on the remote will retract whatever screen is engaged without lowering the other.
Since the ceilings in my new home are roughly nine feet high, I wasn’t going to be able to get away with the standard Osprey screen with its 6-inch drop, for it would have positioned the screens themselves far to high for proper, let alone long term viewing. Elite was kind enough to ship me their smallest Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen with the 24-inch drop in order to accommodate my needs. The screen I was sent was model number DTE97C78H-E24 (E24 stands for “Extra 24-inches of drop) that housed a 78-inch diagonal 16:9 screen and a 97-inch 2:35:1 screen. Since the case has to be large enough for the largest screen, in this case the 97-inch 2:35:1 aspect ratio screen, the aluminum chassis was a bit longer than I was anticipating at 104 inches. In total the case measured 104 inches long by six and a half inches tall and nearly five inches deep. The nice thing about the Osprey case is that its height and depth remain the same regardless of screen size so you only have to contend with length and weight when planning your system. As for weight, my review sample weighed just a hair under 50 pounds.
Installing the Osprey screen is a job for two people, especially if you plan on mounting it to the ceiling, which I was. A good friend of mine was kind enough to lend a hand and helped me install the Osprey screen to my ceiling as well as run power to a ceiling mounted outlet. Minus running power to a newly installed electrical outlet on my ceiling, the Osprey went up in just under an hour with almost zero fuss. While you can always hire a custom installer to install any screen, including the Osprey, its mounting procedure and bracket design are easy enough to understand and complete, DIY style.
Once installed, I familiarized myself with the Osprey’s controls, though I didn’t have to perform any adjustments to its factory set rise and drop settings, for they were spot on for my room. However, if you do have to tweak the screen’s drop, it’s a simple enough procedure that involves placing an Allen wrench into one of four holes located on the back of the Osprey’s aluminum casing.
As for the rest of my system, I utilized my reference Anthem LTX-500 D-ILA projector, which was mounted approximately 14 and a half feet from the Osprey’s screens in order to accommodate the throw distance needs of my newly installed Panamorph FVX200J anamorphic lens adaptor (review pending). In order to take full advantage of the Osprey’s 2:35:1 screen I had to set my Anthem projector’s vertical stretch feature to “on” so that native 2:35:1 material through the Panamorph lens would display properly. For standard 16:9 viewing I would have to turn the vertical stretch feature to “off” and set my projector’s aspect ratio to 4:3 because of the way the Panamorph stretches the image – but that’s for another review.
I opted to test the Osprey’s 2:35:1 screen first so I cued up J.J.Abram’s refresh of the Star Trek (Paramount) franchise on Blu-ray disc. I went ahead and just let the disc play, for the opening sequence is rife with demo material, from vivid highlights to rich, deep blacks; there isn’t a stone left unturned in the opening ten minutes or so of the film. Right off the bat the most impressive observation with watching 2:35:1 material is one of omission – that is, the omission of black bars top and bottom. You don’t get a sense of just how much real estate is lost to black bars when viewing 2:35:1 on a standard 16:9 screen until you’re able to watch without them. The effect is amazing and the impact of the image itself appears to increase 10 fold. The image simply feels larger, grander and provides for a greater sense of immersion via a proper 2:35:1 setup, then via a 16:9 rig. Beyond that, because the boundaries of the image itself butt up against the Osprey’s black surrounding material, the increase in perceived contrast throughout is tremendous. Also, because the Osprey doesn’t use auto masking, there is no separation – no matter how minute – between the CineWhite screen material and its black material surround, which isn’t the case with traditional auto masking screens. Because of this, the edge of the image itself is crisper, creating the illusion, at least in a darkened room that the image is simply “hanging” in space. However, in order to achieve rich, deep blacks on screen the Osprey really should be used or at least critically viewed in a completely darkened room.
