Epson EX31 SVGA 3LCD Projector
  • Performance
  • 4
  • Features
  • Ease of Use
  • Value
Price
$349 MSRP Discontinued

The Epson EX31 is an LCD-based SVGA (800x600) projector rated at 2500 lumens. At 5.1 lbs, it is portable and good for both business and classroom use (even though Epson doesn't market it as an education projector). Noteworthy features include the option to send data images over a USB cable, the ability to pack up the projector just a second or two after turning it off, and security features to discourage theft. These extras make the EX31 stand out from the rest of the budget-price crowd, at $549.99 direct. (There is no education discount available.)

Advantages

Wide brightness range. The EX31's measured brightness in its brightest mode is lower than its rating, but not as far off as with most projectors. At 2284 lumens -- 91% of the 2500 lumen rating -- it's easily bright enough for a large image that can stand up to the ambient light in most classrooms and offices.

The projector also offers about a half-dozen additional preset modes that deliver a wide range of brightness levels for lower lighting conditions. With the lamp in normal mode, the other presets range from a measured 1386 to 1780 lumens, with several steps in between. In addition, Eco mode dropped brightness by about 20% in our tests, with the brightest setting measured at 1793 lumens. Using Eco mode increases the life of the $199 lamp from 4,000 to 5,000 hours, making it a viable option considering the relatively small loss of brightness.

Still another way to vary the brightness is with the EX31's "zoom" feature, which is labeled as wide angle and telephoto. But this is not achieved with an optical zoom lens as on most other projectors; it is strictly digital. The full wide setting uses all the pixels available on the LCDs. Each step towards full telephoto uses fewer and fewer pixels, scaling the image down at each step. The extreme "telephoto" setting uses only about half the pixels of the full size screen and cuts the brightness down to match. We measured it at 1187 lumens with the projector's brightest setting. Though it is effective as a means of curtailing brightness, it causes a loss of resolution at the same time.

Excellent brightness uniformity. The brightness uniformity is 94%, a level of variance that simply isn't visible to the human eye even with a solid white screen. Rarely do we see projectors deliver such even illumination.

Good basic connectivity. The EX31 lacks a VGA monitor pass-through, but offers a typical set of connectors for a portable projector otherwise: a VGA port for connecting to a computer or a component video source, S-video and composite video ports, a stereo miniplug audio input, a stereo miniplug audio output, and a USB port.

The USB port serves one of three functions, depending on how it's set. By default, it lets you substitute a USB cable for the more common, but bulkier, VGA cable for data signals. Alternatively, you can set the port to let you control the computer's mouse cursor as well as give page up and page down commands through the projector's remote or set it to just let you give page up and page down commands. Unfortunately, you can't use it for both data signals and for controlling the mouse or page up and page down at the same time.

 

USB Plug 'n Play. Epson has its own proprietary approach for sending data signals over a USB connection. Assuming the projector is set to use the USB port for data, the first time you connect to a given Windows computer, you'll see a window asking if it's okay to install the software the computer needs. (The feature doesn't work with other operating systems.) If you let it install -- a process that took about 15 seconds in our tests -- the projector will then show the image as promised. If the software is already installed, it takes only a second or two after you plug in the cable and choose USB as the source for the image to show.

The USB connection works well enough to be usable, but the image is a little sluggish compared to using a VGA cable. In our tests, it had no trouble keeping up with typing into a Word document, but minimizing and restoring windows, dragging windows, and moving the mouse cursor (using the computer's controls) was visibly jerky at the computer's default resolution of 1280 by 800 -- a typical laptop resolution today. Unless you're willing to change your resolution to SVGA when connected to the projector -- a choice that rearranges all the icons on the Windows desktop -- the USB connection is probably best avoided for things like presentations with animation effects.

Good image quality. The EX31 scored reasonably well for both data and video images. It's a little weak on contrast, with even a total black screen showing noticeable light in a dark room, but the lack of deep dark blacks isn't all that significant in a projector that's meant to be used primarily with the lights on in a classroom or office. The auto-iris feature, which is on by default, also helps improve the perceived contrast. In our video tests, the projector handled skin tones well, and didn't show any motion artifacts or other obvious problems. It's certainly suitable for showing video in classrooms or a business context.

Security features. Some budget projectors largely ignore security features, offering a Kensington lock or security bar to wrap a cable around, but little else. The EX31 includes a security bar and a $74.95 Kensington lock option, but also goes further, with power-on password protection and the ability to create a customized startup screen.

The password consists of your choice of four numbers. The startup screen can be any image. Create it on your computer, and then tell the projector to capture it. One nice touch is that you have to enter the password only if you've unplugged the projector since you've last used it, or you want to change the password or startup screen. If you keep the projector plugged in, you won't get nagged for a password every time you turn it on.

Power saving features. The EX31 has two standby mode settings. In the default setting as shipped it's rated at just 0.3 watts, which is consistent with the 0 reading from a Kill-a-Watt meter, which reports only full watts. There's also a second mode, rated at 2.6 watts and measured as wavering between 1 and 2 watts, that will let you control the projector from a computer while in standby mode. However, there's little reason to use that mode with a portable projector.

The EX31 also saves a bit of power every time you turn it off, by going to standby mode in just 2 to 3 seconds. This also adds to its portability by letting you turn it off and then move it immediately.

There are also two timers to automatically turn the projector off if you forget to. One turns off the projector after 1 to 30 minutes (depending on the setting) without a signal. The other turns it off if the sliding lens cover, which also serves as a mute command, is closed for 30 minutes. You can't change the time for the lens cover timer, but you can turn it on or off.

 

Limitations

No optical zoom. As already mentioned, the EX31's zoom feature is digital, not optical. Assuming the computer is set to the projector's native resolution, at any image size smaller than the full "wide-angle" setting, the projector has to compress the signal to fit the available pixels. For images with certain kinds of patterns, this compression creates artifacts that can be annoying. If you run into this problem and find it bothersome, the only solution is to not use the zoom feature.

May need cables. The EX31 comes with a power cord and both VGA and USB cables. That's one cable more than most projectors come with, but if you want to use the video or audio ports, you'll have to buy cables separately,

Low volume. Even at top volume, the EX31's 1 watt mono speaker is barely worth having in a small conference room and is severely underpowered for a classroom. If you need audio, you'll need an external sound system or external powered speakers to plug into the audio output port.

One Year Warranty. You can buy an extended the warranty, of course, but only a 1-year warranty is included in the price.

Conclusion

The EX31 offers a much more impressive list of strengths than weaknesses. The lack of an optical zoom may be bothersome in some circumstances, but it's not a deal breaker, and the low audio volume and lack of cables is typical for portable projectors. On the other hand, it delivers reasonably good portability and image quality, useful power saving settings, a standout selection of security options, and a USB connection feature that, at the very least, can be a welcome fallback if you misplace your VGA cable. Whether you need a budget projector for business or the classroom, the EX31 should fit nicely.

For comparative information between the Epson EX31, the Sanyo PDG-DSU30, and the Viewsonic PJD5112, read our comparison of these three projectors.

For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Epson EX31 projector page.

Comments (2) Post a Comment
Danny castillo Posted Sep 17, 2011 4:32 PM PST
What is wrong when I get a yellow light on the bottom of the screen everything is fine except the bottom do I needa replace the lamp or what?
Brian Sutherland Posted Oct 13, 2013 7:45 AM PST
Are there mounts available to mount the Epson EX31 on a tripod?

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