- Laser projector with very good light output for its size
- Great color accuracy in Natural color mode
- Yamaha-tuned built-in speakers are some of the best in a projector
- Android TV interface is easy to use
- High black level and mediocre contrast
- HDR feature is inconsequential
The Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 combines 1080p resolution, good light output, and a great sound system in a relatively compact package. It’s what we look for in a portable lifestyle projector.
There's a desired sweet spot for lifestyle projectors all manufacturers are looking to attain, and all consumers are looking to buy. This ideal lifestyle projector would have a small form factor, maintenance-free operation, an easy-to-use streaming interface, built-in speakers that fill the room with sound, a clear and color-accurate image with great light output and excellent contrast—all in a box that costs next to nothing. It's a tall order, but the development of solid-state light sources available at decreasing costs is getting us closer to that reality. Current projectors usually need to trade off or compromise one of those features for another—the BenQ GS2 projector is compact but is only 720p and its LED light source has limited brightness, while the Epson EF-100 laser projector is nice and bright with essentially the same resolution, but is larger and rated for fewer hours of life.
Enter the Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12—a 1080p (1920x1080) 3LCD laser projector with a smallish chassis, decent light output, and built-in stereo speakers that are tuned with Yamaha's AudioEngine DSP technology. It's designed to stay portable while still offering great performance without being too complicated.
LED technology has dominated the sub-$1,000 solid-state projector market for a few years because of its low cost, but rarely have they been able to output 1,000 lumens (and those that claim a higher ANSI lumens output even more rarely actually hit that number). In 2019 and 2020, laser light source projectors started to become a more viable option in the consumer market, with several high-brightness models getting released from major manufacturers. The Epson EF12, though, is the only one under $1,000 that outputs at least 1,000 ANSI lumens and has a native resolution of 1080p. (Optoma has two projectors rated at 4,000 ANSI lumens that are a bit more expensive—the $1,099 ZH403 conference room projector and the $1,199 HZ39HDR for home theaters.) The EF12 also accepts 4K signals and downconverts them to output at its native resolution.
The MicroLaser light source of the EF12 slightly exceeded its ratings of 1,000 ANSI lumens in our measurements (a full chart for all color modes can be found below). Pairing it with Epson's 3LCD technology—which separates the white laser light into red, green, and blue light for dedicated imaging chips—allows the EF12 to deliver equal white and color brightness. And since the 3LCD chips split the light, a color wheel isn't necessary and there is no chance of the rainbow effect possible with 1-chip designs. The light output of its most color-accurate Natural mode is bright enough to hold up to some ambient light, but if you have trouble controlling daylight in your room you'll need to switch to the cyan-tinted Dynamic mode (more on this below in the Performance section).
An elevated black level—that's more evident when the lights are off—leads to mediocre overall contrast. There's a dynamic contrast option that helps a bit when scenes switch between bright and dark locales, but the projector lacks some dimensionality because of the black level. This is an issue for all lifestyle projectors around this price and, truthfully, they're meant for temporary, casual setups and not critical home theater enthusiast viewing. In those situations the tradeoff is justifiable. HDR10 and HLG signals are accepted by the EF12, although there's no light output increase from SDR to HDR and HDR performance is less than impressive. Again, this isn't unexpected for a projector at this price targeted at this application.
Many lifestyle projectors to date rely on the Aptoide platform for streaming apps, which is a dreadful choice. Thankfully, the Epson EF12 instead uses Android TV, which is easy to set up and integrates with Google Assistant. It comes with apps like Disney+, YouTube, and Hulu pre-installed. Almost any additional app your heart desires can be downloaded and installed from the Google Play store, but Amazon Prime Video is currently not one of them; Epson says it will be added to the projector via a pushed firmware update by the end of March. In the meantime, Chromecast is supported for casting content from your computer or mobile device, so casting from the Prime Video app is an easy solution for Amazon video content.
