Epson LS12000 4K PRO-UHD Laser Projector Review
Tony O'Brien tries out an impressive new flagship 4K laser projector…
EH-LS12000B 4K Laser Projector
AUD $8,999 RRP
Affordable laser projection has gone from pipe-dream to reality in the blink of an eye. And when it comes to affordability, Epson has led the pack in recent years. Its EH-TW9400, in our opinion, is still the most affordable, quality home cinema projector that money can buy. So when Epson announced the most affordable 4K laser projector yet, we were all ears.
Enter Epson's new EH-LS12000B, which replaces the EH-TW9400 as the company's flagship home cinema projector. Unlike the latter, which is lamp-based, this employs a blue laser phosphor light source with a quoted lifespan of 20,000 hours. Peak luminance is quoted at 2,700 lumens, a slight increase over its predecessor. However, unlike a bulb that can lose as much as half of its brightness before its end of life, the laser light source will maintain its luminance for a far greater period. It also promises purer whites and faster start-ups and shutdowns.
In addition to higher light output, it adds a new polarisation filter to combat the inherent light leak of LCD projectors and thereby improve black levels. And it's also equipped with a native 1,920x1,080 chipset that uses pixel-shifting to achieve its stated 4K resolution. Epson, however, has gone back to the drawing board and designed a new two-axis shifting system.
Thanks to the visual phenomenon known as 'persistence of image', the new pixel-shifting image produces the full 8.3 million pixels instead of the 4.1 million pixels of the EH-TW9400. We've found similar systems produce excellent results in our testing, but we're yet to see one that can match native 4K chipsets. Another critical aspect in creating sharp images, says Epson, is the quality of the lens. The EH-LS12000 sports the same high-quality fifteen element aspheric glass lens structure as the EH-TW9400.
The new Epson flagship adds three 32-bit processors, which significantly increases horsepower over the 10-bit processors of its predecessor. With this comes real-time colour, contrast, improvements to HDR processing, improved resolution and frame interpolation of 4K sources.
The EH-LS12000B has 10-bit HDR colour processing, with 12-bit analogue to digital video processing to reduce banding/contouring. Unlike its competitors' dynamic tone mapping capabilities, the EH-12000B handles HDR a little differently. On the one hand, it offers the same sixteen step HDR curve adjustment tool as its predecessor. As effective as we've found it to be, it does require manual intervention to obtain the best image. On the other hand, Scene Adaptive Gamma works automatically with SDR and HDR sources. It analyses and applies contrast enhancement on a 'frame by frame' basis irrespective of the incoming meta-data.
Interestingly, Epson has chosen to drop the colour filter used in the EH-TW9400. While it enabled it to achieve the wider P3 (ultra HD) colour gamut, the subsequent loss in light output made images unwatchable.
The EH-LS12000B has a quoted input lag of 20 milliseconds, while the new HDMI 2.1 (HDCP 2.3) adds support for 4K/120 fps and eARC/ARC. In addition to HDR10 and HLG, the EH-LS12000B adds support for HDR10+. An open-source alternative to Dolby Vision, it brings Dynamic Tone Mapping with compatible HDR10+ material.
Save for its mottled matt black finish, the EH-LS12000B is identical in terms of appearance to its predecessor. Its sleek, black curvy cabinet allows it to fit into smaller spaces. Air intake and outtakes flank its centrally mounted lens, surrounded by a chrome ring. Operating noise is quoted at 20dB 'quiet' and 30dB 'normal'. These numbers matched our observations, the projector noticeably quieter with the laser set below 75%. Given its price point, one welcome inclusion is a lens door that automatically opens and closes when the projector's powered on and off.
The EH-LS12000B has a motorised lens, enabling focus, zoom and lens shift to be adjusted directly from the remote. It also has ten lens memories, in addition to image memories. The lens offers a +/- 47% horizontally and +/- 96% vertical shift, enabling it to squeeze into tighter spaces.
Connections are on the back of the projector and consist of two HDCP 2.3 HDMI inputs with eARC/ARC available on the second HDMI input. You'll also find a USB A, RS232c, inputs, an Ethernet connection and a 3.5mm mini-jack.
