The half gain angle is the area of the room where the projected image produces the fullest spectrum view. This area is roughly in the shape of a cone with its point toward the center of the screen. Viewing cones are described by defining the degree radius formed by the outer limits of the cone. Higher gain reflective screens produce narrower viewing cones, while matte surfaces produce a broader viewing cone. Half gain angle is 1/2 of the viewing cone. Multiply the half gain angle by two to get the total viewing cone.

One of the most often quoted properties in a home theater screen is the gain. This is a measure of reflectivity of light and can be “negative” (any gain less than 1.0) “neutral” (exactly 1.0) or positive gain (any gain above 1.0.) Very high gain levels could be attained simply by using a mirror surface, although the audience would then just see a reflection of the projector, defeating the purpose of using a screen. Many screens with higher gain are simply semi-glossy, and so exhibit more mirror-like properties, namely a bright “hot spot” in the screen – an enlarged (and greatly blurred) reflection of the projector’s lens. Opinions differ as to when this “hot spotting” begins to be distracting, but most viewers do not notice differences as large as 30% in the image luminosity, unless presented with a test image and asked to look for variations in brightness. This is possible because humans have greater sensitivity to contrast in smaller details, but less so in luminosity variations as great as half of the screen.

A second common confusion about screen gain arises for grey colored screens. If a screen material looks grey on casual examination then it’s total reflectance is much less than 1. However, the grey screen can have measured gain of 1 or even much greater than 1. The geometric behavior of a grey screen is different from that of a white screen of identical gain. Therefore, since geometry is important in screen applications, screen materials should be at least specified by their gain and their total reflectance. Instead of total reflectance, “geometric gain” (equal to the gain divided by the total reflectance) can be the second specification.

Curved screens can be made highly reflective minimizing visible hot spots, if the curvature of the screen, placement of the projector and the seating arrangement are designed correctly. The object of this design is to have the screen reflect the projected light back to the audience, effectively making the entire screen a giant “hot spot”. If the angle of reflection is about the same across the screen, no distracting artifacts will be formed.