Epson Home Cinema LS100 Laser, Ultra Short Throw Projector
The Epson Home Cinema LS100 is an all new Ultra-Short-Throw (UST) Laser projector intended for living or home entertainment rooms where ambient light is expected and desired. The LS100's UST design lets you place the projector directly under the screen, so it eliminates ceiling mounting and simplifies the installation process. The laser light engine gives you 20,000 hours of viewing in full lamp power operation, and up to 30,000 hours if you run in a lumen reduced mode.
Due to the optical properties of ultra short throw lenses, UST projectors typically have a maximum image size beyond which they cannot focus sharply. The Epson LS100 specs call for a maximum of 130" diagonal in 16:10 aspect ratio, which is equal to 127" diagonal in 16:9. (We were able to push it a few extra inches to about 135" in 16:10 without any compromise in image sharpness.) Rated at 4,000 lumens, the LS100 has the muscle to illuminate a 130" screen in moderate ambient light conditions as well as the flexibility to dial back the lumen power for ideal dark room viewing.
The Epson LS100 is intended primarily for living room or ambient light use, so it is both brighter and lower in contrast than classic home theater projectors like the 5040UB. If you intend to use it in ambient light, we strongly urge you to consider an Ambient Light Rejection (ALR) screen to go with it. Warning -- most ALR screens DO NOT match well with ultra short throw projectors precisely because they are designed to reject ambient light coming at the screen from oblique angles. However, there are several ALR screens on the market that are specifically engineered for use with UST projectors. For this review we used the ViewSonic BCP120, which is a 120" diagonal fixed frame ALR screen designed for use with UST projectors. It is in many respects an ideal match with the LS100. (More on ALR screens in the Set Up section below.)
Even though Epson promotes the LS100 as a home theater/entertainment projector, it has a full stable of business features. Its 1920x1200 (WUXGA) resolution accommodates both Full HD 1080p and WUXGA signals natively. It has both wired and wireless networking, simultaneous multiple projector images, split-screen using two sources, and control and monitoring via Crestron and SNMP protocols. So we would not be surprised to find the LS100 being selected by professional A/V buyers for commercial conference rooms and meeting spaces where both UST projection and high quality video are desired.
With a price tag of $2,999, the Epson Home Cinema LS100 offers an easy, new laser-driven home theater and multipurpose room solution for those who want the truly big-scale 120" or 130" cinematic experience rather than having to settle for the size limitations of flat panel TVs.
The Epson LS100 delivers sufficient light output to produce a fully engaging picture with solid contrast up to 130" diagonal in moderate ambient light. When Epson has demo'd this new model for the press and at trade shows, they pair it with a good ALR screen. If you are planning to use the LS100 in ambient light, setting it up with an ALR screen should be part of your installation plan as well. On the other hand, if you are going to use it in a dedicated dark viewing room more like a classic home theater, the LS100 will deliver ample contrast on a conventional white or gray screen. But for multiple light condition use, with some viewing in dark theater conditions and some with lights on or daylight in the room, the ALR screen will be a very welcome addition.
Since the LS100's Cinema mode puts out 1,600 lumens even in Quiet mode, the 120" image we tested it with was outstanding in the dark. In low ambient light, the image was still impressive although it did benefit from a boost in lumen power by switching to Normal setting. In moderate ambient light, selecting Bright Cinema mode preserved image depth with only a slight blooming in highlights that was easily remedied by lowering contrast slightly.
The LS100 has a published contrast rating of 2,500,000:1. We no longer comment on the accuracy or relevance of contrast ratings. They may to some degree be useful in comparing the relative contrast of various models within any given vendor's product line. However, contrast ratings can never be used to compare projectors from two different vendors, and the numbers are best ignored.
With respect to the LS100, it is of course able to produce an image with ample contrast and sufficient black level to produce an engaging image. The subjective contrast of the picture will vary greatly by the amount of ambient light in the room, the type of screen that the LS100 is paired with, and the size of the screen. As is true with all front projection systems, the less ambient light there is, the higher the contrast and sparkle in the image. Perceived contrast also varies with the size of the image - the larger the image size the lower the contrast. If we were planning to use the LS100 in full room light as a television replacement, we would not only use an ALR screen, but we would also think about reducing the image size to 100" diagonal to concentrate the projector's light onto a smaller area, thereby increasing the pop of the picture. On the other hand, in low ambient light, going to 120" or even 130" is no problem at all.
Dynamic Mode. The other very noteworthy aspect of picture quality on the LS100 is that Dynamic mode is extremely bright (measuring a whopping 4850 lumens on our test sample), but also perfectly serviceable with reasonable color balance. We have seen too many projectors that feature a super bright Dynamic mode that is so screaming green in color tint that you would never want to use it for anything. This allows the projector to be marketed at a much higher lumen rating, but once you select any operating mode other than Dynamic in order to get rid of the green push, the lumen output drops precipitously.
To Epson's credit, they do not do this. On the LS100, Dynamic mode has a modest bias toward green but it is nowhere near the offensive green found on some competing models. For full lights on, and daylight-in-the-room Sunday afternoon football, you can switch to Dynamic mode to get the full sizzle and pop of the brightest picture the LS100 is capable of, and still have a reasonably well-tuned color picture. It does not have the precise color balance of the Cinema modes, but your friends will not be asking you why the picture looks so green. They probably won't notice anything wrong with the color at all.
A Note on 4K Compatibility. We initially viewed an LS100 demo in which it was represented that the LS100 was receiving and compressing a native 4K signal from an OPPO BDP-203 4K player. The picture itself was gorgeous, looking much closer to 4K than you'd expect possible from a projector with native 1080p imaging devices and no pixel shift. Upon further inquiry we've determined that the OPPO player was doing the 4K compression, not the LS100. So our initial report that the LS100 was able to accept a 4K signal was inaccurate. It turns out that what this demo did was illustrate (a) that the OPPO BPD-203 does a beautiful compression of a 4K signal, and (b) you'll end up with a picture that looks higher in resolution than native 1080p if you feed the LS100 a compressed 4K signal from the OPPO. Since we use the OPPO BDP-203, we haven't tested any other 4K players to determine how well they compress 4K to 1080p.
Epson LS100 Performance
Brightness. As has been the case on a number of Epson models reviewed lately, our test sample of the LS100 delivered quite a bit more light than its 4000 lumen rating, reading a remarkable 4850 lumens in Dynamic mode. The measured ANSI lumens for each color mode are as follows for the Normal Lamp and two different Eco lamp modes.
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.
Epson LS100 Set Up and Use
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.
Epson LS100 Limitations
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.
Our take on the Epson LS100
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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