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Epson EF-12: as unique a projector as they come
High-quality picture, amazing sound, plenty of extras, fair price
It's no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the tech industry hard, but home entertainment products and services do seem to be making the most out of a bad situation as they actually received a boost in sales, device use and general interest. No better time, then, for Epson's new EF-12 to make its case: it's an impressively compact projector with built-in sound, based on the latest laser tech and the Android TV operating system.
The latter is a strong selling point for this particular model in many use cases. Any other projector has to be connected to an external source in order to display movies, TV shows, documentaries or games - and the EF-12 offers that through its two HDMI inputs. But through Internet access and apps from the Google Play store consumers can also rely on apps such as VLC, KODI and Plex for multimedia file playback from USB storage or local home networks, so the projector itself becomes a fully-featured media player. Access to the Internet also means that they can watch YouTube or Vimeo videos, surf the Web through proper browsers like Firefox or Puffin, watch sports through ESPN or EuroSport, as well as watch films, documentaries and TV shows through services such as Disney Plus, HBO Max or Hulu.
The picture quality offered by the EF-12 is quite impressive too, especially for the price bracket this projector belongs to. It's all down to its display technology: while almost all other options in the market right now costing about the same are DLP-based, the EF-12 is laser-based. This means that (a) it needs virtually no warm-up time, that (b) its picture is consistently brighter and color accurate, that (c) it runs cooler and quieter, that (d) it will last much, much longer than lamp-based projectors. Laser is an all-around superior technology for projectors and the EF-12 is one of the smallest models to take advantage of it yet.
All five display modes of the EF-12 deliver a punchy, detailed picture that offers natural, well-balanced colors of excellent saturation. Black levels are not perfect, so contrast does not reach sky-high levels either, but it does not affect the image in an overly negative way: everything is just elevated to a slightly brighter palette, not washed out as is usually the case with lesser projectors. The EF-12 certainly delivers the "larger than life" picture one demands of a projector convincingly, without common problems such as hot spots or the dreaded rainbow effect: just a clean, textured, colorful image in every kind of content.
What is even more impressive - because, let's face it, it's something unexpected - about the EF-12 is its built-in sound. Yamaha has done an amazing job at tuning those small speakers that reside in the device, making them sound fuller and much more convincing than anyone would have the right to expect. Yes, low frequencies are somewhat lacking - even black magic tech can't put a subwoofer where there's no space for it - but mids and highs are detailed and distortion-free even when very loud, dialogue is crystal clear and music is as agile as it is textured. The EF-12 can work with external sound systems, but chances are that few consumers will actually need them in the context of casual use it was designed for.
The EF-12 is arguably a lifestyle product, designed to be used in everyday situations by everyday people, not by home cinema aficionados in benchmarks or torture scene testing. For its intended target group it is practically perfect. Laser projection and Android TV set this apart compared to other projectors, yes, but Epson has put enough thought into its general operation so as to make this a product easy to manage and easy to live with. It can be moved around easily, it can be set up and used quickly and painlessly, it offers a picture of impressive quality for casual watching of any type of content and it brings to the table a host of features and extras most projectors do not. For the mainstream market, this is more important than specs - and the EF-12 is proof of that.
Thankfully Epson has not priced this projector as a "lifestyle product", as those tend to cost more than what’s best for them. At the time of writing the RRP for an EF-12 was around €1200 but it can easily be found for an attractive €999 at many retail shops and e-shops. Investing that €199 difference on a portable high-quality projector screen will create a home cinema system that offers a very good 100-inch picture, does not need external sound, does not need a media player and can be set up to work at the drop of a hat anywhere there's a power outlet. Now that is a unique proposition worth much more than €1199 and a very easy one to recommend.
For more details on the Epson EF-12, please check out the expanded, highly detailed version of this review on Medium and the company's official product page for its tech specs. It might just be the home projector you didn't know you were looking for... speaking from personal experience!