Epson EH-LS300B Short Throw Laser Projector Review
Tony O'Brien gives you the big picture on this impressive new Ultra Short Throw Projector…
EH-LS300B Short Throw Laser Projector Review
US$2,000 | S$3,499
Home cinema needs big pictures, but it's no easy feat as apartment living becomes the new norm for many. And while TV sizes continue to grow, cinema-like images of 100-inches are where projectors dominate. So enter the short throw projector, capable of projecting images in excess of 100-inches just 30cm or so from a wall. Coupled with a small footprint and a price tag often lower than a big-screen TV, these projectors open up exciting possibilities.
Epson is the latest to join the fray with the release of its EH-LS300B and EH-LS500B Ultra Short Throw Projectors, either of which can be purchased as standalone units or bundled with a 100-inch or 120-inch ALR (Ambient Light Rejecting) Screen. The US$2,000 | S$3,499 EH-LS300B, tested here, is designed as a big-screen television replacement for casual viewing, while the EH-LS500B is intended for more critical applications.
Capable of projecting 120 inches from less than 40cm from a wall, the EH-LS300B uses a laser light source with a quoted lifespan of 20,000 hours. This number is based on the half-life of the light engine, which means light output is reduced by half at 20,000 hours. Epson promises 3,600 lumens and a deep-black contrast ratio of 2,500,000:1.
All its projectors use three-chip LCD technology. Unlike many of its 4K competitors, the EH-LS300B is a 1920x1080p 2K projector. Rightly so, this will give many pause for thought, but it's worth noting that 4K alternatives at this price point use a chipset with a native 1920x1080 resolution, digital manipulation used to create the added pixels. More importantly, the EH-LS300B can receive a 4K input signal up to 4K/60Hz 4:2:0 with 10 bit HDR. Such signals will be scaled to 1920x1080p but displayed in their full HDR glory. Alongside HDR-10, it's compatible with Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG). As with all the projectors we've encountered thus far, the EH-LS300B is not compatible with Dolby Vision signals.
Part of the new breed, this is a smart projector based on the Android platform, with streaming from Android and iOS devices supported via Google Chromecast. Like the recently reviewed BENQ W2700i, Netflix is notably absent from its list of streaming apps. Neither is it supported via Chromecast, so users will need to connect an external media streamer such as Apple TV or Nvidia Shield to the EH-LS300 B's HDMI inputs. As a smart projector, the EH-LS300B supports dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi, but lacks a dedicated Ethernet input. Yamaha has partnered with Epson to create an inbuilt 2.1 channel sound system rated at total 20 watts (5W per speaker and 10W for the woofer).
Finished in matt black, the EH-LS300B cuts a sleek profile, its modest 467x133x400mm dimensions making it an easy fit in most environments. The front of the projector is wrapped in speaker cloth covering the Yamaha drivers, which wraps its way around the unit's rounded corners. It's an unobtrusive piece of equipment and one that's hard to find offence with – aside from its lack of a white finish option, which would have been a welcome alternative for today's modern interiors.
Controls are situated on the right of the chassis, where you'll find switching for power, volume, Bluetooth and screen blanking – the latter providing a handy option when using the EH-LS300B to stream music. Behind a removable cover, you'll find a lever for focus. Moving to the back of the projector reveals two HDCP 2.3 HDMI inputs with ARC (HDMI 2 only), a USB A input, S/PDIF digital audio output and a service input (USB B mini). There's a small vent on the back of the unit, and vents for the internal fans on the right. The lens is inset into a concave, enabling it to project outward at a 45-degree angle from the top of the projector.
The bottom of the unit has three feet, the front two of which are adjustable and used to level the projector. In addition to the projector, the box contains a quick-start guide and remote. The latter is a simple enough affair, with a minimum of buttons enabling navigation of the Android interface, in addition to access to the projector's controls.
While short-throw projectors do away with the need for a bracket, getting the image aligned and at the correct height isn't as easy as it first appears. Lacking lens shift controls, the EH-LS300B needs to placed at the right height; while an entertainment unit or shelf should do the trick, keep it in mind when planning the install. With this done, the best practice is to situate the projector perpendicular to the wall or screen, level it and then fine-tune the geometry by making tiny adjustments with both the feet and the angle to which it hits the screen.
The corner adjustment will correct most geometry errors, but I'd suggest you use this control sparingly, if at all. Keystone adjustments such as this result in a loss of resolution, which leads to a softening of images. While it's a bit of work to get the image aligned correctly, a little patience and planning goes a long way and ultimately results in a better image.
Focus is strictly manual, so it's a matter of adjusting the focus lever to make images as sharp as possible. Focusing is somewhat thwarted by the fact that the lever is relatively coarse in control, and it was rather challenging to focus the projector over the entirety of the screen. Edge-to-edge focus is a problem that plagues projectors costing many times more than the EH-LS300B. Be that as it may, the Epson can't produce as sharp an image as the company's own similarly priced EH-TW9400. This is further compounded by the lack of panel alignment controls, which help sharpen images.
MEASUREMENTS & CALIBRATION
Calibration tools consisted of a JETI 1501 spectroradiometer and Klein K10A colourimeter (profiled against the JETI 1501). Each was tripod mounted with measurements taken directly from a 100” Severtson CineGray screen with Calman Ultimate calibration software. Patterns consisted of a mix of 10% and 18% windows, generated via a Murideo SIX-G Pattern Generator and the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark disc.
While contrast ratio and black level measurements are included, it's essential to understand the limitation of doing so outside of a controlled testing environment. It's for this reason that sequential contrast ratio was used, as opposed to the preferred method of ANSI contrast. Despite the flaws in using this testing method, it nonetheless provides a means for comparing black levels and contrast ratio between projectors for future reviews.
