ProjectorScreen.com: Could you please provide a brief background on Stewart Filmscreen?
Robert Keeler: Stewart Filmscreen is a 70-year plus family owned company founded by Roy Stewart and his two sons in Torrance, California. We have great ties with the Hollywood community. We have been for not only our creativity but the quality of the product as well. Today, a couple of generations later, Mary Stewart oversees the family company and we have offices not only in LA close to Hollywood, but in Ohio, Europe, and Asia as well. Our partners are wide and varied. We do a lot of work with theme parks and government installations, including a house that might be a certain shade of white. Interesting enough, we've always won a couple of Academy Awards. Go back to Moses parting the Red Sea, Stewart Filmscreen got one of its two Oscars for technical merit or technical achievement based on that scene with the precursor to green screen technology, blue screen technology. It's kind of nice to have what I believe is the only Oscars owned by a screen company.
ProjectorScreen.com: What separates Stewart Filmscreen from your competition?
Robert Keeler: Stewart Filmscreen is the only residential screen manufacturer that builds its screens from literally the molecular level. In one door comes 55 gallon drums of PVC pellets that we turn into a slurry. Then we manufacture our screens one layer at a time. This ensures complete vertical integration. It ensures quality control throughout the whole process. We have industry-specific people that will look at a project along the way to ensure that that craftsmanship and quality maintain. Some of the other key advantages that Stewart offers over other people is our high grade aluminum. This is a very robust product. We also will use oversized tubes for our rollers. While that doesn't seem that important, when you start getting to the larger size, it is the primary reason why the screens perform like they should for years. In fact, we have screens that have been in use for 20 plus years and in fact, some that are even older than that. Having that quality ensures that you're getting good value for what you're paying.
ProjectorScreen.com: What are a couple of your best selling products and why are they successful?
Robert Keeler: Well, there's definitely a few trends out in the marketplace. As we see projectors get better and cheaper, we're seeing a lot of sub-$5,000 projectors. To correlate best with that, we introduced a product called CIMA, which gives us a more value-engineered product without sacrificing that famed Stewart quality. Rest assured that when you're purchasing a projector that's more budget-oriented or price-oriented, we have a screen that can still deliver the performance of the product. Our CIMA line has definitely outperformed quite a bit of others because, again, we're not sacrificing that quality for performance. You start thinking about what the competition's like and what competitors do, this is our entry level point and we go from there, where others tend to go up, but don't go as far as we might. It's kind of nice to have that product availability in that family. I would say that CIMA gives us a good leg up on the competition because of the quality of the product.
ProjectorScreen.com: Is it true that no other manufacturer can make seamless screens as large as Stewart can?
Robert Keeler: We do manufacture our screens 40 by 90 feet seamless, which is the largest size capacity that anybody that can make that screen. We have a distinct advantage over the competition in that there really is no size limitations for us when we manufacture a screen.
ProjectorScreen.com: Is there anything lacking in the CIMA line that makes it so much more affordable than standard Stewart products?
Robert Keeler: Great question. CIMA is a great standalone product. It does differ from our standard Stewart products in a number of ways without sacrificing anything. What we'll do is the aluminum will be less. There's less cost in terms of how much aluminum is in the frame, but it's very solid, still. The material itself will be a couple layers less than say our studio tech material. Again, you're talking about our labor, but still it's 1.1 gain. Speaking of material, we only have two options. Where we have 18 different Stewart materials, I only have two options for CIMA, our Neve White and our Tiburon Gray. That does limit the options and kind of reduces the price a little bit. The other thing that will do that is we've just maintained a few sizes. There's certain stock sizes that the CIMA will have. I can't go custom. By having it pre-configured, we're able to have an efficiency of manufacturing to pass that cost onto you.
ProjectorScreen.com:Is there a longest selling, flagship Stewart product?
Robert Keeler: Our flagship product is easily our Director's Choice 4-Way Masking Screen. It's been in the marketplace for 15 plus years, or about 15 years I should say. In fact, recently we won an award for having it as a Hall of Fame product from CEDIA, the governing body for kind of what we do. Interestingly enough, the very next day we introduced a revision for the first time in 15 years where we reduced the size of the frame by 75%. Doing so gives us a much bigger image within the same given space.
