Epson LS100 Laser 3LCD Projector Reviewed

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Epson LS100 Laser 3LCD Projector Reviewed

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Let's make one thing perfectly clear from the get-go: Epson's LS100 3LCD projector is not a home theater projector, designed for use in a fully light-controlled viewing space. This one is the textbook definition of a home entertainment projector; everything about its design begs you to use it in a brighter, more casual space like a den or family/living room--the kind of space where you'd normally use a TV.

First, there's its light output. Rated at 4,000 lumens, this guy is buh-right. And yes, there is an adjustable brightness control (I wanted to say lamp mode, but I can't--and you'll see why in a second) and a dynamic iris to help tailor the image brightness, but even its dimmest mode cranks out a lot of light.

Second, the source of all that brightness is a laser, not a lamp. The use of a laser diode light source allows for a much longer lifespan (listed at 20,000 hours in Normal mode and 30,000 hours in Quiet mode) and instant on/off capability, so the projector functions more like a TV in that respect. You won't be sitting around waiting for a bulb to ramp up to maximum brightness every time you want to watch something.

Third is the projector's ultra-short-throw lens, allowing you to cast up to a 10-foot-diagonal image from just a few feet away. That means you don't have to set up your projector on one end of the family room and your screen on the other and deal with the hassle of ceiling mounts or people blocking the image as they pass by. The LS100 is really meant to sit on a low table placed right up next to the wall, just below your screen or other suitable viewing surface.

Fourth, there's the built-in speaker, a defining feature of home entertainment projectors that means you don't have to bring in a separate audio source (again, like a TV)--although, trust me, you'll probably want to.

And finally, the LS100 does not feature Epson's pixel-shifting technology to simulate a 4K resolution. These days, an increasing number of home theater projectors support 4K signal input, since many movies are available at that resolution through UHD Blu-ray and streaming media players. But when it comes to general TV watching, HD still reigns at this point.

The LS100 is part of Epson's Home Cinema line, sold direct to consumers through authorized retailers. It carries an MSRP of $2,999.99.

Epson-LS100-angle.jpgSetup & Features
The LS100's chassis is basically a black rectangle that measures 19.4 by 17.2 inches, with a height of 7.4 inches and a weight of 24.3 pounds. The lens is recessed into the top of the cabinet near the "front" of the unit, and it is oriented to cast the image backward across the body of the projector toward the wall or screen. Three adjustable feet on the body's underside help you to level the projector and raise it about an inch. On top you'll see a teeny tiny square grid--that's the speaker, and its size should give you a pretty good idea of how it sounds.

On the right side is a control panel with buttons for source search, home, power, keystone correction, digital zoom, and navigation. A manual focus latch also is hidden on this side, behind the air filter door.

The connection panel is located on the left side. At first glance, all you can see, tucked way underneath the main body of the projector, is a panel that contains three HDMI 1.4 ports (that's one more than you usually find on an HT projector, one of which supports MHL), a LAN port for IP control, and three USB ports (one Type B and two Type A for photo slideshows). If you take time to look at the manual (which I probably should've done much earlier in the review process), you'll discover that there's a big, removable cover on this side of the projector that hides your view of additional connections: computer and composite video ins (with accompanying audio ports), a mini-jack audio output, A D-sub monitor out, an RS-232 port, and a fourth USB input specifically to add a wireless LAN module.

That diversity of connection options gives you an idea of the LS100's multi-purpose intent. Yes, we're looking at it exclusively as a home entertainment projector, but there are obvious uses for it in the business environment, and Epson has covered its connection bases in that respect.

Another aspect of its multi-purpose design becomes evident when you try to position the image on a screen. The LS100 actually has a native 1,920 by 1,200 resolution and a 16:10 aspect ratio. To lock it into a 16:9 shape for use with a home entertainment screen, you simply have to switch to the 16:9 aspect ratio (don't use Auto, as that won't always shape the screen correctly). This does make setup a little trickier, since the test pattern that's available to assist with placement and focus has a 16:10 shape.

Let's dig deeper into the physical setup process for a second. The combination of the 16:10 aspect ratio, the ultra-short-throw (UST) lens, and the limited lens adjustments made it very challenging for me to perfectly position a 16:9 image on my already-mounted Visual Apex 100-inch-diagonal drop-down screen.

