Video Accessories Misc

Anamorphic Lenses and Projection Screens: Affordable?


Design and Setup of the Affordable Anamorphic System

For this review, all of the components play a specific role that is essential to the system, and all of them have their own set of benefits that are important to understand. The first item to look at is the Black Diamond screen. Known for its ambient light rejection, in the past four years Screen Innovations has gone from a company you saw at a couple booths at CEDIA to one that rivals Stewart in how many rooms they can fill. The BD 1.4 is a very dark screen, but still amplifies light coming from the projector while rejecting that from other directions. This makes it ideal for a room without perfect light control, or for throwing into a multi-purpose room where you may want a movie with the lights on. The dark surface is also ideal for our task here, as it virtually disappears in a dark room.

The CineVista from Panamorph is the least expensive anamorphic lens that they have offered, and the most affordable that I can recall seeing. Using a multi-optic lens, the CineVista horizontally expands the image 33%, taking what was a 16:9 image and turning it into just over a 21:9 image. Where the more expensive lens systems have motorized systems to move them in front of the projector and then out of the way, those mechanisms typically cost more themselves than the CineVista lens does. It is designed to be in place the whole time, using technology found in our projector, the Sony VPL-HW50ES.

The image quality of the Sony VPL-HW50ES is well documented from my prior review of it, but it has a few features that make it an ideal choice here as well. The first is that is has the two necessary anamorphic modes for the CineVista lens. There is a vertical stretch, where all the content is expanded to fill the letterboxing area. This would make people traditionally look very skinny, but our lens is going to stretch them out horizontally by 33% to correct for this. It also has a horizontal squeeze mode, to use with 16:9 content that has no letterboxing to correct for the anamorphic lens expansion.

It also has the new electronic color correction (ECC) technology. One downside to the CineVista lens, and how they can his that price point, is that it introduces some color fringing at the extremes of the lens. Just like less expensive lenses on your DSLR camera have more chromatic aberration than the $25,000 Zeiss lenses do; a less expensive anamorphic lens will have more fringing than a top of the line model does. The ECC technology allows you to digitally correct for the color issues at dozens of points across the screen, virtually eliminating it. Here you see images with and without ECC configured.

Now with all of these pieces ready to go, it was time to assemble the system. The Black Diamond screen is unlike anything I had built before. My normal screen is a Screen Innovations SolarHD, which is very color neutral and designed for a totally dark room. The Black Diamond came sized for the same frame, but requires different connectors and so I had to start from scratch. The BD material is very heavy and is actually rigid, coming on a very large cylinder designed to enable shipping while preventing it from developing a kink. Your standard screen material this certainly is not.

Installing it required carefully laying it out and attaching a series of a few dozen bungee cords to the frame fasteners. Done slowly, with gloves, and taking care to not damage the material, this was done in just over an hour. Once it was attached, there was a protective layer to remove from the front, and then the Black Diamond screen was up on the wall. The dark color was certainly different than the stark white of the SolarHD.

Attaching the Panamorph lens to the Sony projector was a much faster, 15-minute job. Once it was attached and positioned correctly, I turned on the electronic color control system to see how the image was. The center of the screen was very sharp, but the edges had a lot of chromatic fringing that got worse the closer you were to the edge. Using the pixel adjustments, in around 30 minutes I was able to clean up the grid to the point that only the very edges were noticeably fringing, but only if you were up close. As the Panamorph CineVista is designed to stay in place the whole time, once it was aligned correctly, I was done with the adjustment on it.