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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Epson - EB-W10

Portable and exceptionally bright LCD projector.

There used to be a firm dividing line between video projectors that were designed for home cinema, and the data projectors intended for business presentations. Not anymore. Epson's tiny - 295x228x77mm (wdh) - EB-W10 LCD projector is an effort to create an all-rounder that can do its daily grind of PowerPoints and the odd video clip in boardrooms, but which lucky execs can ?accidentally' take home to beam a Premier League match against their living room walls.

What's it like?
Petite, clad in white and weighing in at a highly portable 2.3kg, the EB-W10 is quoted as running for 5,000 hours per lamp (which cost around £145 each). The design is particularly good, with travel-friendly flourishes like a flip-to-close lens door and recessed zoom/focus controls. Meanwhile, there are IR sensors on both the front and rear of the projector, while the remote also includes useful 'pointer' and 'freez'e options - all welcome features on a portable projector that will get used in a range of environments.

Talking of different environments, the EB-W10 copes easily with heavy ambient light thanks to its 2600 (2040 on ?eco' mode) ANSI Lumens of brightness.

The usual colour presets are here for ?dynamic', ?presentation' and so on, together with a useful contrast-push ?theatre' mode and two colour compensation formats for projecting on to a blackboard or whiteboard.
Equipped with an throw ratio of 1.30-1.56:1, an optical zoom ratio of x1.2, and able to project a 60in image from around two metres, we found the Epson's keystone correction mode to be simple enough, but missing are the manual lens shift levers found on almost all of Epson's otherwise fairly similar budget home cinema projectors.

Easy to use
Setting the Epson up is easy, right out of the ugly (but adequate) carry bag. All controls (such as source select, menu, volume and even a ?help' button) are on top of the device, so it's possible to operate the EB-W10 without the remote control.

Even better, the EB-W10 has been designed with the non-techie in mind; there's a great ?source search' button on top of the remote that simply switches to any input from live devices. This can include a USB-to-USB connection from a PC to display its desktop, which worked on our netbook after a very short setup wizard. Our only issue, control-wise, is the fact that the small remote's buttons are tiny, and there's no backlighting.

Well connected
Ins and outs are plentiful. As well as a HDMI input, the rear also houses ports for analogue VGA (15-pin), S-video and composite video, USB Type A and Type B, while audio is ouput either via left/right stereo phono plugs or the EB-W10's built-in speaker. Weak and lacking in clarity, its 1W speakers will only be of use in small boardrooms - and certainly not in the living room.

Although with plenty enough hardware to accommodate almost any gear we can think of, the EB-W10 can provide a limited presentation even without a laptop. Insert a memory stick or external storage drive via USB and this machine instantly displays thumbnails of JPEG photos complete with easy navigation controls and a slideshow option.

Unfortunately no other files play via the EB-W10's USB connection, which is a shame considering how ubiquitous the likes for AVI, MPEG and even MKV video clips are becoming.

Sharp and precise
While the EB-W10 does have a foot in both the data and video camps, it's fairly lop-sided towards PowerPoints and photos (of which it produces a supremely sharp and precise picture from a PC) than it is for playing DVD or Blu-ray movies in the comfort of the living room.

The projector's WXGA resolution (strictly speaking, actually a touch bigger than WXGA at 1280x800 pixels, making it 16:10 aspect ratio) hampers its progress somewhat, and though it does reasonably well with standard-def video, even that can look a touch soft - and the pixel grid is always visible in bright areas.
An auto iris function monitors ambient light and adjusts it accordingly, and is worth toggling on - its adds believability to blacks, though not to a very great degree.

While the EB-W10 didn't have the pixels to make much of our Blu-ray test disc, it managed to display some Xbox360 games without much in the way of blur or judder, which is an impressive trait for a budget LCD model.

Noisy performer
The EB-W10 suffers from one major drawback, however, and it applies to all small projectors: noise. With such a small baffle the air has to be pumped relatively quickly around the lens to keep it cool enough, especially at this high brightness - and on full power that means a 37-decibel operational sound that's more than noticeable in an otherwise quiet setting.

This noise can make watching a movie especially difficult - though how much depends on what you watch - a dialogue-based film could be drowned out, though something little more raucous generally beats the EB-W10 at its own game.

Noisy but nice, Epson's latest portable projector is exceptionally travel-friendly, a great performer for the money, and flexible enough to display presentations from a laptop, photos from a USB stick, or movies. And while we wouldn't recommend the EB-W10 as a video projector - a visible pixel grid and average contrast put paid to that - it's easily versatile enough to take home from work for some bigscreen gaming. It's also great for using in daylight, but the flip-side of that brightness is decibels aplenty.

BEST POINT: Very flexible, with plenty of travel-friendly options.
WORST POINT: No great shakes as a video projector; very noisy.
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