Epson Powerlite S4 Projector Review - Image Quality
These are the issues we will touch on in this Projector image quality section:
Epson S4 Projector Brightness
Wow! Typically portable projector manufacturers overstate their brightness, with most home theater projectors only producing 70% to 90% of claims, in their brightest modes. Over the years, Epson projectors have, in my experience, and many other reviews I have read, been a real exception, often exceeding their brightness claims.
The Epson Powerlite S4 is no exception. For a low cost ($699) projector, the S4 proves to be extremely bright.
We measured the S4 in four modes, Game, which proved the brightest, but produced good performance for typical presentations, Sports (next brightest), Presentation mode, and Theatre mode:
Game: A whopping 2221 lumens (Epson claims 1800)
Sports: 1921 lumens
Presentation: 1563 lumens
Theatre: 1513 lumens
We tested two of the modes - Game and Presentation with the lamp set to low power:
Game: 1934 lumens (a 13% drop in brightness)
Presentation: 1355 lumens (also a 13% drop in brightness)
Considering that the Epson is one of the least expensive projectors on the market, it's performance, in terms of brightness, is downright impressive. Although I have not tested any other projector's in it's price range recently, I doubt you'll find a brighter entry level projector at this time. Note, the next least expensive projector we tested in this group of six projectors, is the Optoma TX700, which typically sells for about $1099, but comes with a free lamp, which you could value between $200 and $300. It is higher resolution, and Optoma claims 2200 lumens - over 20% brighter than the Epson S4, but in it's best mode the Optoma only produced 1883 lumens.
As the Epson Powerlite S4 is an LCD projector, we expect it's color accuracy to be better than typical DLP projectors (we won't go into the "whys" here, but it is discussed in an old review of the NEC LT170 DLP projec linktor.
As you can see from our Pie Chart test image, the reds are bright and accurate, and the yellows are equally impressive! Whites and grays are very neutral, and contrast is good, but not as good as you will find on DLP projectors. As a result, dark lines (such as on a spreadsheet) will tend to look more like a very dark gray, than the almost pure black that DLP projectors can produce. In the real world, however, for presentations, this is essentially a non-issue.
It is unlikely that any projector near the price point of the S4, can beat it's ability to reproduce those reds and yellows (or, for that matter, other colors). The Epson S4 truly rates an excellent for color accuracy.
Remember, the Epson S4 projector is an SVGA (800x600) resolution projector. Most people's computers are XGA (1024x768) or higher resolution. A major exception to that rule is the K-12 education market (which also happens to buy tons of Epson S4 projectors). As a result, for most users not in K-12 education, the projector offers lower resolution than the computer feeding the signal.
Traditionally, this requires the projector to scale the data down so that you can see the full screen as on the computer. When doing so, the problem is that you need compression technology, to fit about 800,000 pieces of data (XGA) into only 480,000 pixels. Doing so compromises the image. As a result, small type degrades.
With the Epson S4, we found the image to be razor sharp, when feeding it a low res SVGA image, that matches the projector's resolution. In the next topic down we'll look at it's compression technology, and how it performs with the higher resolution sources that many of the buyers of the S4 work with.
The image to the right shows how the Epson S4 LCD projector handles the more tradtional XGA resolution, that most business users rely on. As you can see, the small type definitely has degraded a bit, but remains fully readable. Larger type also shows some "rough edges" but, in a traditional Powerpoint type presentation, text is rarely under 16 or 18 points (except maybe labels on charts). Titles and large body text on typical presentations tends to run from 48 points down to 24, even 18 points.
As a result, business presenters can get by nicely with this SVGA projector if they are sticking to large type Powerpoint like presentations. If, however, use includes internal meetings where it is common to view spreadsheets, Word documents, and emails, the soft, slightly uneven text, some will find it annoying, and others may find the slightly blurry looking small type to be fatiguing.
I also like to look at how compression technology performs on other thant the most common, black text on white. On the same image you can see small type also displayed in white on black. You will note that this is much more difficult to read. The same was also true viewing yellow text on a medium blue background.
The bottom line, is that the Epson did a very good job on handling most XGA small and medium type - for an SVGA projector, but the big question for you, is, "Is that acceptable?" Most people with XGA resolution laptops will likely decide that they are much better served by spending a few hundred dollars more for an XGA projector. (Figure $200 to $300 typically.)
One other note relating to compression technology. The Epson lacks a zoom lens, but does allow you to digitally zoom the image to a smaller size, if needed. This also means having too few pixels to go around. As a result, it is using another variation of compression technology to accomplish this. Best if you don't use it because if you do, you'll see similar results on small text.
I also took a brief look at how well the Epson S4 was able to handle SXGA+ (1400x1050), the next higher resolution above XGA, and common on many of the larger screen laptops. As expected, text quality diminished even further. I would not recommend using the S4 with anything higher than XGA, unless you are strictly limited to large type presentations (24 points or larger). Small type like spreadsheets, is still (barely) readable, but really ugly to deal with.
So, for what it is, the Epson S4, an entry level SVGA projector, it does just fine. Most users however, probably should be spending the difference for XGA projectors.
Basic Video Performance
The Epson S4 did very well with video sources. It is more than adequate for the video of a typical business presentation, in fact it does extremely well. Colors are rich, and faithful. As a low cost LCD based projector, contrast is rather weak however. The projector cannot produce anything close to pure black, as expected. As a result, the S4, while you could hook it up for movie watching, it's certainly not a good choice, as the poor blacks mean you'll be losing a hefty amount of shadow detail in dark areas In some large dark areas where DLP projectors show lots of subtle details, the Epson is most likely to just display that dark area as a flat "black" (dark gray).
Normal video performance in the classroom or in a moderately lit conference room is very good. The Epson S4 has the "horsepower" (brightness) to do a decent job on video even in a fairly bright room (assuming no very dark scenes).