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Epson Goes Under $1,000: the PowerLite S1

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Epson PowerLite S1 Projector Epson PowerLite S1
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400:1 Contrast Ratio
1200 Lumens
Street Price: n/a

These are golden times for folks who want to spend under $1,000 on a projector. On May 12 Epson announced the new PowerLite S1. At $999, it is their first digital projector to go below the $1,000 price barrier. Not to be outdone, several competitors to Epson have followed suit. InFocus dropped the price of their X1 to $999, Viewsonic's PJ500 was lowered to $999, and last week NEC announced a $200 rebate off of their popular VT460. The VT460's current street price is $1,195, so with rebate you can now get it for a mere $995 (as of this writing the rebate offer is scheduled to expire August 31). Therefore if you are looking to spend less than a thousand dollars for a projector, you suddenly have a few to choose from.

All of these are SVGA (800x600) resolution projectors. And all of them feature LCD technology, with the exception of the DLP-based InFocus X1. The primary focus of this review is the Epson S1. However, we will make some comments on the others at the end.

Epson S1 Product Overview

The PowerLite S1 is rated at 1200 ANSI lumens with 400:1 contrast. The unit features three 0.5" LCD panels with Micro Lens Array, which contributes to a softening of the pixel grid and reduces the screendoor effect that video enthusiasts find bothersome.

This projector has a small 130W UHE lamp with a 2000 hour life. Replacement lamps cost a trifling $199. That might sound like a lot for a lamp to the first-time projector buyer. But high pressure lamps are expensive, and most competing products have lamps that can cost up to twice that much. So it is a BIG deal for projectors in this price range.

The S1 is designed for portability. It weighs 7 lbs. and is 14.6 inches wide, 10.4 inches long, and 4.2 inches high. It comes with a soft-cover carrying case so it can be taken on the road, moved easily from classroom to classroom, or taken home in the evening to do double duty as a home entertainment machine.

The User Manual says you can adjust the size of the image by rotating the zoom ring. However, this unit has no zoom ring. The S1 has a fixed lens with a focus ring. It also has a 1.2x digital zoom. What that means is that from any distance it will throw a fixed full frame 4:3 image in 800x600 resolution. The digital zoom feature will cause the image to shrink within that fixed frame by up to 20%. That lets you match the image to a screen if the screen happens to be too small for the throw distance you have to work with. However, you are throwing away some pixel resolution and light output when you do that. The digital zoom also darkens, thickens, and slightly fuzzes detailed text and numbers (some presenters actually prefer that effect since it heightens contrast and improves visibility from a distance).

The fixed lens is a mild wide angle, throwing a fairly large image from a short distance. The calculation is easy--the diagonal in inches is ten times the number of feet of throw distance. So an 80" diagonal image (full 800x600) is obtained from a throw distance of 8 feet. Move it back to a distance of ten feet, and you get a 100" diagonal picture.

This projector is compatible with all major data and video formats including HDTV 1080i, 720p, and component progressive 480p, NTSC, PAL, and SECAM. It will compress and display an XGA resolution data signal.

The connector panel on the rear of the unit is simple. There is one 15-pin VGA port for computer and component video inputs. There is one 15-pin VGA output for monitor loop through. There is one each of composite and S-video jacks, and one set of audio inputs to drive the single 1W speaker on board. Lastly, there is an RS-232C control port.

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