Epson Powerlite S4 Projector Review – Overview

The S4 is the 4th generation of the S series projector from Epson, although Epson’s math is a little funky. The original S1 dates back about four years, but instead of replacing it with an S2, voila’, the S1+. Then Epson got back on track with the recently discontinued S3, and the brand new S4.

With the S series, Epson has been one of the dominant players in entry level projectors, and at various times it’s predecessors have typically been the best or one of the two or three best selling low cost projectors on the market.

The S4, continues the tradtion, with superb performance for a projector with a $699 list price. Like it’s predesessors, it has a huge following in the K-12 education market, and also does well in the business world.

Physically, the Epson is neither particularly small, or large. Since it weighs in under 6 pounds, I’d have to say it is a bit larger than most 4-6 pound projectors (and LCD projectors are typically somewhat larger than DLP projectors), but Epson likely counts that as a very good thing. Why? The education market. Most school districts will not buy extremely small projectors – they tend to disappear too easily.

When making an extremely low cost projector, you have to expect a number of compromises. What is most surprising about the S4, is that, other than inherently being a lower (SVGA) resolution projector than most (XGA), the compromises are very scarce compared to many projectors costing up to twice it’s price.

Perhaps the two best things about the S4, are it’s overall image quality, and it’s warranty, and expected reliability. Epson has always been known for great reliability, warranty, and customer support, and we have no reason to expect that to change. I can’t think of a better warranty on projector in this price range than the S4′s, with 2 years coverage and an overnight replacement program for both years.

In terms of image quality, the color handling is great. LCD projectors have always had an advantage over DLP projectors in terms of color accuracy (excluding high end commercial DLP projectors). The Epson produces beautiful bright reds, and outstanding, vivid yellow, two colors that have always been the weak spot with DLP. The S4 is part of our Six projector comparision, and the least expensive, yet it’s ability to do bright reds and yellows was easily better than the best of the four DLP models in the comparison. Even the LCD powered Panasonic LB60NTU, which sells for at least twice the price didn’t do any better.

Since I mentioned compromises, other than being an SVGA projector, the biggest compromise is the lack of a zoom lens. In part Epson makes up for this with their eZoom, a digital zoom, discussed elsewhere in the review. The eZoom has better range than most zoom lenses on the competition, but does cost a small amount of image quality.

Epson’s remote control is great. It includes a nice pointing system for your presentations, and it also offers full remote mousing, something found on many projectors, but not too often, on low priced ones. Menus are excellent, and documentation is good – better than average.

And then, there’s Epson’s built-in, interactive Help system, a very nice touch.

All this adds up to the Epson easily winning our Hot Product Award.

Oh, did I mention, it was the only one of the six portable business projectors we just reviewed, to actually be brighter (by almost 20%) than Epson claims. By comparison, none of the other five, even measured more than 90% of their claim, most around 20% below claim.

Pros

  • Extremely bright for the price
  • Excellent color
  • Good contrast (for an LCD projector)
  • Compression technology is very good
  • eZoom digital zoom offers more placement flexibility than optical zooms on competing projector
  • Epson warranty and support
  • Good video performance
  • Great remote
  • Very good control panel on the projector
  • Well laid out, easy to navigate, menus
  • Built in pointer system, and also remote mousing
  • Monitor output (computer) for working with desktop computers
  • Extremely low cost of operation thanks to the industry’s least expensive replacement lamp
  • Comes with a carry case
  • Sliding cover protects lens when not in use, and acts to mute AV when closed
  • LCD technology – no rainbow effect issues
  • Rapid start-up and shut down times
  • Excellent price performance

Cons

  • Lack of a zoom lens. Epson’s eZoom does slightly degrade the image quality, mostly noticeable on small text, compared to an optical zoom lens
  • It’s an SVGA projector, so degrades the image slightly (noticeable on small to medium sized text) when feeding it an XGA (typical computer) source, but then, the same is true for all SVGA projectors, and entry level XGA projectors are $200 to $300 more expensive
  • No digital input (DVI or HDMI) but then, you don’t expect to find that feature on entry level projectors

Typical Capabilities

  • Audio quality
  • Audio noise levels
  • HDTV support

Epson S4 projector Summary

The S4 LCD projector offers plenty of performance, especially considering there are only a couple of projectors on the market, that sell for less. The combination of an extremely bright image with excellent colors, a great remote and menu layout, remote mousing, and a best of class warranty.

With a selling price of under $700, the Epson S4 definitely deserves our Hot Product Award. It should be at the top of the list for those needing a bright projector with great features, and solid performance at a rock bottom price. Well done Epson!

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