Epson Home Cinema LS100
Quiet and Extended Eco Modes. Epson has taken an interesting approach to extending the life of the laser illumination system. Normal mode has a rating of 20,000 hours, and Extended mode stretches that to 30,000 by lowering laser power by about 30%. However, there's a third alternative called Quiet mode that will appeal to HT enthusiasts. In Quiet mode, fan speed is decreased but laser power is not, so brightness is maintained as equal to the Extended mode, but fan noise virtually disappears. Illumination system life stays at 20,000 hours in Quiet mode, but you trade the extended laser life for very quiet viewing conditions. If you are installing the LS100 in a smaller room (easy to do since there are no throw distance restrictions) you may find this to be a particularly attractive alternative. And the simple fact is, most people into genuine BIG screen video are likely to upgrade to the latest and greatest new projector long before 20,000 hours of viewing is logged on any given unit.
Brightness uniformity. Brightness uniformity measured 63%, which is poor but a not uncommon downside to ultra short throw projection. When viewing a white 100 IRE test pattern you can see the brightness tend to fade toward the upper corners. The good news is that this is rarely noticeable when viewing live video material since you have no way to know what the relative brightness of various elements in the picture is supposed to be. Dedicated home theater videophiles are not going to be happy with low uniformity, but those are not the buyers the LS100 is designed to appeal to. Consumers who are using the LS100 as a television replacement in ambient light will never see or be aware of the difference.
Input Lag. The measured lag is 30 ms in Game mode and 52 ms in all other modes.
Fan noise. The LS100's fan noise is modest for this bright a projector and consists of medium frequencies that are not particularly distracting. In Quiet mode, fan noise drops substantially. Since the LS100 is positioned very close to the screen and heat is exhausted from the side of the projector, it is unlikely that fan noise in any illumination mode will be an issue.
High Altitude mode is required at over 5,000 feet, and it actually produces a rather small increment in fan noise. Surprisingly, you can still select Quiet mode while in HA mode, and fan noise drops back to where it was at low altitude. We don't think fan noise will be an issue for LS100 users at high altitudes.
Lamp Life. The rating for the laser light engine is 20,000 hours in Normal and Quiet modes, 30,000 hours in Extended mode.
Whether you install the LS100 on a credenza, its own storage cabinet, or on a wall-mount just above the screen, it is critical to make sure the projector is not angled toward the screen either vertically or horizontally. While the LS100 provides a variety of ways to square up a distorted image (keystone, corner, and arc corrections), all of them reduce image resolution. The effect may be small, but full native 1080p resolution can only be preserved by careful mounting of the projector.
Update: With respect to vertical offset, for a 120" image (16:10 aspect ratio) with the LS100 on the floor, the bottom of the image is 19" up the wall (or 11 1/2" above the top of the LS100). As additional info for that image size, the front of the projector (not the lens) would be 15 3/4" from the wall.
Screen is critical.
A vital requirement for all UST projectors is that the screen or projection surface be perfectly flat and smooth. Any waviness or warp in the screen shows up much more with a UST projector because of its acute upward angle of projection. You can project onto a bare wall as long as it is flat and smooth -- any texture or imperfections in the wall's finish will show up as artifacts in the image. Pop-up screens are useless, and tab-tensioned pulldown screens work only if they are of high enough quality to hold the screen perfectly flat (most of the cheaper ones won't).
Ambient Light Rejection Screen. For dark viewing room usage, ambient light not a concern and a wide range of conventional screens can be matched with the LS100. However, if you want to plan for use in ambient light, an Ambient Light Rejection (ALR) screen will substantially improve the sizzle and contrast of the picture.
Since the LS100 is a UST projector that throws light onto the screen at a steep angle, an ALR screen designed specifically for use with UST projectors is required. Several major screen manufacturers make these screens including Screen Innovations, Da-lite, Draper, Elite, and Grandview. The problem is that these specialty screens in a size of 120" diagonal can run $4,000 and up to as much as $6,000, which is more than most people spending $3,000 for a projector are willing to spend on a screen to go with it.
Therefore we selected the aggressively priced Viewsonic BCP120 for testing with the LS100. This ALR screen is designed for UST projection. Though it is priced at $2,399 on Viewsonic's website, the 120" version is currently available for only $1,599 on Amazon. There is also a 100" version, the ViewSonic BCP100 for $1,199 on Amazon and may be the better option if you are going to run in full room light most of the time. These ViewSonic fixed frame screens are easy to assemble and the frames are rigid enough to deliver the perfectly flat surface required for successful UST installations. During our testing of the LS100, as expected, the LS100's image on the BCP120 showed far more "pop" in a room with plenty of indirect ambient light than it did on a white screen (or a white wall for that matter). So as a price/performer it is excellent. (We have not evaluated the Viewsonic screen in comparison to the more expensive ALR screens made for UST projectors.)
