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Stewart Filmscreen FireHawk G4 Projector Screen Review

by January 06, 2014
Stewart Filmscreen FireHawk G4

Stewart Filmscreen FireHawk G4

  • Product Name: FireHawk G4
  • Manufacturer: Stewart Filmscreen
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: January 06, 2014 15:00
  • MSRP: $ 1,900 - $3,900 including Luxus Deluxe ScreenWall; varies by size
Material Type Flexible Front Projection
Gain 1.1
Half Gain 35 degrees
Minimum Throw Distance 1.5 x image width
Ambient Light Front Reflectance Value 27% per foot candle
Ambient Light Resistance Excellent performance in ambient light
Lay Flat Quality Excellent
Flame Resistance Flame Certificated
Washable Yes
Optional Sound Perforations Microperf X2
Maximum Size Consult Factory
Seamless Yes
Size Limitations 8' x 90' - Seamless
Screen Models Fixed, retractable and variable masking


  • Solid light rejection and light scatter
  • Bright colors in all lighting conditions
  • Negligible hotspotting and color shift
  • Impressive viewing angle


  • Sparkles and screen texture visible on bright scenes


The Achilles heel to two-piece front projection systems has always been light. Any light, at any angle, will wash out the picture. The obvious problem with this is that humans don’t live in black holes, and not all of us have theaters that are completely light controlled. Even if they are, it’s nice to have some ambient light so you can actually find the remote, drink, popcorn, or whatever object you own that seems to be perpetually misplaced in the dark of your theater. The solution to this problem is a projector screen specifically made to reject ambient light while maintaining deep blacks and rich colors. That’s exactly what the Stewart Filmscreen FireHawk G4 is made to do. The aim of the G4 is to allow you to enjoy a great picture even with ambient light in the room. The question is, does it achieve this lofty goal?

What’s the big fuss over the FireHawk series?

Before I talk about what makes the FireHawk series so special, I need to make one thing clear. Walls are great, but a wall is not, no matter what anyone tries to tell you, a substitute for a proper projector screen. I don’t care how well sanded it is or what special paint is used, it won’t be as good as a good projector screen. It may be as good as a bad or okay projector screen, but not a good screen. Not everyone needs an expensive screen, but a screen can make a bigger difference in picture quality than upgrading your projector. Brightness, contrast, viewing angle, and color  are all affected by screen choice. This is especially true for people who want to use their screen in rooms with some light, or light colored walls. So, for those who look at a $2,000 screen and say, “Bah! I’ll use my wall, or a sheet, or this other screen for a hundred bucks”, I hope this review can help show you some of the benefits of spending cash on a nice screen.

Stewart’s FireHawk series are what’s called ambient light rejecting screens. They are specifically made to be used in situations where light cannot be completely controlled. With a typical white screen, even a very small amount of light can make the picture washed out and difficult to see. This can be compensated for by boosting the brightness and contrast on the projector, or by using a higher gain screen. Unfortunately, both solutions create additional problems. A projector might not be able to produce a bright enough picture to overcome ambient light, and the brighter you run the projector the faster the bulb will burn out. You also risk losing white detail (clipping) and black detail (crushing). Plus, there’s nothing that can be done on the projector to bring back black levels that are present in a completely dark room, which end up as a light gray at best.

The best method of overcoming ambient light is by choosing the right screen. I won’t review all screen materials, as that’s a different topic, but I’ll tell you how screens can overcome ambient light. The most traditional method is to boost the brightness of an image with a high gain screen. The higher the gain, the more light the screen will reflect back, focused at zero degrees (facing the screen straight on and centered). The downside is that the higher the gain, the more evident hotspotting will be, which is where the center of the image is brightest and the image gets darker as it gets close to the edges. Higher gain screens also have a narrower viewing angle. This means that the further you sit off axis, the darker the image becomes and you can even see a shift in some colors. Another disadvantage to high gain screens is what’s called the speckle effect, or sparkles. Sparkles are a little difficult to describe, but it’s like your screen is covered in tiny stars that twinkle when hit with too much light. Or maybe a better description would be it’s as if the screen was coated with incredibly small reflectors that are most visible when the projector puts too much light on them. Bright white images, like snow, really bring out this problem.

G3 gain chart

FireHawk G3 (Predecessor to G4) Gain Chart 

Besides gain, screen manufacturers also offer screens in different colors (white, grey, silver, and black depending on the manufacturer), and ambient light rejecting screens.  In general, the more light you have in the room, the darker screen you want in order to maintain deep black levels (to a point, black screens have drawbacks). Ambient light rejecting screens reject light that comes in at an angle other than perpendicular to the screen. This means that the light from a window next to the screen is absorbed (in the case of minus-gain gray screens) or reflected away (in the case of angular reflective or plus-gain sceens), while the light from the projector is reflected back at you. The downside to these techniques is that you need higher light output from a projector to reach the same brightness level as a white screen, but the black levels will be better.