4-way masking is a great way to truly immerse yourself in the movies because movies come in a variety of aspect ratios, from a squarish 1:33:1 with "Gone With the Wind," all the way out to Quinton Tarantino's latest "The Hateful Eight" at 2:76. By having these masking panels that will come in, in eliminates any black bars that your projector might project and give it a much luxurious feel. In fact, give you better contrast so you're having a much better presentation of the picture within your environment. But Easily the Director's Choice 4-Way Masking is our flagship product and is a great way to experience a movie.
ProjectorScreen.com: What are your thoughts on an ultra thin bezel screen vs. a more traditional frame screen?
Robert Keeler: Ultra thin, thin bezel frames for screens is a nice idea if you're looking more for design-oriented and aesthetics manner. In terms of quality of picture, you're better off going with a standard three and a half inch Veluxe velvet border. It helps improve contrast. It helps deal with over scan. Having a wraparound or a thin bezel is great for looks, but you can run into some placement issues and where the image doesn't fill the screen properly or completely. I do recommend the standard three and a half inch border if you're looking for a fixed frame, but certainly, if you're more design-oriented, a thin bezel zero border product is ... will suffice. Just know going into it that you might have some placement issues.
ProjectorScreen.com: Is there a particular screen material that Stewart is most proud of?
Robert Keeler: Wow, I could go in a couple different directions in terms of material choice, but I do have to say StudioTek is the choice. The fact that a Hollywood type, a director, a movie editor, who might have a $70,000 Director's Choice 4-Way Masking Screen that he's using is going to have the very same material on that screen as you can in your 120 inch screen at home. So, I'd have to say StudioTek is definitely the best material of choice.
ProjectorScreen.com: Are there any new and exciting products in the works at Stewart?
Robert Keeler: I tell you, a recent addition is Gemini. If I were to say I watch movies and football, and asked you what the differences would be, a lot of people will answer aspect ratio. While that's a good answer, it's not the right answer. The right answer is lighting condition. Case in point, when I'm watching a movie the lights are always off, and the movie is typically 2:40, maybe 2:35, but widescreen. Having our StudioTek material for that is a great way to get the best possible picture. However, when I'm watching football, all the lights are on and the content's in 16:9. So the material choice of one activity is going to be the wrong material choice for the other activity.
So how do you accommodate that? Well, Gemini is a motorized product that has two rollers, two screens, and one chassis. The best way to describe it is, for when you're watching movies you've got your StudioTek 100 or StudioTek 130 and you're in 2:40 or 2:35 and when the lights are off, it's the best picture. For the other option, when you're watching TV, if you will, or football and the lights are all on you're going to want to use an ALR choice such as FireHawk, or our new Phantom product to give you the best of both worlds. Having that ability to give you the best of both worlds truly makes that space much more usable because again as I mentioned, on material for one activity is the wrong material for the other, and now you can do both on one chassis.
ProjectorScreen.com: What do you see as being "the next big thing" from Stewart?
Robert Keeler: Well, I'm kind of seeing the next big thing from us right now, and that's Phantom, our HALR product. That stands for High Ambient Light Rejecting. Phantom was recently introduced. Stewart invented the category of ALR back in 2004 with FireHawk, and we have since refined it and made it better. Phantom is the latest material, and it's 85% light rejection. That's where similarities from any other brands come into play. Because we can manufacture our own at 40 by 90 feet, size is not an issue for us, from an ALR perspective, where others might cap out at, say 150. We can go much larger, if need be.
The other thing too is, our product is flexible. So what that means from a flexible product is, now I can motorize it. I can have it in a motorized housing and have it come down say in front of a bank of windows, where others might be a fixed panel. Because it's flexible, not only can I motorize it, but now I could perf it and I can microperf it. What that means is, now it becomes acoustically transparent, so you can place speakers behind the screen and the sound will transmit through the screen.
