Epson Powerlite S5 Portable LCD Projector Review

When reviewing projectors for business, education and government, I consider the key image quality issues to be:

  • Clear sharp image at the projector’s native resolution
  • How well the projector handles higher resolution source material, in terms of compression technology
  • Color handling – are colors relatively accurate, and saturated

Brightness also fits into the equation, but brightness will be discussed on the General Performance page.

First of all, the Epson, when fed an SVGA signal (it’s native resolution – 800×600), produces a razor sharp image. Even the smallest text, such as 5 point size, is readable (not that anyone would ever use that for a presentation). The smaller types found in emails, word documents and spreadsheets are normally 10 to 12 points, but sometimes even 8 point might be used. It just doesn’t matter. They all look great. And of course, the large type typically used in formal Powerpoint type presentations, appears perfect.

Because the Epson Powerlite S5 is an SVGA projector, in most cases (many K-12 schools being the exception), the computers feeding the S5 are likely to be higher resolution than the projector. Typically, they will be XGA (1024×768) but sometimes even higher.

The Epson S5 really does an excellent job when it comes to handling XGA resolution. In fact, without close inspection, one might think that it is displaying an SVGA image, it looks so good. This image of a word document was fed to the Epson S5 as an XGA signal (1024×768), and the projector resized it to SVGA so the entire image fit.

There is some very minor degradation, which you can see, however, to do so, you must click on the image above to launch a much larger image to view. You can also see some mis-registration of the LCD panels – a common thing – red and green separating a bit, but that isn’t visible at normal viewing distances, so it is a non-issue.

The next image is my all purpose compression and color test image. It contains type sizes from very small 8 point, to very large sizes typical of Powerpoint Presentations. In this case the projector is attempting to work with a 1400×1050 resolution source, which means the projector has to reduce about 1.5 million pixels down to 480,000 pixels. Now that is serious compression.

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On the left, are the three primary colors, and also yellow, because so many projectors have trouble producing yellows (and also bright reds). As you can see, the red looks great – it is bright, as it should be. Yellow is excellent, as is blue. The Green comes across as a little dark however. Overall, the colors seen here are very good, and superior, right off the bat, to any lower cost DLP projector, we have ever reviewed. (DLP projectors are the ones that tend to struggle with reds and yellows, at least in their normal presentation modes).

Most significant about the text aspects, is that there is not only black text on the white background, but also white text on black, and yellow text on blue. The compression technology on most projectors is optimized for black text on white, which most do very well. Reverse that, or do color on color, and things get a bit murkier, as you can see here. Clicking on the image above, will give you a good idea as to how the Epson S5 handles these different text displays.The image to the right is a closer look at the yellow on blue, and also the white on black, and again, click to see the larger, more useful image.

In the course of testing the Epson S5, I was able to feed it resolutions as high as SXGA+ which is 1400×1050, a full step above XGA, and therefore two steps above the S5′s native resolution. The projector had no trouble locking on to the signal and displaying it. The small text quality, however, started to become unreadable at 8 points, and even 10 and 12 points sure weren’t pretty. Let’s just say that you can feed the S5 an SXGA+ signal and have it do fine on a typical Powerpoint presentation, but if it’s for inhouse meetings with spreadsheets and emails, etc., with small type, that high a resolution will be a fatiguing, unpleasant experience. So, if you do have that high a resolution computer, and are going to be doing a lot of really small type, I strongly suggest you reset the display for XGA, where the Epson S5 really performs well.

The photo directly below of the pie chart, provides a wide sampling of colors. Suffice to say, that they are all rich and vivid – and you might say, they jump off the screen. Not insignificantly, this image was taken with moderate room lighting – three overhead incandescent lights on, and some light coming through the window. And the image size was almost exactly 90 inches diagonal. That would be a 6 foot wide screen – larger than those typically found in classrooms and small conference rooms and boardrooms.

Of course handling color is more than just how well it does on graphics. As it turns out, the Epson Powerlite S5 does equally well handling photos and video.

The Epson S5 certainly isn’t a home theater projector. But that’s not because its color handling is off. The projector quite simply is too low a resolution, and has typically low contrast ratios that business projectors are known for. A home theater projector will always have much higher contrast, so that it can do darker “blacks” and resolve information in dark shadow areas. That said, the Epson performed well. I watched a bit of Lord of the Rings on it, and fleshtones (in Theater mode) were very good, although it really couldn’t handle dark scenes very well. Still, it would be fine for movies and videos in classrooms, conference or training rooms.

Epson S5 Image Quality, The Bottom Line:

Excellent. The S5 has no real weakness. It’s text handling at native and higher resolutions is about as good as it gets for an SVGA projector. Colors are rich, and very reasonably accurate, and it handles photos and videos about as well as can be expected for an affordable business projector. The one caveat would be that some low cost DLP projectors will have a significant advantage in black level/contrast performance on videos, but, in fairness, those same DLP projectors typically do very poor color when at their maximum brightness, and have to cut their brightness in half to approach the Epson S5 in terms of color.

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