Editorial Note: A gain chart shows how much light is reflect back at you depending on what angle you are viewing the screen from. You are generally looking for a nice, smooth curve. The steeper the curve, the more noticeable the drop in brightness will be as you move off to the side of the screen. A gain chart that is flat all the way across means that you would not notice any difference in brightness among different viewing angles.

 G4 gain chart

FireHawk G4 Gain Chart 

Ultimately, there is no “perfect” screen, but some screens are certainly better than others. That’s the idea behind the G4. Stewart doesn’t claim to have eliminated the issues inherent with ambient light rejecting or plus-gain screens, but they do claim to have taken another step forward. As the name suggests, the G4 is the 4th iteration of the FireHawk material. With the G4, Stewart lowered the peak gain from 1.25 (on the G3) to 1.1. They say that this has improved uniformity and yielded some other benefits as well, including reduced color-shift and hot-spotting. They also claim that the new G4 material virtually eliminates the speckle effect inherent in plus-gain screens. The viewing angle has also opened up, with half gain at 35 degrees off axis as opposed to 30 degrees on the G3. That gives you a 70 degree viewing window. If you look at the gain chart closely, you can see that the G4 also maintains a more consistent gain from 0-10 degrees off axis, a drop of .05 compared to .3 on the G3. Unlike the G3, the G4 is completely opaque, so light coming from behind the screen won’t harm the picture. The final big difference between the materials is minimum throw distance. Stewart specifies a minimum of 1.5 times the width of the screen for the G4, while the G3 is 1.6. The new slightly lower gain means that it is a less likely to exhibit some of the previously discussed issues, like poor viewing angle and color shift.

       G4 Box3           G4 package

FireHawk G4 Shipping Container

In essence, the G4 is a step above the G3 in almost every respect. The only edge that the G3 has is that the higher gain allows you to reach the same brightness at zero degrees with a less powerful projector. However, I am all for the lower gain because it helps minimize some of the negative effects inherent in plus-gain screens. Projectors are also becoming brighter; the Epson 5020UB used for this review being a prime example of an affordable and very bright projector. Even during daytime viewing with windows open and lights on, I kept the projector in “eco” mode, which cuts brightness to save bulb life.

The last topic I want to talk about before moving on to the actual hands-on portion of the review is configuration options. Let me keep this short: Stewart has nearly unlimited customization options allowing someone to use a two-piece projection system in nearly any situation. The G4 screen is available in seamless sizes from 8’ to 90’ and with fixed, retractable and variable masking systems. If you have speakers behind your screen, it can also be ordered with Stewart’s Microperf X2 to be acoustically transparent. The frame used for this install is more or less their de facto fixed frame option, the Luxus Deluxe Screenwall. It features a 3.35” aluminum frame, beveled edges, and VeLux™ appliqué finish to absorb overscan. For those who have more specific needs, Stewart has a solution for every situation I can think of, and if you need something special, building custom products is their game.

Assembly and Installation

The G4 was flown from California straight to Kansas City and then delivered to my house in Lawrence via a freight delivery company. The whole process from ordering the screen to having it arrive at my home was less than two weeks, an amazingly fast turnaround time for a projector screen. I’ve been waiting on screens for months before from other companies, so the speedy production and delivery process was refreshing. It’s definitely something I would take into account if I were a dealer thinking about picking up a new projector screen line.

The screen and frame arrived in perfect condition, even though the box looked like it had made the journey to Mordor with Frodo and Sam. All of the contents inside the box were secured down, and should you ever move, are easy to fit back together properly.

G4 Bracket Corner

Assembling Luxus Deluxe Screenwall

After everything was unpacked and organized, I set about assembling the screen. I immediately noticed the quality of the Luxus Deluxe Screeenwall fame. It’s lightweight, but very sturdy. From the grade of bolts used to tie together the pieces to the gauge of the aluminum frame, everything struck me as “custom install” grade.

Assembly was a breeze. Each side of the frame is a section, for a total of four. They slide together snuggly and are secured with a single bolt. After assembling the frame, the wall brackets go on. This part was a surprise to me. I have mounted a number of screens in the past, but they have always used small hooks that rest on a rail at the top of the frame. Actually, if you were to order a Luxus Deluxe Screenwall now, that’s the type of mounting system it ships with standard, labeled their “EZ Mount” system. However, the frame that came in for review had been used in trade shows previously, so it was a bit older and did not have the new mounting system. Instead, it had Stewart’s old standard mounting system, which consists of two vertical wall brackets, and actually worked perfectly for my installation.

  old screen mount          new ez mount

Left: Old Mounting System; Right: New EZ Mount System

Before actually snapping in the screen, the wall brackets attach to the frame and the entire system is temporarily mounted to the wall. This allows you to precisely position the frame without having to worry about damaging the screen in the process. Once everything is level and plumb, the frame is taken down (wall brackets stay up) and the screen snaps in place.

G4 wall mount 1          G4 wall mount 2

Attaching Wall Brackets to Frame 

I unrolled the screen onto the floor of the theater, carefully set the frame on the screen, and started snapping. The screen snapped into the frame easily, with just enough tension to keep the material taught and remove any wrinkles.

Once the installation was finished, it was movie time.