I know my previous statement should go without saying, but there are a number of ambient light or light rejecting screens out there that do a phenomenal job of allowing you to view projected material with minimal light present in the room – but this is not the case with the Osprey, for even a single, low-level, reading light can alter its black level performance and contrast. Black levels are solid but aren’t as deep or as sharp as you’re going to find with some costlier screens and/or screen materials. The Osprey’s CineWhite screen material gets you close to 90 percent of the performance in terms of black level detail, richness and overall depth as you’ll get from screens costing five to ten times as much. Take for instance the sequence inside Niro’s ship, which is largely a cavernous wasteland of metal stalagmites and atmospheric haze. The Osprey’s CineWhite material allowed for plenty of black level detail that revealed layer upon layer of tortured, twisted hull; however the delineation between foreground and background elements wasn’t as sharp as what you’ll find with costlier or high contrast screens. Does it ultimately ruin or take away from the viewing experience? Not at all.
Now, contrast (away from the screen’s edges) is very good between light and dark elements on screen and even better in more brightly lit environments. Within largely dark scenes or low light sequences it’s not quite as sharp as I’ve seen from the competition, but again we’re talking about a value for dollar product in the Osprey, not a cost no object assault. What does this mean? Well, for one it means edge fidelity is a bit softer overall. Don’t mistake the word “soft” for vague or blurry, for I found the Osprey’s edge fidelity to actually appear more natural and more cinema-like than what I’ve grown accustomed to from the current crop of high contrast screens, which I appreciated.
In a truly darkened room, colors projected upon the Osprey’s CineWhite surface are rich, vibrant and well saturated with good uniformity throughout. I like white screens when it comes to color reproduction, for I find ambient light or high contrast screens tend to enrich colors a bit artificially, not to mention make them appear a touch darker across the entire spectrum, which isn’t the case with the Osprey. While Star Trek is an artificially saturated film in terms of color, there were enough subtle cues in some of the film’s less hectic sequences that allowed me to view things like skin tones and such in their natural state and the Osprey did a great job displaying all the nuance, texture and detail contained within.
Lastly, the surface of the material itself didn’t inject any unwanted texture or light anomalies into the image and the tab tensioning system kept the surface of the screen itself wrinkle free.
Wanting to test the Osprey’s 16:9 screen performance, I hit the button labeled “16:9” on the remote, which sent the 2:35:1 screen packing and dropped the 16:9 screen its place. There is some brief contact that happens between the two screens as their bottom supports pass one another resulting in a muted “thunk” but other than that, the operation is smooth and drama free. The process of dropping one screen or replacing one for the other takes approximately 30 seconds, give or take (yes, I timed it).
Since Star Trek was filmed in cinemascope, I went ahead and popped in James Cameron’s Avatar (20th Century Fox) on Blu-ray disc. Avatar, in its 2D form, was released in cinemascope; however for its initial Blu-ray release we’re treated to a 1:78: or 16:9 image, because that’s how it was displayed for its 3D theatrical release. Ugh, one more example of how 3D is “changing” the way we watch movies. But I digress.
Right off the bat it was evident the image wasn’t as large or as visually overwhelming as with the 2:35:1 screen, but it’s not really a fair comparison. The “floating” image phenomenon I commented about earlier with the 2:35:1 screen was present and accounted for. The image quality was identical between the two screens. I even raised and dropped them one after the other to make sure and there was no visible difference in performance. Even the distance separating the 16:9 screen and the 2:35:1 screen behind it was so slight that my projector didn’t even notice, keeping all four edges of the image sharp and in stark contrast with the surrounding black material. That’s really cool and a good thing.
Overall I found the Osprey to be a very capable and solid all-round performer that packs an awful lot of performance and convenience into a very easy to use solution. Is it the best screen there is? No. But for where it sits in the marketplace and the issues it solves/gets around for enthusiasts looking to add a little cinemascope magic to their system whilst staying on budget, it’s phenomenal.