A three-chip LCD projector, the EH-LS12000B includes panel alignment controls, with the option to align the whole panel and separate zones. Functional, it does a decent enough job, my nitpick being that the size of the zones is quite large, resulting in fewer adjustable zones.
Epson has given the entire menu system an overhaul, and the EH-LS12000B is all the better for it. It's not only easier on the eye with a snazzy blue background and new font, but easier to find your way around. Menu trees are still at the heart of the new menu, but rather than being forced to go into and out of the various sub menus, every control can be accessed by scrolling through the main page. Another helpful inclusion is that it recalls frequently accessed controls and puts them at the top of the menu.
The supplied remote control is the same one that Epson has now used for several generations. Although hardly chic, it is well laid out with large, easily accessible buttons, and the backlight feature is a welcome addition. In addition to the warranty card and a quick setup guide, the manual can be downloaded from the Epson website. The box also contained a plastic cable cover, which clips onto the back of the projector.
For this review, the EH-LS12000B was connected with optical HDMI to the video output of a JBL SDR-35 AV receiver. Source devices consisted of a Panasonic UB9000 4K Blu-ray player and Apple TV. Images were projected onto a 100” (1.0 gain) Severtson Cinegray 16.9 screen. Speakers consisted of VAF Signature i91 front and centres and four VAF i90 speakers for surround and overhead Atmos channels. Two custom 10-inch VAF Gravitas subwoofers were used for a 5.2.2 Atmos layout. Please read on if you would like to learn more about how Epson's EH-LS12000B measured and calibrated. Otherwise, feel free to skip the following section…
MEASUREMENTS AND CALIBRATION
The Epson EH-LS12000B was calibrated to industry standards for SDR and HDR with a Klein Instruments K10A colourimeter, profiled against a reference-grade 2nm JETI 1501 spectroradiometer. Test patterns for SDR and HDR were rendered by a Murideo 6G pattern generator, with 10% window patterns used for calibration and measuring light output. Test patterns were also provided from the Spears & Munsil HDR Benchmark and DVS HDR10 discs.
Contrast ratios and black levels are included but were measured in my viewing environment rather than a controlled testing environment. Nonetheless, it provides us with the means to compare contrast ratios between projectors we review here at StereoNET, as they're all tested in the same viewing environment.
The EH-LS12000B has five selectable picture modes consisting of Dynamic, Vivid, Bright Cinema, Cinema and Natural. Calibration controls include both two and 11 point grayscale controls, customisable gamma and a six-point colour management system or CMS.
As expected, in its Dynamic and Bright modes, the EH-LS12000B produced the brightest images. However, it came at the cost of colour accuracy with unnatural images. In its more accurate Natural picture mode and with the laser set to 75%, it produced an impressive 122 nits. Increasing the laser to 100% yielded a significant 163 nits. With the laser at 75%, I measured a sequential contrast ratio of 4,248:1 and a black level of 0.029 nits. Surprisingly, with Dynamic Contrast (Dynamic Iris) in its Normal mode, the EH-LS12000B only slightly improved on this number with a contrast ratio of 4,589:1 and a black floor of 0.027 nits. With Dynamic Contrast set to High, it produced a more respectable contrast ratio of 22,952:1 and a measured black level of 0.005 nits. So to get the best black levels, Dynamic Contrast should be set to High.
I calibrated the EH-LS12000B in Natural mode for both SDR and HDR. After calibration and with the laser set at 50%, it produced 72 nits (21 fL) in SDR and 108 nits (31.5 fL) in HDR with the laser at 75%. After calibration, it exhibited extremely accurate greyscale tracking with an average dE of 0.67. When it's widely accepted that a Delta Error below 3.0 is 'good' and Delta Errors below 2.0 are 'imperceivable', it's an outstanding result. This level of accuracy was achieved due to the new greyscale controls, which offer a greater level of precision than those of the EH-TW9400. The high level of accuracy was also due to the superb out-of-the-box gamma tracking of the EH-LS12000B.