Video Performance

Key to properly evaluating a screen is calibrating the projector to the screen. For this review, I honed in the already near perfect THX picture mode on the Epson 5020UB for watching in a no-light environment. I then flipped on the lights and calibrated a second picture mode for daytime or lights-on viewing.

With everything dialed in, I started off my viewing tests with, well, I don’t remember. I watched a host of movies on the G4, as I used it during my review of the DVDO Air3 Wireless HDMI Kit.

 G4 off axis viewing

G4 Off-Axis Viewing (ambient light present) 

Throughout my viewing tests the picture was stunning. Whites were white and blacks were blacker than I had seen before on this projector. I was finally able to watch movies at any time of the day, and under any lighting condition. With the lights on, the blacks were noticeably washed out and turned to a dark grey, but I was still able to see all of the black information. The rest of the color gamut was always vibrant. In fact, with lights on, the image was so realistic I thought it looked like a giant photograph. When reviewing other gear I like to have the lights up, so this was very important to me.

  G4 Lights on

Lights on (much brighter in room than it appears)

I spent a significant amount of time looking for all of the issues that are inherent with ambient light rejecting screens, such as color shift and hotspotting. I tried different viewing angles, from zero degrees all the way out to nearly ninety degrees. I also used the viewing angle test included on the Disney WOW Disc. I never noticed any significant color shift, hotspotting, or even significant light output loss, even at extreme angles. The G4 gain chart (and gain charts in general) makes it seem that if you sit outside of the 60 degree viewing window the light loss is so great the image is rendered unwatchable. This is not the case. Yes, the amount of light reflected back at you does decrease, but A) in most situations I doubt many viewers will sit more than 30 degrees off axis and B) the image is still very watchable.

When asking for the G4 in for review, I was most concerned with hotspotting. The closer the projector is to the screen, the more likely you will notice hotspotting, and my Epson is just at the minimum recommended distance. However, hotspotting was either not noticeable at all or very minor. It shows up a bit more in the photos, but the photos aren’t a particularly accurate representation of the picture. In the “lights on” photos, the room was actually much brighter (I didn’t have a light meter on hand) than the picture shows. The screen also looks more washed out than it appears in person.

G4 Window Light  

Light Bleed from Window 

Light rejection test results were good as well. My theater has one large light overhead (3x100 watt CFL bulbs), a window to the right of the screen, and a small light in the back of the room, close to the projector. I played around different lighting scenarios, and shined a flashlight at the screen from different angles. The G4, like its predecessors, excels at rejecting light coming in horizontally. The window to the side of the screen had a minimal impact on the image, but the effect from the overhead light was more substantial. The light from the overhead bulbs concentrated at the top/center of the screen and dissipated as it spread out.

The only large caveat that I noticed with the G4 was occasionally being able to “see” the screen thanks to sparkles and a light screen texture. This was primarily visible during bright scenes with light backgrounds. My wife didn’t notice it until I pointed it out, but it was easily discernible to me. I wasn’t surprised by this finding, but it’s something a potential buyer should be aware of as it will drive some people crazy, while other people won’t care.


First let me tell you who shouldn’t buy a FireHawk G4, or any screen designed for use in ambient light. If you can completely control the light in your room and the walls are a dark color, then stick with a matte white screen, like Stewart’s UltraMatte 130. If you can’t completely control the light in but want a big screen, then you need to seriously consider the G4. Let me be clear, like any screen, it performs best with low to no light. Direct light will negatively affect the picture, but much less so than with a matte white screen.

 G4 lights off

Lights off, cropped image

I think it’s the perfect solution for individuals who have a multipurpose room that will be used just as often to host people as it will be to watch movies, which is undoubtedly an increasing number of people. The possible applications for use are expanded exponentially thanks to the nearly limitless mounting options that Stewart offers. The screen could roll up completely out of sight, and come down from the ceiling or up from the floor only when you want to watch a movie. This means that a wall on which a TV normally wouldn’t work, like one with a picture window, a projector screen could work perfectly (Stewart’s new Plexus system is actually made just for this type of install). 


Stewart LogoBefore running out and dropping a few thousand dollars (minimum) on a projector and screen, you need to actually see this type of system in action. The FireHawk G4, just like its predecessors, allows you to use a projector in places that otherwise never would be considered. But that doesn’t mean that the image with the lights up is the same as it is in total darkness. No screen can achieve that. However, even in my theater with light beaming at the screen from every conceivable angle, colors are bright and vibrant in every lighting condition. The only distracting artifact I noticed was sparkles during bright scenes, but that comes with the territory and the extent of the effect was less than some competitors. In the end, I think the G4 is a very capable screen, worthy of the Stewart name and the FireHawk legacy.

About the author:
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Cliff, like many of us, has always loved home theater equipment. In high school he landed a job at Best Buy that started his path towards actual high quality audio. His first surround sound was a Klipsch 5.1 system. After that he was hooked, moving from Klipsch to Polk to Definitive Technology, and so on. Eventually, Cliff ended up doing custom installation work for Best Buy and then for a "Ma & Pa" shop in Mankato, MN.

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