If you want to connect a source with a cable, there are two HDMI ports (one with ARC). A USB connector can be used to attach and play files from a storage device and a mini USB port is there for service. If you want to connect a external speaker, there's a 3.5mm audio out along with the HDMI ARC connection, although it isn't really necessary with the EF12. The built-in stereo speakers are tuned with Yamaha's AudioEngine and, for a small enclosure, they're some of the best I've heard in a lifestyle projector. Obviously they don't have deep bass response, but they are reasonably full-sounding and they get suitably loud without distorting or the highs becoming too piercing, all while having good dialogue intelligibility. All the connections are on the side of the projector, so if you want to, you can rest it on its back and project an image on the ceiling to watch while lying down.
The EF12 is a relatively small and light projector, measuring 6.9 inches square, 5 inches high and weighing 4.7 pounds. The front foot extends to change the height of the image, and there's auto keystone correction (on an image with a diagonal of 100 inches or less). Of course we recommend to stay away from any keystone correction if possible as it can negatively affect resolution and brightness, though convenience is often the key consideration with this kind of projector. An auto focus feature works very well in just a few seconds whenever the projector is moved. There's an optional mounting plate if you want to mount the projector on the ceiling.
All necessary functions are easily accessible on the EF12's remote control. At 1.75-inches wide and just under 6-inches long, it's a good size—not too bulky, but not too small either so the buttons are of a decent size and spacing. At the top are buttons to access the different inputs and apps—including a dedicated button for YouTube. A built-in microphone allows for access to Google Assistant by pressing the button directly below the directional pad. There is no backlight for the remote, but the layout is easy to learn after spending a short time with it.
Here's a list of the EF12's key features:
- 1920x1080 (1080p) native resolution
- 1,000 ANSI lumens brightness
- Maintenance-free MicroLaser Light Source
- Up to 20,000 hours rated life at 100% Light Output
- 200,000:1 rated dynamic contrast ratio
- Up to 150 inch image size
- Accepts and downconverts 4K signals
- 3LCD design means no rainbows and equal color brightness
- HDR10 and HLG support
- Android TV streaming interface with Google Assistant
- Built-in 5-watt stereo speakers tuned with Yamaha AudioEngine DSP
Display Modes. There are five color modes on the EF12—Dynamic, Vivid, Bright Cinema, Cinema, and Natural. Dynamic is by far the brightest (Vivid is the next brightest but still a reduction of 35%). Not unexpectedly, it has a distinct blueish-green tint, although not as egregious as found in some other projectors. The most accurate color mode is Natural, but it's also only 60% as bright as Dynamic.
Calman calibration software from Portrait Displays, an X-rite i1 Pro 3 spectrophotometer, and a Murideo Six-G pattern generator confirmed what my eyes saw. Grayscale in Natural color mode measured at 6700K and had an average DeltaE of 4.5 with only a slight green tint apparent in test patterns in the gray midtones. Primary and secondary color points measured an excellent DeltaE of 2 with red having the highest value of 3.1—still a very good value that's considered virtually indistinguishable from a perfect result. Red was also the most undersaturated of the primary color points, though all were at least a little undersaturated. All other color modes had issues with green (luminance was too high), cyan and magenta (too blue), and blue (oversaturated)—though again, this isn't unexpected for a projector with several modes tuned for non-critical viewing with some lights on. They could be made more accurate by changing the color temperature slider to 7, but that also affects overall brightness.
According to the manual, the Screen Adaptive Gamma setting adjusts the gamma depending on the displayed scene. Visually, the higher the setting, the more washed out the image got. When measured in Natural color mode, a setting of 0 resulted in a gamma around 2.1—an okay value for a room with some ambient light. The higher the slider goes, the lower the gamma gets, and the lighter it makes the dark areas of the image. In Natural mode, a setting of 7 measured 1.85, which dropped to 1.72 at a setting of 12, and 1.54 when maxed out at 20.
SDR Viewing. The auto focus dials in the image very well. If necessary, the focus can be adjusted manually from the menu, but I never had to do any further tweaking once the auto focus had done its job. In the Natural color mode, the skin tones and dust on the Pelennor Fields as the Rohirrim charge the forces of darkness in Return of the King (streamed through the HBOMax app on the projector in 1080p) looked very natural and realistic. The reds and browns that dominate the scene are spot on. Detail on the legs of the Mûmakil as they trampled through the battle was excellent.
