Gray vs. White Projector Screen: Which is Best?

By Dylan Clayton
Last Updated October 12, 2020

For as long as I can remember, we have been projecting moving images onto white screens. However, Light grey screens have become an option, and it isn't for aesthetic reasons. Otherwise known as high-contrast screens, gray screens offer a different viewing experience.

Which is the screen that works best isn't universal. Whichever color projector screen works well in one home movie theater might not work so well in another.

Traditional white screens provide accurate and uniform images in rooms that are pitch black or where the user has total control over the ambient lighting.

Grey screens help to improve the depths of black and other very dark colors. Brighter parts of the image still shine as vividly as they should; they suffer no detrimental effect.

Factors that Affect Your Color Choice

Two main factors require consideration when deciding your screen color: the type of projector and the lamp it employs, and secondly, the set up of your home movie theater.

Projector Type


gray projector screen

Higher contrast projectors transmit the clearest and sharpest images. That preserves all of the darkest colors, maintaining that the lighter shades become more vivid alongside them.

The design of top-end projectors guarantees that they work best on white screens, almost irrespective of lighting conditions.

Gray projector screens are otherwise known as high contrast screens and designed to absorb ambient light. The more light that is absorbed, the less there is to bounce off the screen.

White projector screens reflect light and make dark colors dull. Contrast appears low until white colors fade into insignificance and bright colors appear dim.

Therefore, older and poor-quality projectors with fewer lumens output project poor-quality images.

Gray screens compensate for this.

Modern high-end projectors have increased contrast performance. Whether you use a gray or white screen makes no difference, you will achieve superb results on any color screen.

The Room

dark home theater

If you're serious about your home movie theater, you will have already taken care of soundproofing the walls, doors, and windows. Blinds and heavy door curtains will also help improve projection. The color of the room heavily affects the quality of the projected images.

Painting walls, ceilings, and floors in dark colors or black ensure less ambient light leakage, resulting in exacting picture quality, color, and contrast on a white projector screen.

Which is More Expensive?

Both colors cost around the same for equivalent quality.

If you're adamant that you want a white screen, then invariably the projector will need to be of a higher specification, ergo, more expensive.

There will also be the added consideration of furniture, blackout curtains, and blinds, plus dark surface coverings.

Gray screens aren't as demanding and are proven to work well in rooms that aren't entirely blacked-out. A gray screen is perfect for the casual viewer who opts to watch from the comfort of a living room with life going on around them.

They also suit movie theatres where pitch darkness is impossible to achieve.

If your projector is an older or lower spec model, a gray screen will compensate somewhat for poor image clarity, saving you money on buying a replacement projector.

Overall, a gray screen system is often the more affordable of the two as a result of external factors detailed above.

The Advantages of a Gray Projector Screen

  • The biggest battle a projectionist has to fight is against the light; any ambient lighting can disrupt the clarity of images. Unless you're lucky enough to have an entirely dark room, gray screens absorb errant lighting, compensating for any loss of picture and contrast quality.
  • Older and cheaper projectors benefit from gray screens as they compensate for the poor contrast ratios.
  • As previously explained, you won't need to upgrade to a top-spec projector to achieve great viewing results, making them budget-friendly. A basic projector and a gray screen will make all of the colors pop, particularly the darker tones, at a more affordable price.

Disadvantages of a Gray Projector Screen

  • They're not as widely available as the white screen.
  • With no additional special features, solely behaves as a screen.

Advantages of a White Projector Screen

  • In ideal lighting conditions, it is almost impossible to beat the clarity that a high-quality projector gives. Images will be sharp and clear, just as the film-maker intended.
  • The majority of modern projectors have a contrast ratio of 3000:1. That is sufficient to project well onto a white screen.
  • Some white screens have an innovative silver coating to repel ambient lighting that delivers images even when lights are on.
  • Wider availability as they have been around for longer. A better size range is more readily available.
  • Some have sound passage technology that is not yet compatible with gray screens.

Disadvantages of a White Projector Screen

  • The slightest chink of light into a room can make the colors appear washed out and the overall picture faded.
  • Better suited to purpose-built home movie theaters and not for the casual viewer.
  • Most compatible with high-contrast performance projectors that are high-end and expensive.

Special Features

Not only do some white screens have high-contrast silver coatings to absorb ambient light, but others also have integrated sound wave passages.

It is a system of minuscule, evenly-spaced holes across the screen that allows for the passage of sound. With the speakers and subwoofer hidden behind the screen, viewers are treated to a more realistic audio and video experience.

Final Thoughts

If your home movie theater has achieved total blackout, i.e. the walls, floors, and ceilings are dark, windows covered with solid blinds, and doors curtained off, then there is no reason why you shouldn't opt for the classic white screen and enjoy it's color depth and accuracy.

For the more casual viewer, or in a room where utter darkness isn't possible, a grey screen is the way to go. Enjoy all of the action of the movies with the blackest blacks and most vivid bright colors.

Dylan Clayton
My passion for cinema resulted in a hobby for Home Theaters and the creation and ideation of this website. My goal for Home Theater Explained is to share my experiences with other Cinephiles in hopes that they too can improve their own setups.