Image Size. If you cannot get the LS100 close enough to the screen to reduce the image size to fit your screen, you have the option of using the Tele control to reduce the image size. While this digital zoom is easy to use, changing the image size from full Wide via the Tele control reduces image resolution. This is not an optical zoom where resolution is preserved . . . it is a digital effect that simply compresses the image into fewer pixels. For reference, the digital "zoom ratio" (Wide-to-Tele) for the LS100 is 1.35:1.
Throw Distance. The LS100 is rated for an in-focus throw distance measured from the lens ranging from 15" to 29" for images ranging from 70" to 130" in 16:10 format, and 68" to 127" in 16:9 format. Image size is directly proportional to throw distance since there is no optical zoom lens. For our sample unit, we found that satisfactory focus could be maintained over lens throw distances ranging from 14.5" to 30" and image sizes of 65" to 135" in 16:10 format, so there are a couple inches of grace between the spec and the actual start of image sharpness degradation. With respect to throw distance, the 70"-130" 16:10 video image is achieved with the projector's lens placed 15" to 29" from the screen. The lens sits 12.5" back from the front edge of the case, so the front of the case is actually 3" to 19" from the screen.
Sound. The built-in 16-watt speaker is plenty for a small- to medium-sized room, and it is buzz- and rattle-free over its entire range. Nevertheless we hope most users will install a surround sound system to complement the full cinematic impact of the very large picture.
No frame interpolation. In a word, bummer. All Epson home theater projectors have frame interpolation --even the entry level Home Cinema 2040 for $700 has it -- but this feature was dropped from the LS100 for some reason. This is one of our favorite features on many home theater products as it smooths juddering motion that tends to be more apparent in very large scale images that it is in flat panel TV size display. Some people don't like frame interpolation and don't use it even when their projector has it, but we will miss it on the LS100.
No 3D. Many never cared for 3D to begin with, but it still has a lot of enthusiastic fans. If you're one of them and you want to be able to view your 3D movie collection on your next projector you will need something other than the LS100. If you want to stick with ambient light, laser based ultra short throw units similar to the LS100, the 3D-enabled options would be the Optoma ZH400UST, the Viewsonic LS820, and the Vivitek DH765Z-UST, all of which are native 1080p, UST and laser-based, selling at about the same $3,000 price point.
Picture size limited to 130". We actually were able to push LS100 to 135" in 16:10 without a loss of sharp focus, but this is the realistic limit. Epson's official limit of 130" applies to 16:10, but ensures that nobody will try to put up a 16:9 any larger than 130". For those wondering why a 4000 lumen projector cannot go bigger than this, it is an optical limitation of the focal range of the lens, and it has nothing to do with the lumen potential.
The Epson LS100 is one of a rare new breed of home theater projectors that combine high quality video processing, Full HD resolution, the long operational life of laser technology, and the ease and convenience of ultra short throw. While the three competing models just noted above have 3D, none of them have frame interpolation. Moreover, they are all DLP projectors while the LS100 is 3LCD. So bear in mind that the ANSI lumen ratings are not necessarily apples to apples comparisons once full color brightness is taken into account. Lab test measurements would need to be done to determine their actual comparative brightness in video optimized operation. The LS100's 3LCD light engine also ensures that there are no rainbow artifacts.
At the end of the day, the Epson LS100 is a very unique projector -- the only 3LCD, Full HD model on the market that combines ultra short throw with a 20,000 hour laser light source and enough lumen power to fill a 120" or even 130" screen in moderate ambient light. Though you can mount it above the screen with an optional wall mount, we suspect many will want to go for the easy placement of the projector directly under the screen on a credenza or low table.
The Epson LS100's ultimate objective is to give you a much larger and more immersive cinematic experience than you can get from flat panel TVs, and it does this in spades. A 120" 16:9 screen is 43 square feet, or three times the square footage of a 70" TV. If you want that feeling of really being at the game or the concert instead of seeing it on TV, picture size makes all the difference in the world.
Epson plans to commence shipments of the LS100 by the end of this month, and it will be available on Amazon in early November. We will update this review with links to resellers once it is available.
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