Epson's 730c: Best of Class in 2000-Lumen Portables
Periodically a new projector hits the market that redefines performance for its price class. The Epson Powerlite 730c is just such a product. Weighing just 4.3 lbs, it is currently the brightest projector on the market under 5 lbs., and the only one rated at 2000 ANSI lumens. For mobile presenters looking for maximum firepower in a small package, the Epson 730c may be your answer.
"Is this really true?" you ask. 2000 lumens out of a four-pound projector? The answer is yes. Unlike the inflated lumen ratings in many vendors' marketing literature, when you read a lumen spec on an Epson spec sheet you can be reasonably certain that it is accurate. Or at least much closer to accurate than most of the competition. We measured our evaluation unit at 1,934 ANSI lumens, or 3.3% below the rated spec. That's well within manufacturing tolerances that, due to the nature of the technology, can vary by as much as 15% from machine to machine.
To put it into perspective, 1,934 ANSI lumens is, by far, the highest reading we've yet taken from any projector rated at 2000 ANSI lumens. By comparison, all other "2000 lumen" machines we've had in the lab measure below 1650 ANSI lumens, and most measure below 1500. Epson deserves a great deal of credit for maintaining high standards of spec integrity in a market where so many of its competitors have succumbed to pressure to inflate the numbers.
The Epson 730c is the smallest, lightest, and brightest LCD projector ever to hit the market. It is native XGA (1024 x 768) resolution and has the ability to compress up to UXGA (1600 x 1200). Contrast rating is 400:1 which is very good performance for this class of product. It delivers ample contrast for data presentations, and average performance in video. Lamp life is 1500 hours which is nothing exceptional, so estimate your usage and check prices on lamp replacements before buying.
The 730c has a limited range zoom lens. The zoom factor is 1.16x, which means you can alter the size of the image by 16% from smallest to largest. That is enough to adjust the unit to fit a fixed screen, but not enough to give you great latitude on where you place the projector. The 730c throws a 92" diagonal 4:3 image from about 11 feet at the mid-point of its zoom range, and from that position the image can be reduced to 85" or expanded to 98" diagonal. That's about average for this class of product. The Mits XD200 and the InFocus LP530 both require the same 11 feet for that size image. The PLUS U2-X2000 requires 13 feet. And the Hitachi CP-X380W requires 14 feet from the midpoint of its zoom to hit a 92" screen, although its 1.3x zoom factor gives it wider latitude for image size adjustment.
Fan noise is rated at 39 dB, which of course means nothing to the buyer. Practically speaking, the 730c's fan noise is moderate compared to its competitors; not the loudest we've encountered, but not the quietest either. In a large conference room or classroom it is unabtrusive. In a small conference room with just a few people present, you'd wish it was a bit quieter. However, a small conference room is not what this unit was built for anyway—the blazing light output will easily light up a small auditorium screen. As a practical matter, if your audience is normally just a few people in a small setting, the light output of the 730c may be uncomfortably bright, and you'd probably want to opt for a lower lumen output machine.
Part of what you sacrifice for the privilege of carrying only 4.3 pounds is audio. This unit has a single one-watt speaker which is inadequate for use with a large audience. So plan for a separate audio system if your presentation to a crowd incorporates audio. (This is the case for all portables in this weight class and does not constitute a competitive weakness in the 730c).
Digital zoom ("E-zoom") is excellent. You can increase the image size four times in 24-step increments. The expanded image is well defined, and easy to move about with the four directional buttons on the remote.
Speaking of the remote, it is a credit card size device with controls for menu access, signal source selection, a/v mute, freeze, and e-zoom. It can be used also as a wireless mouse that lets you move and control the cursor on the screen or change slides in a PowerPoint presentation. Worried about losing the small remote? No need to be, for it stores nicely onboard the projector in a compartment on the back of the unit when not in use.
Video and graphics
The 730c will display HDTV, both 1080i and 720p through the single RGB port. It has a conventional composite video jack and S-video port. However it also recognizes 480p, so you can use an external line doubler or a progressive scan DVD player to feed it better component video signals. That produces a better picture than you will get with just composite or S-video.
Video performance is above average for this type of product. It produces a stable, watchable image that is easy to enjoy, particularly when the source is a progressive scan DVD player. It is not quite the caliber of the best home theater projectors in this price range, but none of them can do what the 730c can do either. This is a mobile presentation projector with video as a secondary application.
Graphics look very good on the 730c. Color is outstanding as is usual for Epson products, and the images are more than competitive with other 2000 lumen products on the market. However, the Epson 713c would still be our first choice if your primary display material is photographs, artwork etc.
It is easy to give the Epson 730c our strongest recommendation for high performance mobile presentation use. It just commenced shipment and should be in your dealer's hands momentarily if they don't have it already. However, demand will be high, so make sure to verify that your dealer has it in stock and is able to ship before placing the order. This will be a hot product, and we would not be surprised to see some order backlogs.