Epson LS100 Projector Review
|Pros||Produces a very large image close to the wall, works great for sports and video games.|
|Cons||Needs the light rejecting screen to look its best, no 12V trigger or optical out, fair uniformity, poor contrast ratios makes it best for brighter content and not darker films.|
|Summary||The Epson LS100 will get you a larger image for less money and can be placed almost directly next to the wall. But the image quality isn't as good as you would get with a large LCD, and the almost essential screen means you'll still have something large mounted on the wall.|
When it comes to watching a TV, we’ve always said that bigger is better. A larger image is more immersive and a better watching experience. And while flat panels have gotten thinner and cheaper, there is still a significant price premium for any size over 65”. The Epson LS100 laser projector is designed to fill this niche by offering a 100”+ image in your living room. With a short throw lens system, it can be placed just inches from the wall, and the laser light engine both powers on fast and lasts for 20,000 hours or more. Can this replace the TV in your living room?
Design and Features
The Epson LS100 is designed to be relatively invisible for a projector you place in your living room. Since it can live so close to the wall, it doesn’t need to be mounted to the ceiling but just sits on a table top. With some clever furniture hacking, you could easily manage to install it inside of a table, though Salamander has just introduced a line of furniture for ultra short throw projectors and other companies have said they will this year. It is a 1080p projector, not 4K, but puts out over 4,000 lumens to easily drive a 100” image even if there is some ambient light around. It actually uses 1920×1200 LCD panels and not 1920×1080, which we will see come up later in the review.
The inputs are hidden under a panel on the left side of the projector, and it is highly advisable to connect everything before setting up the projector. Short-throw lenses are sensitive to placement, so a small bump can misalign the image quite easily. There are a trio of HDMI 1.4 inputs along with PC and Composite, with Ethernet for remote systems like Control4. What is missing here is a 12V output for a drop-down projection screen and an optical output. Since this projector is meant for a living room situation where you don’t want a TV taking over the whole wall, it seems likely to me that you’d pair it with a drop-down projection screen you hide in the ceiling or disguise on the wall. No optical output means you’re reliant on an analog output for audio, so no surround sound from your HDMI sources.
Setting up the LS100 was easy, aside from the lack of a 12V trigger. The hardest thing with any short-throw projector is getting the alignment correct. With the Epson you have to be very careful in your alignment as slight shifts will cause on-screen distortion. There are feet to help with this, and it shouldn’t take long. Just put the LS100 somewhere that it won’t easily get bumped since that will cause you to align it again.
I watched the LS100 on my 92” Stewart Studiotek screen for some testing, and on a 100” dns Supernova STS ambient light rejecting screen that Epson provided. I used a Sony X800 UltraHD Blu-ray player as a source, along with a Roku Streaming Stick+ and an Amazon FireTV 4K.
With its laser engine, the LS100 powers on quickly and ramps to full power far faster than lamp-based projectors. In its brightest settings, it is far too powerful for my Studiotek with the lights out. With the lights on, it provides an image that I can watch but is washed out due to using a neutral screen. You certainly can watch what is on the screen, but it lacks punch and dynamics. With the lights off it improves quite a bit but black levels still leave much to be desired. The image from the LS100 is bright with vivid colors but lacks punch due to the raised black levels.
Switching over to the ambient light rejecting screen and you see a much different image. Watching some of the World Cup, the LS100 puts out a bright, bold image that makes games even at 11 AM easily watchable with the curtains open. I found I preferred to use the Cinema Bright mode for daytime viewing, as the punchier colors and brighter image made for a more enjoyable viewing experience. Cinema mode works well at night but doesn’t have the same punch that Cinema Bright does for a living room. Switching back to a 65” TV after watching the Epson, the game just felt tiny by comparison and wasn’t nearly as involving.
Movies that are brighter, or TV shows, also looked great during the daytime with the ALR screen. Watching The Lego Movie or Mad Max: Fury Road, the image looks good during the day and the screen keeps the ambient light from washing it out. Old episodes of Friday Night Lights looked as good as you expect when they are streaming, though the giant size of the Epson LS100 image made those streaming artifacts more noticeable than before.
Where the Epson LS100 excels is with sports and video games. The huge, bright image makes watching the game a bigger experience than it is with a relatively small 65” TV, and the viewing angles from the light rejecting screen were far better than an LCD TV is. Motion is handled well, and the speakers do an OK job but you probably want to hook it up to an external speaker system of some sort.
