Projector Reviews

Epson PowerLite 680 Projector Review – Picture and Sound Quality

Epson PowerLite 680 Projector Review – Picture Quality: Color Modes, Video Picture Quality, Text and Presentation Quality, Sound Quality

PowerLite 680 Color Modes

The Epson PowerLite 680 has five color modes: Dynamic, Presentation, Cinema, sRGB, and Blackboard. Its bright mode, Dynamic, did extremely well for a brightest mode. Though it did have a slight green/yellow tinge, overall the color was rather excellent. All other modes had slight variances in color, the best of which are the Cinema or sRGB modes. Presentation Mode does well on skin tones, and is nearly as bright as Dynamic. It too leans a bit more toward the green and yellow side of the color spectrum, but it looks great on text and presentation, which is what it is best used for (could you tell by the name?). Blackboard mMode looks good as well, though I could not test it on the material it is intended for. Overall, out of the box color on the Epson PowerLite 680 can be counted on to be very good.

Dynamic Mode, as mentioned, has a slight green/yellow hue to it. And I mean slight. Other bright modes I’ve seen are positively ghastly – the greens and yellows are horrible across the board, not just on green and yellow tones, but on everything. It’s just bad. On this Epson, however, I was pleasantly surprised! The color was so good on this brightest mode, in fact, that I had to search through all the other modes to make sure Dynamic was actually the brightest. Good job, Epson. I’m impressed.

Presentation is the second brightest mode, and yes, it does have some exaggerated greens and yellows, but it’s even less noticeable on this mode. As mentioned, it does well on skin tones, so if you’re looking for a super bright image with only minor color issues, this will be one of your favorite modes. It looks excellent when projecting presentations and slides.

Cinema Mode is by far my favorite. Great on skin tones, great on every other color. As I previewed films on this projector for its review, I found that the color produced by this mode is very close to matching the color correction of the actual film. Everything looks natural and overall, very nice. If it weren’t for the blasted XGA resolution, I’d say this projector would be good for watching movies based on this color mode.

sRGB looks as good as Cinema Mode, but is a tad desaturated by comparison. Some may prefer this mode to Cinema for that fact. It’s way less bright than the other modes discussed above, so if you don’t have much control over ambient light, you may want to opt for another. Otherwise, it has very even-looking color, and good color handling on skin tones as well.

Blackboard Mode actually looks awesome when watching films. This is because it gives a really nice, pinkish magenta tone to the image, which looks amazing on skin tones. It’s quite beautiful. However, as the name suggests, the mode is for projecting on blackboards. Since I do not own a blackboard myself, I had to test it on my matte white screen.

All in all, every mode looks great, even the brightest modes.

Video quality on the Epson PowerLite 680 is pretty good, limited only by the XGA resolution. In some scenes, I could see the giant pixels associated with XGA, which is cringe-worthy for a filmmaker. Alas, I must contend with the fact that this is not considered projector for showing films, but instead for viewing documents and presentations, so my opinions about the low resolution are null and void. In any case, the same pixel count went unnoticed in other scenes, and sometimes I could even forget that the image was standard definition.

In a classroom or conference room setting, those viewing films or video will likely be far enough back that most of those pixels disappear. Fine. Epson, you get a pass on this one – but I still think there’s no reason to produce an ultra short throw projector with XGA resolution in the age of 4K. Most schools will still have XGA projectors and 4:3 screens to go with them, so if they bought a higher resolution projector, they would have to purchase a new screen, too – this is why many manufacturers still make projectors with XGA resolution. It makes it more cost effective for schools and businesses. Since ultra-short throw technology is but a few years old, the argument for having XGA resolution for replacement purposes goes out the window.

By the way, if you’re liking the feature set of this projector, but are as bummed out about the low resolution as I am, this projector has a brother in its family that is WXGA (1280 x 800), which is essentially a tall version (16:10) of 720p (1280 x 720). That’s the Epson PowerLite 675W. That projector is just over $100 more, and what you’re paying for is a crisper image. Alternatively, there’s another in the family – the Epson PowerLite 685W – that’s also WXGA and $300 more.

Okay, back to the video quality. The pixels are most noticeable in solid colors, and in brighter scenes. Sometimes, they disappear entirely on skin tones, which have so many varieties of color to make up the tone you see on the screen. In the above slider, we have photos of scenes from The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game and Casino Royale to demonstrate the video quality of the Epson PowerLite 680. These were shot in Cinema mode, which is the best mode in terms of color. As you can see – these all look pretty good. I must say, I’m not entirely surprised because it’s Epson, a manufacturer that tends to produce excellent color on most of their projectors.

Text and Presentation Quality

Text is quite sharp, limited again only by the XGA resolution. I was impressed by how great some of the text looked, despite being standard definition. Initially, I projected from my laptop, which has a native resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels. Some of the text – bolder fonts typically – looked really bad and I was surprised at Epson for turning out such a projector. After changing the display to XGA on the laptop (1024 x 768), the text looked a lot better. The reason for this is that the projector is trying to squish that 1366 x 768 into 1024 x 768 and it just looks bad in some instances. So, when projecting from a computer, change the resolution of your monitor to the native resolution of the projector.

That said, text in movies, presentations, and on websites, all look pretty good. In the above slider, you will find images from presentations, several websites, Casino Royal and Ender’s Game to show text sharpness of various fonts and sizes, as well as that test image we love so much. Some of the images may have moire lines, but don’t worry – that’s just from the camera, they’re not present on the actual projected image.

As you can see on the test image with all the font sizes, most of that is really readable. Any issues with text seem to be pretty random – that is, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. I found that in some cases, text may be difficult to read. If the text is bold and small, it doesn’t always translate well with the XGA resolution. It’s not likely that you’ll be needing to project presentations with tiny 8 point text, or even 12 point, but if you do, there’s an easy workaround. Most presenting and word processing programs have the option to zoom in a bit – making it zoomed in at 125% should do the trick if you do experience any undesirable issues with text.

Overall, the text looks great and will be suitable for many K-12 classrooms.

680 Audio Quality

The Epson PowerLite 680 has a single 16-watt speaker that’s plenty loud enough for most mid-size conference rooms or classrooms. It being a mono speaker rather than stereo, there’s no real bass to speak of, though this is typical of business and education projectors. The idea is that, for business and education applications, you don’t really need proper speakers. That may be true, but for those of us who value great sound quality – the 680 has an audio out jack to connect external speakers.

For those of you who don’t know, a lack of bass will cause the audio to sound a bit “tinny.” But that’s really only going to be bothersome when watching a film or sharing music that relies heavily on the lower frequencies. The bottom line here is that the 680’s 16-watt speaker is powerful – I had to lower the sound to below the halfway mark for it to be comfortable in my living room. I imagine at full blast, this speaker could even be loud enough for larger classrooms and conference rooms (though not lecture halls or auditoriums by any means).