As Frodo enters Shelob's lair earlier in the film, the shadow detail suffered when in Natural mode as I watched in my living room with the curtains open. Switching to Dynamic gave enough brightness to catch more of the bones and webs that littered the cave, but the eerie light had a distinct greenish tint. Again, it wasn't as overt as I've seen on the brightest mode of other projectors, and is bearable to get the extra detail. Bringing the color temperature slider down to 7 from 9 helped with the color, although at the expense of a little bit of brightness (this is true for all of the color modes). I did need to dial back the EF12's Detail Enhancement control from the Natural mode's default setting of 35 to 15 to get rid of edge artifacts that created an overly artificial, processed look.
When watching the familiar opening of Star Wars: A New Hope on Disney+, the black starfield behind the yellow crawl was more dark gray than black. Shadow detail in things like Darth Vader's suit or the corridor on the Tantive IV where we first see Princess Leia are helped by switching to Dynamic and turning on Dynamic Contrast.
HDR Viewing. The Epson EF12 quickly picks up an HDR signal automatically when one is present. An info bar at the top left of the screen pops up for a short time to confirm the resolution and HDR version (either HDR10 or HLG) of the signal. But unlike some other projectors that include different HDR modes, there isn't anything you can do to fine tune it beyond the same SDR settings.
Comparing the demo material from the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark disc shows little to no benefit with an HDR signal. Colors on both HDR and SDR in the Natural color mode look great, but if anything, the bright highlights in HDR look worse than in SDR. When browsing for familiar HDR material to watch on the Disney+ app, the option didn't seem to be available. Honestly, it's no big loss as evidenced by the A/B comparison with Spears & Munsil.
The Epson EF12 might not tick all of the boxes for the ideal lifestyle projector I described above, but there isn't currently a projector that does. And when it comes down to it, the EF12 comes pretty close. It's a nice, compact package that could be easily stored away when not in use or just as easily find a permanent home on a shelf behind the couch. Color accuracy in Natural color mode is very good, especially for a projector under $1,000, and the 1080p detail is excellent when automatically set by the auto focus feature.
Sure, the black level is higher than you'll get from a dedicated home theater projector in a bulkier package, but that's not what the Epson EF12 is designed for. I do wish it was a bit brighter to better combat the light during the day—even just a few hundred lumens in Natural mode would be a great improvement. But for its size and resolution, it still puts out more than most, and most viewers this projector is targeted at will find its brighter modes acceptable for the casual viewing it's intended for. Anyone in the market for a portable lifestyle projector would be well served to give the Epson EF12 a look.
Brightness. In Dynamic color mode with its default settings (Light Output 100, Gamma 10, Color Temperature 9, Detail Enhancement 35), the Epson EF12 measured 1,010 ANSI lumens—just above its published ANSI lumens spec of 1,000. The light output of the projector's most accurate color mode setting, Natural, drops 41% to 596 ANSI lumens. Color mode names are shared between SDR and HDR, and the light output is essentially identical from SDR to HDR. Color brightness measured 101% of white.
The remaining display modes measured as follow:
Epson EF12 ANSI Lumens
Instead of an eco or power saver mode, the EF12 has a light output slider ranging from 50-100% brightness in increments of 5. In Dynamic color mode, the measured light output lines up with the indicated value on the slider with a 0-3% variation.
Epson EF12 Light Output Slider
|Light Output||Dynamic Color Mode|
Brightness Uniformity. Brightness uniformity measured at 82.5%. There weren't any noticeable hot spots while watching content.
Fan Noise. When running at full power (100 on the light output slider), Epson lists the fan noise level at 27 dB, which is below my living room's noise floor of 33 dB. It emits a slight whine that is perceptible from a couple feet away when nothing is playing, but once any sound comes from the Yamaha speakers the fan noise becomes insignificant.
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Input Lag. After turning any extra processing off—or down to its lowest setting—using a Leo Bodnar 1080p lag tester the 1080p/60 input lag on the Epson EF12 fluctuated between 111 and 128 ms. This told me that even with extra processing at its lowest settings, there is still some amount of processing happening that affects input lag. Epson says the Android TV operating system is the key contributor to the lag, which is far too high for anything beyond the most casual of gaming.
- HDMI (x2, one with ARC)
- USB for storage
- 3.5mm audio out
- Mini USB (for service)
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 projector page.