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Tension Cosmopolitan Build Quality and Setup


When building a dedicated home theater, it easy to get excited about the speakers, the display, and even the furniture. One of the least sexy parts is the screen. Screens just seem so… pedestrian. But the fact is that a screen can make a huge difference in the quality of the picture you experience from your front (or rear) projection system. Sure you can project on a white wall, but don't complain when you can't quite get the colors right or when the contrast of your image isn't as great as it could be.

Da-Lite has been in the screen business for a very long time. They mostly focus on high end and large venue projects. What this means is that they may not be the cheapest kid on the block, but they are one of the best. When we went looking for a screen for our Reference System 3 upgrade, we looked at just about everything on the market. One of the first things that drew our attention to Da-Lite was their Tensioned Dual Masking Electrol screen. This is a drop screen that masks from the top and the sides so that you have black edges for (nearly) every video format. This will help clean up all those edges and increase perceived contrast. Unfortunately, it was only available as an in-ceiling installation product. While we considered framing it in with an aftermarket box, we ultimately decided against it. It wasn't the way the screen was meant to be installed and just didn't seem fair for the company. Instead, we went with the next best thing - the Tensioned Cosmopolitan Electrol.

There are a few things to consider when choosing a screen. Wall mount or ceiling, fixed or retractable, tensioned or no, masking or no. That last one is probably out of most people's budgets. Masking systems reformat the screen with black borders for different aspect ratios. They are relatively new to the home market and tend to be very expensive. If you are shooting on a wall, a fixed screen is the cheapest option out there. No moving parts means you can get into them for just a few hundred dollars. But if you're looking for more flexibility, you'll want to consider a drop screen. Manual is by far cheaper than electric but electric has the coolness factor of dropping on its own. Lastly, with a tensioned screen, you don't have to worry about warps and movement as much. Of course, this exponentially adds to the price.

One of the things you have to consider is screen material. If you are looking for a rear projection setup or are placing your speakers behind your screen, your options will be more limited. But if you are like the majority of consumers, you are looking for a front projection screen that will work when the speakers are either under it or to the sides. While the uninitiated may want to go for the highest contrast screens, thinking the biggest numbers are the best, the fact is that it is really dependent on your room. The more light control you have, the less you have to worry about having a high gain screen. We here at Audioholics suggest something between a 1.2 and 1.4 gain in a room that can be light controlled. In more ambient environments you'll want something more like 1.5-2.0. Just don't expect your blacks to be very black.

Build Quality

Cosmo_protectThe Tensioned Cosmopolitan Electrol arrived as you might expect, in a long, thin box. The screen housing was mounted to a large piece of MDF and surrounded at the ends with foam endcaps and along the length by foam ribs. Provided that your delivery driver isn't completely incompetent, the screen should arrive with no damage.

Cosmo_endThe screen is housed in a larger black aluminum case (though white and custom finishes are available). The screen is heavy, but not overly so. The case is sturdy and well made. There is an identification placard on the right with removable endcaps. On the left endcap there is a removable place that covers the connection points for the IR receiver, wall control plate, and power connection. You'll need to provide your own power cord (we just got a standard three-prong 12-gauge extension cord from our local home improvement store and stripped one end).

There are a few different mounting options with the Tensioned Cosmopolitan Electrol. The endcaps have holes for hanging from the ceiling using hooks and/or chain. You can use the same holes for wall mounting to a #6 bracket. The same endcap has holes flush to the back wall for wall mounting either in the room or recessed in the ceiling. We opted for the optional floating ceiling mount. What this does is add a rail to the back of the unit from the edges to about a third of the way in. You can then add to "L" shaped brackets that connect to the ceiling and the rail. This gives you a lot more flexibility in placement plus the ability to move the screen from side to side at a later time without having to reinstall it. Think that isn't important? Wait until you upgrade your projector and find out the new one has the lens on the opposite side as your old one. For an $84 upgrade, this is well worth it in our opinion.

Cosmo_bracket1      Cosmo_bracket3


Cosmo_bottomThe "tensioned" part of the Tensioned Cosmopolitan Electrol are the cables that run up the sides of the screen. This limits the side to side movement and flexing of the screen due to air turbulence. For the uninitiated, they tend to think that this will make the screen as tight as a drum. That's not the case. The string pulls gently on the screen to keep it in place but not so tight that it will stretch or warp it. There are adjustment screws at the bottom of the screen on each side for tightening at a later time.

You have two options for remote control of the Tensioned Cosmopolitan Electrol screen - IR or 12 volt. Because of the challenges with integration, you can have one but not the other. In our case we went with IR as not every projector has a 12 volt trigger. All of the screens come with a standard wall control. This is a pretty easy installation as it is a phone-type jack with a good bit of cable for in-wall/in-ceiling installation. We ended up just buying double-gang 1/2 Decora-style, 1/2 light switch cover and added the wall control to an existing light switch in the room. The remote is of the throw-away variety - utilitarian at best. Black, non-backlit, and frankly fugly, it is meant to be used to program into a universal remote system and then placed in a drawer to be forgotten.

Cosmo_wall      Cosmo_remote


The floating bracket really made setting up the Tensioned Cosmopolitan Electrol screen a lot easier than it could have been. If we had been using the endcaps, we'd have to find at least one joist and hope to find another on the other side. With the floating mount, we just found two that we knew would hit near the middle of the mounting rails and installed them. Once we got the screen on, we were able to move it from left to right to help center it as needed. This will also be useful later as we get new projectors in for review. A projector without horizontal lens shift can be aligned to the screen by loosening the two screws on the floating mount and sliding the screen over a bit. A simple solution to an annoying problem. For normal consumers, the $84 for the floating mount is insurance for future projector purchases and makes for a really, REALLY easy install.


The next step is to connect all the wires. The power is as simple as stripping the end off an extension cord and connecting it to the supplied wires. The IR and wall control both connect via phone cord-ish (RJ11) connectors so that is really easy. Da-Lite gives you plenty of cable for all but the longest runs. We ran the wall control cable from one side of the screen to the other, up into the ceiling, and then back down the wall near the back of the room. We ended up having just enough.

One thing you want to be sure of when you install the wall control is that you've set the level of the screen before finishing the installation. On the back of the wall controls there are adjustments so that you can set the drop and the rise of the screen. This is imperative for some installations. While it is not a big deal to remove the plate and make those adjustments later, better to get it out of the way up front.

Cosmo_IRWe mounted the IR sensor to the ceiling right above the screen case. While it doesn't really blend, it isn't too bad. We'd like to see an option to include the sensor in the enclosure in future Tensioned Cosmopolitan Electrol offerings. The cable provided was also very long (like the wall control) though we were able to fit it all inside the endcap (with a little assertiveness).


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Recent Forum Posts:

ratso posts on December 03, 2009 20:13
hey tom, i think i heard you mention on AVRant that you got a whole new projector system set-up. as i am probably not the only one out here thinking about doing the same, how about audioholics doing a tutorial on setting one up - what to look for in a projector, screen, what size, lumens needed, etc. the whole shebang?
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