The new Epson EF-12 is a powerful home laser projector with a solid build, great sound, and integrated OS, which also makes it an option to take further afield. With summer on our doorstep and more and more folks embracing the outside with friends and family after a year of a vastly reduced amount of that, one of the best portable projectors or best outdoor projectors might be just the ticket. But can this jack of all trades master all the factors to muscle in on those markets?
Design & Features
The Epson EF-12 projector impresses before even being switched on. It feels rock-solid and looks sleek, with a black and copper look that is reminiscent of high-end audio equipment (or a bougie Borg cube).
Sound comes from two great 5W speakers in a custom acoustic enclosure designed by Yamaha. Most projectors have passable speakers which will do in a pinch but will usually be ignored for a home surround sound. The EF-12 is not only crystal clear but loud enough to be used full time, other than when it was briefly drowned out by a particularly loud washing machine cycle.
The EF12 is designed for portability, which extends beyond the speaker power. It’s a reasonably small cube, well under a foot in any direction, lightweight, and very quick to respond to a new environment with fast autofocus and keystoning. If moved it’ll react within a few seconds and provide a great picture in the new location. If it’s at an awkward angle, manual corner control means you can square off the picture simply, although it is a little slower than other features.
However, it does miss a few features which would give true portability. There’s no battery, so it requires mains power – limiting outdoor usage to within range of a socket or generator - though extension leads are your friend here, obviously. While it’s smaller than a home projector, it’s too big to pop in a handbag and doesn’t come with a case or have a handle.
It also has no built-in zoom controls, meaning that positioning is everything – so it’s just as well it looks good wherever you put it. This is an annoyance in a unit at this price point given home projectors at around a grand often feature mechanical zoom, and almost always manual zoom.
Even without an Android phone, which would make it even faster, set up is a breeze. The built-in Android OS is easy to use and gives the EF-12 the simple operation but powerful options of a smart TV. This enhances portability as you can stream straight from it and can happily run it for hours with no physical connection other than the power cable. The downside, as with many Android OS projectors, is a lack of apps being authorised for it. This is more a complaint at the licensing of Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and others rather than the unit itself and you can get them from a Roku stick or HDMI to a laptop, but it is frustrating to not be able to run all your usual streaming apps direct from the projector.
The image delivers, big time, with an incredibly sharp picture in native 1080p and support for UHD - but not true 4K output like some of the best 4K projectors. The depth of colour is beautiful for bright and dark palettes. It’s a joy to sit back and watch colourful cartoons or dark gritty dramas. The three-chip LCD engine for the lasers gives excellent colour, but the laser itself is brilliantly powerful and can run well with the curtains open even on a bright early summer morning.
It does struggle to be one of the best projectors for gaming or best projectors for PS5 (and Xbox Series X), however – input lag even with settings optimised is over 100ms, way beyond the instant response for gaming monitors or even the sub-50ms from good gaming projectors. The colours pop in bright platformers and landscapes look great from more serious games, but that input lag does impact if you’re looking for anything more than the most casual of gaming.
Overall - should you buy it?
If you want a fully portable projector or a dedicated home unit you may find this to be neither one thing nor the other. It has some of the drawbacks common in portable projectors – no zoom controls and a lack of licensing for some streaming apps. But the great image quality, ease of use, and powerful brightness make it a great portable unit for watching TV and movies, although the input lag makes it a video rather than a gaming machine - and not a patch on the best gaming TVs, best OLED TVs, and best QLED TVs (naturally). But it is offering something different and specific: it fills a very specific niche, a home video projector you can take elsewhere relatively easily, and if that’s what you’re after then it’s excellent.