Competition and Comparison
There is no real direct comparison for the Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen as no one else makes a two-screen-in-one solution like Elite does at this price. However, the Osprey does compete with traditional auto masking screens, of which there are many. At the highest end of the spectrum rests the dnp Supernova Epic, which is a true cost-no-object auto masking screen designed for the most discerning of videophiles. The dnp Supernova Epic is arguably the finest screen I’ve seen; however it’s not really aimed at the typical Osprey buyer so it’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. Stewart Filmscreens also makes several fine auto-masking screens, be they fixed or drop down, and I’ve spent considerable time with their ElectriScope Screen and have found it to be a very capable performer. However, like the before mentioned dnp screen, the ElectriScope is not really aimed at the typical Elite customer. One screen that could be considered a direct competitor is not an auto-masking screen at all, but instead a high contrast “black” screen from Screen Innovations. Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond II screen material is ambient light-rejecting and can be ordered in either a 16:9 or 2:35:1 aspect ratio. Why the Black Diamond II makes this list is because the material itself is so good at rejecting ambient light and displaying crisp, true blacks that one doesn’t really notice projected bars, thus creating the illusion of an auto masking or native aspect ratio screen. Also, SI’s Black Diamond II Screens start at around the Osprey’s asking price, but you can only get them in a fixed screen configuration – thus the savings.
If you need help deciding which screen is right for you and your system, please check out Home Theater Review’s Front Projection Screen page for guidance, information and reviews.
There are a few items that keep the Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen from being perfect, though they must be taken in the proper perspective given the Osprey’s asking price and supreme functionality. For starters, the internal motor is a bit noisy if I’m honest and not as fast as some. While the visual impact of a drop down screen is undeniable, the motor noise from the Osprey does rob it a bit of its sex appeal. However, once your favorite film starts playing in its native format, all is forgiven.
I wish Elite would also offer white as a finish option for the Osprey’s aluminum case, for its all black metallic finish is a bit “bulky” visually, especially when ceiling mounted. I know having the casework done up in black is most likely a cost saving measure, but I wouldn’t mind (and I don’t think others would either) paying a nominal upcharge for a white façade.
As of right now the Osprey screen is only offered in one material, Elite’s own CineWhite 1.1 gain material, which is a solid performer but for users with ambient light considerations it isn’t ideal. Elite offers other screen materials, including an acoustically transparent material, in their other drop down screens so I’m curious as to why they’re not offered here.
Lastly, and this isn’t a knock or a downside to the Osprey, so much as it is a downside to going with a 2:35:1 aspect ratio setup, in that it requires an anamorphic lens adaptor. There are projectors coming out that will be able to display anamorphic content without the need for a special lens attachment, but they too are costly. If you want to enjoy 2:35:1 material the way it was meant to be seen, then plan on spending at least $1,500 on an anamorphic lens or adaptor to go along with your new Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen.
It’s hard to fault Elite Screen’s Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen, especially considering its sub $2,000 starting price and feature set. Elite has managed to make a product that appeals to the wine and cheese crowd but delivers on a beer budget. Nowhere are you going to find a front projection screen that allows you to enjoy both native 16:9 and 2:35:1 aspect ratio content without first thinking about which of your children would be worth more to science.
Yes there are added costs associated with displaying 2:35:1 material properly, mainly the use of an anamorphic lens attachment, but given the Osprey’s low starting price, you can use the money you save on the screen to offset the cost of an anamorphic lens. For instance, the base Osprey costs $1,999 and the Panamorph FVX200J used in this review retails for $2,995. Couple both the Osprey and Panamorph with an affordable front projector from the likes of, say, Epson and you’re looking at a total package price of around $7,000 give or take – which is still less than what you could conceivably spend on a competitor’s auto masking screen.
So while the Osprey Tension Dual Series Screen may have its quirks, albeit minor, they’re overshadowed by its sheer value proposition, darkened room performance, ease of use and convenience. For the vast majority of consumers the Osprey is bound to be all the screens they’ll ever need.