When the UST lens casts its image, the bottom edge of a 16:9 aspect ratio resides about 12 inches above the projector. I first tried placing the LS100 on a coffee table that measures 17.5 inches tall, and the resulting image was too high on the wall for my screen. I didn't have any lower tabletop options, so I wound up just putting the projector on a board on the floor and lowering my motorized screen a bit lower than I'd prefer. To fill my 100-inch screen, the lens itself needed to sit roughly 23 inches away from the screen material (but remember the lens is located on the front edge of the projector, so the projector chassis itself sat only about 11 inches from the screen/wall).

The LS100 has no horizontal or vertical lens shifting, only digital zoom and image shifting (as well as keystone correction) that I'd rather not use. It took a lot of fussing--moving the projector a bit this way and bit that--to get the 16:9 image perfectly positioned on my screen, but I got there eventually. It was definitely more work than I'm used to with Epson's home theater projectors, with their generous lens shifting and zoom.

The LS100 has four preset picture modes: dynamic, bright cinema, cinema, and game. Using one of those as your base, you then have access to a nice assortment of advanced adjustments, including: an 11-step color temp control and RGB gain/offset to fine tune the white balance; a color management system with hue, saturation, and brightness adjustments for all six colors; five gamma presets; noise reduction; detail enhancement; an auto iris (called Dynamic Contrast) with normal and high-speed options; and four light source modes (located in the ECO mode menu: normal, quiet, extended, and a custom mode where you can adjust light output from 70 to 100 percent).

The major picture adjustments that are missing are multiple color space options and a Smooth mode that uses frame interpolation to improve motion resolution and reduce film judder. I personally don't like Smooth modes, so I didn't miss it, but I know that some people prefer them.

Aspect ratio options are Auto, Native, 16:9, Full, and Zoom. Because this projector isn't targeted at the home theater market, there's no anamorphic mode or ability to add an anamorphic lens, nor are there multiple lens memories to set up different aspect ratios. You can use the LS100 as a front or rear projector, or in an upside-down configuration if you want to ceiling-mount it.

The LS100 comes with a small IR remote. It lacks backlighting (again, not as important during the day), but it features direct access to some important adjustments, including picture mode, aspect ratio, and light mode (via the User button). The Source Search button allows the projector to automatically scroll through connected sources.

Epson-LS100-top.jpgPerformance
I began the official review process by approaching this projector the same way I approach every display device--by measuring each of the picture modes to see which one is the most accurate right out of the box. I expected it to be the LS100's Cinema mode, but I was wrong. In this case, the Game mode actually measured the closest to our reference HD standards, much closer than the Cinema mode. The gray-scale Delta Error was just 4.79 (anything under five is good, and anything under three is considered imperceptible to the human eye), with a color temperature average of about 6,700 Kelvin and a gamma average of 2.13. The color temp veers just a little too bluish-green with brighter signals. The color points are all a bit under-saturated in this picture mode, but they still measure fairly close to the Rec 709 HD standard; cyan was the least accurate, with a Delta Error of 4.72. See the Measurement charts on page two for more detail.

Those are good out-of-the-box numbers for a projector; but, if you choose to have the projector calibrated, the numbers can get even better. I was able to tighten up the color balance to remove that bit of bluish-green push with bright signals and adjust the gamma to 2.34 (which is closer to our target of 2.4 for projectors). This lowered the gray-scale Delta Error to 2.58. In the color realm, using the color management system (CMS), I was able to improve the accuracy of some colors, but only a little. When the color points are under-saturated, the CMS kind of has its hands tied; but again, the numbers were solid to begin with.

Here's where the conflict begins for me in this review. Normally, the next couple of paragraphs would read something like this:

Because the Game mode is the most accurate and calibrates well, I recommend it as the primary viewing mode. By default, though, it is quite bright, measuring about 82 foot-lamberts with a full-white 100-IRE pattern on my 100-inch, 1.1-gain screen. That's really too bright for dark-room viewing and could cause eye strain. During the calibration process, I was able to lower the light output to 48.8 ft-L, but that's still pretty bright.

