The term silver screen originated in reference to the actual silver content embedded in the material that made up the screen's highly reflective surface. While actual silver screens are no longer commonly used, the term silver screen has passed into popular usage as a metonymy for Hollywood and the movies.
Silver lenticular (vertically ridged) screens, which are made from a tightly woven fabric, either natural, such as silk or a synthetic fiber, were excellent for use with low-power projector lamp heads and the monochromatic images that were a staple of early projected images. Other silver screens are made by taking normal matte sheets and adhering silver dust to them. The effect is the same.
Silver screens, however, provide narrower horizontal/vertical viewing angles compared to their more modern counterparts because of their inability to completely disperse light. In addition, a single projection source tends to over-saturate the center of the screen and leave the peripheries darker, depending on where you are sitting and how well adjusted the lamp head is, a phenomenon known as hot-spotting. Due to these limitations and the continued innovation of screen materials, the use of silver screens in the general motion picture exhibition industry has generally been phased out.
Silver lenticular screens, while no longer employed as the standard for motion picture projection, remain in use as they are ideally suited for modern 3-D film polarized projection. As silver is highly reflective, rather than refractive, it is the only material that is suited for keeping two polarized light signals segregated. Additionally, the nature of polarized 3-D projection often requires the projector itself to be projecting for only one eye or the other at any given time, and the overall image is consequently half as bright as if it were being normally projected. Silver lenticular screens help compensate by reflecting more light back than a "modern" screen would—the same purpose they originally served in the early days of motion pictures.
Each of these screen types continues to enjoy widespread popularity for both home and business applications: