The Epson EF-12 portable projector is a tidy box of tricks. Small enough to store on a shelf in a cupboard, easy to carry around and simple to set-up, it offers itself as an all-in-one solution for your home projection needs, whether that’s for an impromptu movie night or giving your own captured videos some home cinema scale.
The price tag might not include 4K resolution and zoom lens but, on the bright side, it might not be quite as revealing on the more amateur moments in your photography. It's also a great way for videographers to show off their filmmaking to a select audience.
Projection system: 3LCD
Max resolution: Full HD
Throw: 1:1 Keystone: Auto vertical: ± 34 °, Auto horizontal ± 40 °
Light source: 1000 lumens laser
Speakers: 2 x 5W
Dimensions (HWD): 135 x 175 x 175mm
What separates the EF-12 from similar priced machines is that most everything you need is built into the one box. There’s a 2 x 5W speaker system made in conjunction with Yamaha that’s guaranteed to outstrip anything you’ll find on a more traditional projector. It’s a 2 x 5W set-up with the drivers placed at the corners of the to offer as much 360 degree dispersion as possible.
Equally, you’ll not find any projectors smarter. Android TV is the OS and that means access to the thousands of apps on the Google Play store including the likes of Prime Video, Disney+, Plex, VLC, Spotify, Deezer and a host of handy tools.
There are some serious app gaps, though. There’s no certified Netflix app and you’ll find many of the catch-up services absent, including iPlayer. Fortunately, Android TV means access to Chromecast screen mirroring tech too and, with the exception of Apple’s services, you can cast any app that’s not built-in from a mobile, tablet or laptop instead.
The other option is to buy a media streaming stick to plug into one of the EF-12’s two HDMI inputs. There’s a USB source material too plus 10GB of internal storage if you’d like to sideload any content for offline viewing.
Alternatively, you can just connect it via HDMI to your laptop and play back stills, slideshows or movies from there.
Build and operation
The EF-12 is a more solid unit than your run of the mill home projector. While it’s not built to withstand the elements outdoors, the lens is recessed into the chassis and there’s enough cushioning to the leatherette finish to give us the impression that it could handle getting knocked off a coffee table a few times before anything serious happened
The fixed lens means that you’ll need to move the machine closer or further from your screen to make the image bigger. Focus and keystone correction are done automatically. The autofocus certainly works a treat but think of the auto-keystone as more of a starting point for manual adjustments.
As for the internal build, the EF-12 uses Epson’s 3LCD projection system. The laser light source is split into red, green and blue pathways, each of which passes through a dedicated 0.62 inch liquid crystal panel. They’re then recombined and focused through the optics.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that you’re not stuck with the Yamaha sound system. There’s a headphones socket for personal listening and also the option to add a soundbar through the ARC-enabled HDMI socket.
The EF-12 can’t display at 4K resolution but it can cope with a 4K input, and what’s particularly impressive is how well it can handle that 4K footage. Despite the downscaling, there are no significant problems with motion handling or light levels.
It’s not that bright compared to traditional projectors but you still get a perfectly decent image even with some ambient lighting. Casting TV shows from both Netflix and iPlayer gave us confidence that we could easily hold a screening of a televised sports event without having to do so in pitch blackness.
Its limited luminance is also helpful in maintaining solid black depth. Often one has to accept a certain level of light spill through 3LCD machines with onscreen blacks closer to greys but not so here.
The downside is that the picture lacks the complexity of more traditional devices. The differences between dark and light areas of the image are stark without a huge amount of shading in middle. It makes film watching quite a bold and contrasty experience that’s closer to modern TVs than it is the more natural look associated with cinema.
On its own, that’s not so bad. You should still find enough detail in your video and stills at all light levels. The only place we’d like a little more is with colour processing which, although rich and vibrant, can be a little flat without that lighting complexity. Most objects and foliage look great but skin tones can look a touch artificial on occasion.
As for sound, we’ve only good things to report. The audio is surprisingly room filling and immersive. It’s easy to pick up object details in film soundtracks. It’s also very well balanced for music too, with plenty of precision to both bass and treble notes, no matter the song.
There’s Bluetooth onboard if you’d like to use the EF-12 as a wireless speaker and, with that kind of quality audio available, it’s not such a silly idea.
The EF-12 and portables like it cannot match a traditional home cinema projector for pure picture quality but there is so much more on offer here. The smart platform, modern suite of connectivity options, built-in sound and sheer functional convenience make it well worth the money.
Purists would do better off with something that prizes picture above all else but the EF-12 is a very worthy little Swiss Army Knife of a machine. If you want options and as little fuss as possible, then this is the best we’ve found at this price.