Post calibration colour accuracy was equally impressive, with an average dE of 0.88 and max dE of 3.16. The high level of accuracy the EH-LS12000B can achieve means it should be able to reproduce movies faithfully to the source/director's intent, free of unwanted colour manipulation. In Natural Mode, the EH-LS12000B achieved 86.01% of UHDA-P3 Percent 1931 xy or 89.77% of UHDA-P3 Percent 1976 uv: 89.77%. BT.2020 gamut coverage came in at 63.34% of xy and 67.87% of uv.
The EH-LS12000 B's strong black levels and high luminance capabilities produce striking HDR images with an excellent sense of depth and detail. SDR performance is no less impressive; its punchy images exhibiting a beautiful sense of depth. Colours appear strongly saturated yet remain both natural and convincing, while the new pixel shifting engine and high-quality lens produce sharp images.
The ever-familiar Wolverine Blu-ray (SDR) locked and loaded the EH-LS12000 B's black levels and gamma tracking, giving images an excellent sense of depth and 'pop'. I didn't observe any image pumping or sudden changes in brightness with the Dynamic Contrast Control set to high. Colour reproduction was equally impressive and a clear step over its predecessors; this projector was able to satisfyingly render the myriad skin tones of the guests at Yoshida's funeral.
With the Netflix production of Don't Listen (SDR), the Epson's excellent greyscale tracking gave the neutral and earthy tones a natural look free of any unwanted colour intrusion. The tweed of the councillor's jacket and the ribbing of her turtle neck jumper were surprisingly clear and free of artefacts with the upscaled 1080p source. Moving to the demonstration reel of the Spear & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark, the projector demonstrated both an excellent sense of sharpness and detail.
The 4K images provided by this projector are a step up over the EH-TW9400 but fall just short of the sense of image detail and refinement provided by true 4K projectors. Furthermore, getting the best from HDR images requires some manual intervention, but the results are well worth it. With the HDR' slider' and Scene Adaptive Gamma controls adjusted to taste, the EH-LS12000B produces stunning HDR images, with its solid black levels and high luminance breathing life into HDR content. On the HDR10 4K Blu-ray of GhostBusters: Afterlife, the EH-LS12000B gave the transfer the visual excitement it deserves. The film's many darker scenes exhibited not only a wonderful sense of depth but also detail.
When the combination of light and dark comes together, though, it truly shines. The beams of the proton guns or the sparks of electricity from Egon's generator were dazzlingly bright, reminding you why you bought into the HDR format. Such scenes can be a torture test for LCD projectors, with light bleeding into black backgrounds. While the EH-LS12000B couldn't quite match the pixel for pixel contrast ratios achievable with high-end DLP projectors, it's one of the better LCD projectors I've tested.
It isn't just special effects that benefit from the solid blacks and high luminance. As Eddie and Anne sit in a bar in the 4K HDR Blu-ray of Venom, the lights behind the bar and the lamps used to light the booths provide an excellent contrast to the otherwise dark confines. As bright as the highlights are, they don't overwhelm the image, the subtlety of detail in the darker background coming away relatively unscathed. Colour and skin tone reproduction, like its SDR counterparts, has a somewhat saturated appearance but nonetheless remains convincing and natural.
With the 4K Blu-Ray of The Ten Commandments, images were surprisingly sharp, thanks to the EH-LS12000 B's new pixel shifting engine. It's a noticeable step-up on the EH-TW9400 but falls just short of the sense of refinement I've seen with actual 4K chipsets. In reality, though, I suspect few will notice the difference.
Putting Epson's new EH-LS12000B through its paces gave us an appreciation of how much care has gone into building this projector. While getting the best HDR images from it requires some initial manual intervention, it's a simple affair, and the effort is well worth it. It's no slouch with SDR either – its black levels and accurate gamma tracking give images a superb sense of depth. Meanwhile, its ability to produce sharp images with accurate colours and skin tones is the icing on the cake. So it is a worthy successor to the EH-TW9400 and an excellent projector in its own right – upholding Epson's legacy of providing superb value for money.
As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.
JOIN IN THE DISCUSSION
Want to share your opinion or get advice from other enthusiasts? Then head into the Message Forums where thousands of other enthusiasts are communicating on a daily basis.
CLICK HERE FOR FREE MEMBERSHIP