Epson Releases EF-100 Streaming Projector at CES

Last year, May 8th, 2019 to be exact, I saw a demo of the Epson EF-100 Streaming Projector at an Epson event in New York. I saw it under a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with an embargo date of June 18th. I kept getting notices from Epson that they were extending the NDA embargo. Finally, I see they have publicly released it, and are demonstrating the unit at CES in Las Vegas.

Epson EF 100W 007 outside resizeEpson EF-100W Streaming Projector (Credit: M. Brennesholtz)

The EF-100 is a laser-based 3LCD projector specifically designed for showing streaming video. It comes in two versions, the EF-100W and EF-100B with white and black cases respectively. When I saw the projector in May, I was told it had 720p resolution. The version released at CES used three 0.59” LCD panels, each with 1280 x 800 native resolution. This 16:10 aspect ratio allows it to show both 16:9 high definition signals and 4:3 standard definition signals. Contrast for the projector is not specified. It is said, however, that it can produce up to a 150” image on a white wall, even with the lights on. Lights on low, I might add, like they were in the showroom where I saw it showing a 110” image. Still, 2000 lumens makes a respectable picture and in a room with almost any light in it, the native contrast of the projector is almost irrelevant.

Output is said to be 2000 lumens. It uses a laser-phosphor light source, with a 12,000 hour life in the normal mode, 20,000 hour life in the extended mode. The 9-element projection lens includes 7 glass elements. It is on-axis and has a fixed focal length with a manual focus. The 1.35:1 zoom ratio of the system is a digital zoom and provides a throw ratio ranging from 1.0:1 to 1.35:1. It also has digital keystone correction (vertical: ±45°; horizontal: ±40°) for off-axis applications. Fan noise is in the range of 26 – 29dB, presumably for the extended and normal modes of the laser light source respectively.

Epson EF 100W 033 inside resizeInside of an Epson EF-100B projector, with the remote control, the 3LCD block and the laser array. The phosphor wheel is visible in the photo at the lower right. (Click for higher resolution) (Credit: M. Brennesholtz)

The projector is compact and weighs 6 pounds (2.7kg), with external dimensions of 8.3″ x 9.1″ x 3.6″ (21.1cm x 23.1cm x 9.1cm). While the projector is intended for portable entertainment applications, it has no internal battery and is only AC-powered. I suspect a battery big enough to support 2000 lumens would be too large, heavy and expensive for the projector. Like most laser-phosphor projectors, the projector is insensitive to orientation and can be installed upside down, sideways or vertically, for projecting on the ceiling.

Epson EF 100W 030 Dongle resizeAndroid TV dongle in its compartment. (Credit: M. Brennesholtz)

Input to the projector is via a HDMI connector with HDCP 1.4 copy protection. The projector has Android TV hardware and software, but the system is arranged slightly differently than one might expect.

The Android TV hardware and software is contained in an Android dongle that plugs into the HDMI port. Power for the dongle comes from a USB Type A connector that not only provides 2A to the dongle but is also used for firmware update. There is also a USB Type B connector used for service and firmware update. Neither of the USB ports can be used for external video or projector control – all video goes through the dongle, unless you remove the dongle to attach a HDMI cable connected to a different source.

The Android TV Dongle has Wireless 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz; IEEE 802.11a, b, g, n, ac; Bluetooth 4.2 Class 2; and accepts Video Resolution up to 4k@ 60 HZ 4:4:4 color. Note that Epson does not call this connection “Wi-Fi,” but I strongly suspect that it is Wi-Fi compatible. Maybe Epson just hasn’t had enough time to get the dongle certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance yet.

Since both Seiko Epson Corporation and Epson America are members of the Wi-Fi Alliance, the company recognizes the value of Wi-Fi certification and I would expect this to come in the future. There is an internal compartment to contain the dongle, and when the compartment door is closed neither the dongle nor any of the wired ports are visible. The main external connection is to the AC power but there is also a standard 3.5mm stereo output jack for external speakers. The projector has a built-in speaker and will also connect to external Bluetooth speakers.

Epson EF 100W 013 Image resizeEpson EF-100 projector providing an image on a white wall for a stationary bike rider. (Credit: M. Brennesholtz)

In general, the image was pretty good, considering it was projecting onto white walls in a room that wasn’t completely dark. This is a very unforgiving environment for any projector but it is how many portable projectors are actually used. The only realistic way to improve the contrast of a projector in this environment is to increase its output and 2000 lumens is a lot of light from as small a package as the Epson EF-100. While Epson said it would make as large a picture as 150”, at that maximum size it will have minimum brightness and contrast. In addition, the less than 1080p resolution of the projector will be most visible with a large image size. At a smaller image size, and Epson says it can produce an image as small as 22”, the image should be better than I saw last May.

The Epson EF-100W and EF-100B (MSRP $999.99) will be available in January 2020 through select retailers and the Epson online store. As of January 6, it was listed as “Out of Stock” at the Epson Store. – Matthew Brennesholtz