But I'm going to tell you, my favorite thing about Phantom has nothing to do with all that. It has everything to do with 4K, and even with 4K, it's not about the resolution. It's about the color spectrum. With UHD specs, we now have the ability to see more and more colors than we've had previously. The way I describe phantom is that it doesn't shift colors, and the way I describe it, essentially is, take a box of 64 crayons. Take the orange and reds out and put in more blues. That's going to be other ALR screens. They're going to have a shift to blue. Now, don't take my word for it, go put on "Cars," put on "Talladega Nights" or TiVo NASCAR from the weekend. That white safer barrier wall that's around the track should be a bright white, not a blue.
That's where we have an advantage is that you get all the colors of the rainbow with Phantom. So, having an 85% high ambient light rejecting screen gives you far more placements than you've ever thought possible. Even with our FireHawk, which has 65% light rejection, a good general purpose screen, Phantom takes it to the next level.
ProjectorScreen.com: What is the biggest mistake that consumers make when purchasing a projector screen?
Robert Keeler: Something to think about when looking at projectors and screens. You're not actually watching the projector. As good as that projector is, you're actually watching that projector's image on the projection screen. You're watching the final product on the screen. So, not all screens are the same, not all screens are built the same, not all white screens are the same as other white screens. Stewart Filmscreen maintains the notion of image fidelity. That's our standard. that's our go-to is ultimately image fidelity. Keeping that in mind, I always urge people to compare. Do their research. We offer samples so that they can compare one against the other. There's plenty of photos on the internet where people are putting compare-contrasting other brands with ours, and I urge you to do your research. I urge you to validate it with either third party or opinions from others that you trust. But just keep in mind, not all screens are the same, and we design them for image fidelity first.
ProjectorScreen.com: What does it mean when a screen is advertised as "4K ready"?
Robert Keeler: So, in some cases, 4K ready is kind of dubious. With Stewart screens, we have screens that are 16K rated, and it sounds incredulous to say 16K, but back in the '50s when filmmakers went from 35mm to 70mm film, the filmmakers were concerned that the added resolution of that film stock would get lost on the screen. We were actually able to test out that we could resolve that level of resolution on our screens, so today our screens are 16K capable, our CIMA product is 8K capable. A lot of it has to do with the manufacturing process, and being able to have that resolution capability is not something that comes overnight. You actually have to engineer a product to get to that level.
ProjectorScreen.com: What happens to a 4K or better pixel when projected on to a surface with texture?
Robert Keeler: Interestingly enough, we get a number of calls on that. Essentially, the answer to the question is, the image will look soft. We get, on a regular basis, emails and calls where someone will have a true 4K, or even a faux-k projector, and they'll talk about a UHD player and the image is soft. Well, it turns out that it's ultimately the screen. The real issue has to deal with the texture of the product. There is an added cost to manufacturing a texture-free surface. Having a texture is kind of like watching a movie on 60 grit sandpaper, where ours might be 2000 wet/dry sandpaper. There's a big difference between the texture of that sandpaper, and that translates into picture quality, as well. That's where our manufacturing process really comes into play giving you a texture-free and solid image from 4K. In fact, recently when manufacturers were using 8K projectors and faux 8K projectors, they were using our screen surfaces to resolve their demos and using their demos. So it was fun for us to see.
ProjectorScreen.com: How does the ALR technology work in Stewart screens? What are the considerations to keep in mind for best results?
Robert Keeler: I think one of the biggest considerations to think of is your lighting condition. Screens are dumb. They don't know if it's a projector, a light bulb, or the sun coming through the window. Ambient lighting can greatly impact the quality of the image. So one of the rules of thumb that I have, especially as it relates to ALR screens is, stand at the screen location, look back at the projector, and hold your hands out at a 45 degree angle. Anything outside with an ALR, I'm not too worried about. Anything inside, you want to cover up and you want to have some control. To get the best picture, though, you do want a dark room, and that's where our StudioTek will definitely outperform other screens. But it needs to be really dark, because lighting can adversely affect the picture really quick. I know we've all seen bad examples, from bars to your neighbor's basement theater. So lighting is always probably the biggest condition, I would say.