Video games also do well on the Epson. Input lag is only 30ms for the game mode, making it perfectly acceptable for most games. The big, bright image does well with most games, and racing through some games of Forza on the Xbox One X was a grand time. Darker games, like crawling around some tombs in the recent Assassin’s Creed, led me to adjust the settings to brighten the shadows, but most games are a blast to play on the Epson.
With darker films like Harry Potter or Alien you are best off watching them at night as you would with a regular projector. Watching these during the day in Cinema mode, I wound up adjusting the Gamma to +2 to make it easier to make out the shadow details in the darker scenes. You lose some of your contrast ratio this way, but it makes it possible to see everything that is happening on-screen. At nighttime I could leave the gamma control at 0, giving me better contrast while still making shadow details easy to pick out.
There is no TV tuner on the Epson, despite the target of the living room, but in today’s world of streaming TV services that is easy to fix. The speaker, as mentioned before, is OK for a living room but hooking it up to a soundbar, or maybe a pair of powered speakers, would highly improve the sound. On the brightest modes, you can also hear the fan on the LS100. If you have speakers hooked up at a normal volume level you won’t notice it as much, but the lower light output modes are nearly silent.
Epson LS100 Calibration Data
The LS100 was tested using the HDTV targets with BT.1886 gamma and using CalMAN software. A Murideo Six-G test pattern generator serves as the source, with an i1Pro2 and C6 HDR meter taking readings. When possible everything is measured off the lens with a projector in order to avoid any impact from the screen material.
Using the color presets and the wall adjustment control, the color temp comes out at around 7200K to start, with a gamma that tracks close to 2.2. The color gamut is much larger than the Rec.709 HDTV standard, with green and blue past their points, but red is short and so is cyan, so the gamut coverage only comes in at 87.5%. By default, the grayscale leans blue, which we will try to correct through calibration. The Contrast Ratio is only 308:1, the lowest projector I’ve measured in quite some time, and average color dE2000 error levels are around 5.0. Colors track reasonably well along the saturations but veer off at the end as you approach 100%.
Post-calibration we can get the grayscale in line, but there is a large dip in the gamma at 90% that we aren’t able to correct. The contrast ratio only remains at 315:1, so those raised black levels are still an issue. Color errors are improved as much as possible, with the average error down to 3.25, but are still higher than usual for a projector at this price range. The oversaturation is something we cannot fully correct, and the gamut coverage stays at 87.5% as a result of this.
One more artifact from the short throw lens is the relatively large difference in brightness across the screen, as well as some color fringing. The optics required to put a screen to close to the wall cause some optical compromises, and they are present here. The fringing was only noticeable in test patterns, where sharp black and white content would show it. The uniformity issues were also typically only visible in test patterns where I did measurements, as any movement or action on screen made it hard to see the problem. The main worry is that if combined with a screen that has gain, which causes its own hotspotting issue, you might see more pronounced vignetting around the outside of the screen due to this.
Overall the LS100 performance on the bench is below what we expect to see at a projector in this price range, and even with hardware and software, we are unable to fully correct it.
Who Is the Epson LS100 for?
The Epson LS100 is looking to replace your TV, but offer a larger image without having to mount it on the wall. While it does accomplish this, you need to be aware of the requirements for it to look its best. If you want the best image, and to watch darker content with the lights on, it must be paired with a light rejecting screen. The difference between watching it on a wall or pure white screen and an ambient light rejecting screen is night-and-day. Even if you have to buy the screen after you buy the projector, you should pair them together.
It also does best with brighter content. If you want to watch Gravity or The Dark Knight, you’ll not have the same enjoyable experience that you will watching football or playing video games. A big, bright image is what the Epson does best. Darker content looks OK with the proper screen and at night, but isn’t as bright and punchy as sports and other content.
With Salamander adding support for the Epson LS100 and other short-throw projectors to their furniture line, you’ll have an easy and attractive way to integrate the LS100 into your living room. Salamander furniture isn’t cheap, but having owned a rack from them in the past, it is very well built and easy to customize and tailor to your specific decor and needs.
If you want to watch sports and TV, along with playing video games, in your living room on a 100” screen, the Epson LS100 is a way to do it. You can throw it on a piece of furniture next to the wall and have a huge image for far less than a TV that comes close to the size. But with the raised black levels, it won’t have the punch of a TV and darker content will look washed out. It might be a fit for your room, but there are some trade-offs to get an image this size.