With the picture controls left in their default positions, I measured a whopping 200 nits in the EH-LS300 B's Dynamic Picture mode, a very respectable 120 nits in Vivid and Bright Cinema and Natural picture modes, and 110 nits in Cinema mode. Impressive numbers indeed from a projector at this price-point. Sequential Contrast was measured at 3,726:1 with Dynamic Contrast at High Speed. This number dropped to 1,121:1 for Normal and 910:1 with Dynamic Contrast turned off. With Dynamic Contrast set to High Speed the EH-LS300B produced a measured black level of 0.033 nits, which dropped to 0.111 nits for Normal and 0.135 nits when turned off.
The EH-LS300B has little in the way of picture controls. In addition to its five picture modes, you're left with a basic suite of controls, such as brightness, contrast, colour, colour temperature, sharpness, light output, dynamic contrast and Scene Adaptive Gamma. The latter bears special mention, as in addition to providing a means to adjust SDR gamma, it also allows users to adjust tone-mapping for HDR signals, Epson tells me.
For more critical viewing, I used the EH-LS300B in its Natural Picture mode, with colour temperature set to 9 and gamma at its lowest point, producing the most accurate images. This resulted in a Delta E that hovered around 6 to 7 and a noticeable blue tinge, which was preferable to the red or green push with from the other colour temperatures.
As fan noise was quite noticeable, light output was reduced to its minimum of 50, which produced 84 nits – more than enough for SDR viewing. Measured gamut coverage was 90% of Rec. 709, which lead to higher than typical colours errors, particularly with green. Lacking CMS, gamma and greyscale controls, there was no way to improve these numbers. This means more critical viewers are going to need to look toward the EH-LS500B, which Epson tells me has a more extensive range of calibration controls, or the EH-TW9400.
The EH-LS300B is a versatile performer, easily able to cope with small to modest amounts of ambient light, thanks to its high light output. With the lights out, it makes bright, punchy images with a good sense of depth. Although it doesn't offer the last word in colour accuracy, colour reproduction is decent. The Android interface was smooth in operation, offering the same level of performance we've come to expect from smart televisions.
The EH-LS300B is no different from most projectors in that it struggles with ambient light. Due to its high light output and short amount of distance to cover to produce images, it fairs better than most. With images projected onto a wall in a small apartment, images were very watchable with a modest amount of ambient light.
The Android interface proved smooth and lag-free in operation, working just as it would on your typical smart TV. Powering on times were snappy, and the Epson locked onto incoming sources from an Apple TV and XBOX quickly.
It's important to note that some 4K sources will need to be set to 1920x1080p to display correctly. For instance, we experienced significant lag with the XBOX, which was solved by changing the output resolution of the XBOX to 1080p. For more critical viewing, the EH-LS300B was connected to Sony UBP-X700, 4K UHD player the 4K Ultra HD player with images projected onto a Severtson 100” Cinegray Screen.
Starting with the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc of The 5th Wave, the Epson produced bright, punchy images with excellent contrast. Many projectors at this price-point struggle, delivering washed-out HDR images, but the EH-LS300B had no such compunctions. Its high brightness and black levels gave images a sense of crispness, depth and dimensionality. Epson deserves some credit for the tone-mapping algorithm. The Scene Adaptive Gamma control let me make changes quickly on the fly to adjust for the differing levels at which HDR content was produced.
Switching to the excellent 4K UHD Blu-ray disc of How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the Epson produced bright, often dazzling spectral highlights. Whether it was the flames on Hiccup's sword or the dragon's flames, these highlights jumped off the screen. As impressive as they were, discerning viewers would notice that they came at the cost of some high-level detail. This manifests in the form of clipping or detail lost in the subtle variations of flame, which is par for the course for most projectors at this price-point. Likewise, as the Dragon Riders fly back to Berk, the bright over-the-top colours of the village were noticeably subdued due to EH-LS300 B's limited colour gamut.
Switching to SDR material, the Epson continued to deliver the bright punchy images that I'd become accustomed to from HDR. With a myriad of skin tones from Viper's pasty complexion to Wolverine's ruddy tones, the SDR Blu-ray transfer of The Wolverine provides a means to assess the accuracy of skin tones. While the EH-LS300B offers far from the last word in colour accuracy, it managed to reproduce the myriad of skin tones satisfactorily, free of any major faux pas.
For the review period, the EH-LS300B was perched on an entertainment unit about a metre from the room's sidewalls. The unit's speaker drivers were able to fill my room with sound. Of course, it's no substitute for a dedicated sound system or even a soundbar, but stereo imaging was still decent – albeit lacking in surround cues. Deep bass is simply not possible from such small drivers, yet the overall speaker package still outperforms the onboard sound systems of big screen televisions.
For casual viewers, the EH-LS300B offers a fantastic alternative to a big screen TV, with decent sound that shouldn't upset the neighbours. Discerning videophiles should however look to the EH-LS500B or EH-TW9400, which offer a more comprehensive suite of features and the ability to dial in colours more accurately. Be that as it may, this still delivers pleasing images that are bright and punchy. HDR performance is likewise impressive for the modest asking price, and it's leaps and bounds beyond many of its competitors in this regard.
Where the EH-LS300B really shines is with its versatility and portability. The small form factor means it's going to be at home in a range of environments where the room dominating presence of a big screen TV won't be welcome. While it's quite capable of dealing with some ambient light, if you plan on using it in such environments for the long term, I would recommend investing in an ALR screen. As it stands, though, if you're looking for a big-screen TV replacement or something to take to a mate's place for impromptu footy watching sessions or gaming, the EH-LS300B comes highly recommended.
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.
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