Epson's EF12 Portable Laser Projector Is a Mighty but Pricey On-the-Go Streaming Box

Image for article titled Epson's EF12 Portable Laser Projector Is a Mighty but Pricey On-the-Go Streaming Box
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

The EF12 checks a lot of boxes for on-the-go projector needs, but it costs about as much as some OLED TVs. So, is it worth it?

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That depends. I’ve spent weeks testing the performance of Epson’s EF12 portable laser projector, and I found myself raving about it to friends and colleagues—with a couple of caveats. It has built-in Android TV for easy content streaming (with some notable exceptions that we’ll discuss more in detail below), it’s surprisingly loud and packs quite a bit of bass for a relatively small device, and it’s bright enough that you can get away with some projection during daytime hours, depending on what you’re watching and where. Its portability makes it a great option for folks who need a streaming solution that can move with them, or for someone who doesn’t want something as bulky and permanent as a 65-inch screen in a room where they only occasionally watch movies or TV.

But for all that it does, the Epson EF12 will set you back a grand, and that’s a decent chunk of change for a projector that’s intended to be hauled around and might be subject to rougher handling than something that’s stationary. It does do things that other projectors do not, but it’s also not necessarily the best and brightest picture for what you’re paying. All that said, I still think it’s a great device for the right kind of buyer, and it’s been a delight to use as a streaming box in a small, TV-unfriendly room in my home.

Now, there’s plenty to love about this 1080p projector. First, its picture can reach up to 150 inches and doesn’t require a screen. I projected exclusively onto the walls of my home without any trouble. The size of the picture will approximately equal its distance from the wall, give or take. Positioned about 26 inches from the wall or screen, the image size will be about 30 inches. At 133 inches from the wall, the image will be about 150 inches. As for the projection itself, it’s fairly versatile so long as the box has a flat surface to rest on. The picture can be tilted upward by up to 9 degrees thanks to an adjustable foot toward the front of the box. It can also be placed on its backside to project onto the ceiling. We love options!

You will, however, have to fiddle with it a bit to get the screen positioning just right, particularly when it’s not beaming a picture straight-on. I found that projecting from an angle slightly tipped the picture to one side or the other. But the projector’s on-remote alignment button usually fixed this issue, and manual adjustments can be made to get your picture just right. As for the EF12’s size, I found that it fit most places I needed it to. It’s about the height and width of a shoebox, which means it could squeeze easily onto a coffee table, bedside table, or shelf without much issue. You will, however, have to plug it into a power outlet, and an extension cord came in handy for me when I was reviewing this unit in different rooms in my home.

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Brightness was decent, but it definitely performed better in some spaces than in others. And this is likely to be the biggest issue for projector shoppers eyeing the EF12’s $1,000 price tag. Epson says this box projects up to 1000 lumens of color and white brightness, which was enough for me to do some daytime viewing without blackout curtains in a moderately naturally lit bedroom with an east-facing window, though the picture was a little blown out. It definitely wasn’t bright enough for me to get a clear picture in a living room with big, south-facing windows during daytime hours (even when some of that light was filtered with wood slat blinds drawn).

In other words, this projector definitely isn’t a great option for someone who wants an ultra-clear cinematic viewing experience any time of day. If brightness is more important to you than portability, you might consider an option like Epson’s similarly priced Home Cinema 2250 3LCD Full HD 1080p Projector, which can produce up to 2,700 lumens of color and white brightness.

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Image for article titled Epson's EF12 Portable Laser Projector Is a Mighty but Pricey On-the-Go Streaming Box
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

One of the things I loved about this projector was that I didn’t have to plug a streaming device into the box for most content, making set up a lot less of a chore. You may want to, though. Built-in Android TV and Chromecast made streaming very easy, but Netflix, for example, is a pretty major omission from the EF12’s app lineup. (An Epson spokesperson told me the company was “working on hardware certifications and licensing agreements” with the streaming giant.) If app support is an issue for you, a streaming stick or dongle can be plugged into one of its two HDMI ports (both are HDMI 1.4). It’s kind of a pain in the butt to have to wrestle with a dongle on a device that’s meant to be portable, but it’s less of a headache if the box sits in one place most of the time when in use.

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Speaking of HDMI ports, one of the two is an HDMI ARC port that can support external audio. That’s fantastic if, again, you’ve got this box set up in one place and don’t plan to be moving it around so much. But I was actually impressed by the quality of the on-device sound from its 5W, 2-channel Yamaha speaker system—so much so, in fact, that I didn’t bother at all with external audio. I was definitely surprised by this projector’s ability to handle deep, textural bass even at lower volumes. When I was streaming late at night, I actually opted to turn its bass-boosting feature off so it wouldn’t disturb others.

And this speaker handled height fairly well too, considering all audio is coming from a single source. Avengers: Endgame sounded fantastic without any help from external speakers. You’re still going to get far better immersive audio with a soundbar-and-subwoofer duo or surround system any day, and the projector will definitely sound its best directly in front of or behind you rather than positioned off to one side. But overall, I was pleasantly surprised, particularly when compared to chunkier projectors I’ve used in the past. Plus, the box doubles as a Bluetooth speaker, which eliminates the need to have an extra device in your space if you live in, say, a smaller apartment. In terms of additional ports, the EF12 also sports a USB Type A and USB Type mini-B.

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Ultimately, the person who this is for is someone who wants a streaming box that sounds great and can project from just about anywhere with a power outlet nearby, primarily in dimmer rooms, spaces without a lot of ambient light, or just in the evenings (maybe outdoors). Again, this is not the device for someone who wants the best and brightest projector for the money. But it’s a great solution for consumers who don’t want to commit to a larger TV screen but still want a decently sized picture. Ideally, if you can find it at a discount, I think this tiny streaming box is a good solution for tighter spaces and folks who want the TV experience sans display.

README

  • The Mini EF12 is a portable 1080p laser projector with Android TV baked into the box.
  • It supports pictures up to 150 inches, making it a good option for folks who want a larger display experience but may not have space for a TV.
  • Audio quality is great for such a tiny device, and it doubles as a Bluetooth speaker.
  • It’s expensive, and you can definitely get a better picture for the price with other, more stationary projectors.
  • Portability is the best use case here, though it does require a power outlet.
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DISCUSSION

By
Jägs

the EF12 also sports a USB Type A and USB Type mini-B

Wut?  That’s the USB equivalent of vinyl.