Even with the auto iris engaged and the projector set in the Quiet (dimmest) light output mode, the LS100 can't reproduce a very deep black level. In a dim to dark room, my favorite black-level demo scenes from Gravity, Flags of Other Fathers, and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation all looked a bit flat and washed out. Night skies were definitely more grey than black, and the finest black details were hard to discern because the image is just kind of washed out. I compared the LS100 directly with the Optoma UHD65, which is a 4K-friendly DLP projector targeted at the home theater market with a brightness rating of 2,200 lumens and an MSRP of $2,499. With the Optoma's Dynamic Black function enabled, the DLP projector produced a significantly darker black level, producing an image with richer color and much more depth for nighttime viewing. Even with Dynamic Black turned off, the UHD65 still had a better black level than the Epson LS100.

One night during my review, I watched the entire film Red on Blu-ray, and the viewing experience can best be described as "fine." The picture was accurate, it had nice color and detail, and it was clean, but it just didn't have the level of depth and richness that you really want from a home theater projector.

However, as I stressed from the beginning, the LS100 is not a home theater projector. Brightness is what this projector is designed to deliver, and the Game mode, despite being the most accurate, is not the mode that takes full advantage of the projector's brightness capabilities--so, should I really recommend it as the primary viewing mode?

The projector's brightest picture mode is the Dynamic mode, which measured about 121 ft-L by default--that's brighter than any projector I've measured. The good news is that, while certainly not as accurate as the Game mode, the LS100's Dynamic mode doesn't have the excessive and unwatchable green push that so many Dynamic modes have. Yes, the color temp is too bluish-green out of the box, and the color points are oversaturated (they're similarly oversaturated in the Bright Cinema and Cinema modes). But overall it's not an instantly objectionable degree of inaccuracy.

Because the LS100 is really designed for daytime use and the Dynamic mode is the best and brightest choice for that purpose, I decided to run a second measurement/calibration process for the Dynamic mode, and here's what I got:

Epson-LS100-dynamic-gs.jpgEpson-LS100-dynamic-cg.jpg

You can see in the top chart the bluish-green push of the color temperature and an overly light gamma, leading to a gray-scale Delta Error of 13.3. The color points are oversaturated, with green having the highest Delta Error at 16. Through calibration, I was able to get much better numbers, tightening up the color balance across much of the signal range and getting a darker gamma of 2.15. The CMS allowed me to correct the brightness (luminance) of each color, but I couldn't do much about the saturation and hue. But here's the kicker: the act of calibrating the Dynamic mode (primarily, fixing the color temp) cut the overall brightness to about 80 ft-L--almost the same as the Game mode by default. So we're right back where we started.

It comes down to this: if you want to fully exploit this projector's high brightness capabilities, you're going to have to live with an image that is not perfectly accurate. Or, you can get better accuracy at the expense of some light output--80 ft-L is still really, really bright for a projector, by the way. It's just not the light-cannon 121 ft-L of which this thing is capable.

Ultimately, I stayed with the Dynamic mode for most of my daytime viewing sessions (and used the Game mode specifically for movie/TV watching at night). The slightly oversaturated color fairs better in a well-lit room than the Game mode's slightly undersaturated color. Yes, darker film scenes still looked a little flat, but brighter scenes, like sports and animated films, looked really good. My daughter and I watched Storks and some episodes of Netflix's Dragons: Race to the Edge, and I also fed the projector a 1080p version of the Planet Earth II UHD BD discs. The LS100 did a nice job with all those bright, gorgeous landscapes and pristine close-ups: detail was excellent, and the picture was very clean, without much noise.

One final thing to keep in mind is that you really need to mate the LS100 with a good ambient light rejecting screen. I only have a basic matte white screen; and, no matter how bright a projector can get, the image (especially darker scenes) is going to be somewhat washed out by light in the room. An ALR screen will preserve more image contrast, and a lower-gain option will help the black level look as dark as possible in a bright room. It needs to be an ALR screen designed specifically for ultra-short-throw projectors, meaning that it rejects light sources from above and the sides but not from below (or vice versa if you've mounted the projector on the ceiling).

Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...


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HTR Product Rating for Epson LS100 Laser 3LCD Projector

Criteria Rating

Performance

3

Value

4

Overall

3.5

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.

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