Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 projector review: Laser-powered picture cube

The Epson EF12 is a tiny projector with built-in streaming and surprisingly loud speakers, all packed into a slick-looking cube. It’s a one-stop shop for movie nights anywhere you can run an extension cord. The downside? For $1,000, its picture quality is no great shakes, with below-average contrast ratio and a rather dim image compared to other projectors in this price range.

LikeGreat designSounds big for its sizeAndroid TV streaming buit-in

Don’t LikeNot very brightMediocre contrast ratioExpensive

As you can guess from its design, however, the EF12 doesn’t intend to compete with traditional home theater projectors. For one thing, it’s tiny: way less than a foot cubed. So it can fit just about anywhere. There are multiple HDMI inputs, Wi-Fi and Android TV. It can even double as a Bluetooth speaker. And it also uses a laser light source, so you never need to replace a projector bulb.

The EF12 is similar to the Epson EF-100 we liked, but with better sound, sharper resolution and less brightness. It costs more than our Editors’ Choice BenQ HT2050A, but that projector is much larger and lacks built-in streaming and good speakers. If you want something easily portable with everything you need for a movie night, the EF12 can fit that bill. But if you can fit something larger or don’t prioritize built-in sound quality, the same money or less will get you a far better picture with another projector.

Cute cube: Up close with the Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12
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Basic specsNative resolution: 1,920×1,080 pixels HDR-compatible: Yes4K-compatible: Yes3D-compatible: NoLumens spec: 1,000Zoom: NoLens shift: NoLamp life (Normal mode): 20,000 hours

The EF12 can handle 4K resolution and HDR video sources, but don’t expect much of a boost in picture quality from them. This is a 1080p resolution projector and no projector can really do HDR. 

The lumens spec, which determines brightness, is the most disappointing aspect of the EF12. The EF-100, which is similar in design and purpose, is rated for twice that. A thousand lumens isn’t dim, but it’s not a lot in an era of projectors with 3,000 and higher lumens ratings, especially for the price.

There’s no lens shift, which isn’t a surprise in this price range, but the lack of a zoom is disappointing. The idea is if you want a larger or smaller image, you just move the EF12 farther or closer to the screen, or more likely, whatever wall you’re using as a screen. There’s automatic autofocus.

The laser light source is rated for 20,000 hours.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
Connectivity and convenienceHDMI inputs: 2PC input: NoUSB port: 1Audio input and output: 3.5mm stereo outputDigital audio output: NoWi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac12-volt trigger: NoRS-232 remote port: NoMHL: NoRemote: Not backlit

The EF12 has two HDMI inputs, and one even has Audio Return Channel to get audio from its internal apps back to a soundbar or receiver. There’s also a 3.5mm analog audio output. 

You might not need either, however. The 5-watt built-in stereo speakers, co-designed with Yamaha, sound surprisingly good. They can fill a room and have decent bass for such a small cabinet. They’re a bit boomy, but for the size and convenience, they’re definitely one of the EF12’s best attributes.

There isn’t much benefit to built-in streaming with traditional home theater projectors, but it’s good to see in a small, potentially portable PJ like the EF12. It’s even better to see real Android TV and not the Aptoide store found in many small projectors, which is always a liability.

The remote isn’t backlit, but does come with a dedicated button to adjust the settings, so that’s good. It also lets you talk to Google Assistant, if you’re so inclined.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
Picture quality comparisons

I chose these two projectors for my EF12 comparison because the Epsons are similar in price, size and intended use. The BenQ HT2050A represents a more traditional home theater projector for around the same price. 

I connected the BenQ and EF12 via a Monoprice 1×4 distribution amplifier. The EF-100, being lower 1,280×800 resolution, ran off its own streaming stick. I manually synced up the same content on both sources. I viewed them all on a 102-inch 1.0-gain screen. 

The EF-100’s lower resolution is obvious right off the bat. While 1,280×800 is fine on its own, it’s not surprising that your eye is drawn to the projectors with double the pixels and the greater detail that provides. Not just detail either. The image is smoother and less artificial as well, since the pixels are smaller and closer together. With a 100-inch screen it’s not hard to see individual pixels from the EF-100 if you’re seated at all close to the screen.

The EF-100 is noticeably brighter than the EF12, however, roughly on par with the HT2050A. The EF12 doesn’t look dim, but is definitely dimmer than the other two. I measured roughly 650 lumens, which is watchable on a 100-inch screen but would look better and brighter on something smaller. 

The tradeoffs between the two Epsons largely cancel out. On larger screens, the extra brightness of the EF-100 would be welcome, but its lower resolution is much more visible. The extra resolution of the EF12 looks great on a larger screen, but its lower brightness robs the image of impact. Between the two, because I think the lower resolution would be something more people would notice on its own (without other projectors to compare side-by-side), I’d lean towards the EF12 for most people. 

Contrast ratio is also quite poor on both the Epsons. The EF12 improves upon the EF-100 a little, but the difference between 315:1 and 394:1 is like the difference between one car that gets 12 mpg and another that gets 13. It’s also barely outside the range of measurement error. In practice everything looks fairly washed out on both. The lower brightness on the EF12 does nothing to make the image pop either.

As you might have guessed, the BenQ HT2050A easily looks better than both. The contrast ratio is significantly higher, nearly 2,100:1 compared to about 400:1. It’s just as bright as the EF-100, but with a far smoother image thanks to its greater pixel count. So the image just looks more natural and has more punch thanks to its much higher contrast ratio. 

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
Conclusion

This is a tough one. The EF12 fits a specific niche: Someone who doesn’t want, or thinks they don’t want, a “real” projector. Something small to pull off a shelf for an occasional movie night. In that, it works great, and the internal speakers are far better than what you’d get in a traditional projector. The picture compared to the EF-100 is… let’s say differently meh, but the better size and sound makes me lean towards the EF12 for this specific use. 

Something like the BenQ HT2050A costs less and offers an even better picture, so if extreme portability isn’t an absolute necessity, it’s a better value. The EF12 fits in a backpack and the HT2050A is the size of a backpack — but it’s not heavy and if you’re not moving it often, who cares about the size? 

When it comes down to it, if the EF12 was twice as bright, and a little cheaper, it’d be an absolute winner. 

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
Measurement notes

For the most accurate colors use the Natural color mode. The Cinema and Bright Cinema mode oversaturates green, among other more mild color inaccuracies. A color temperature of 7 was fairly accurate across the brightness range, though tended to drift green with mid- and bright images. 

Color in general was fairly accurate. Green and blue were pretty much spot on their Rec. 709 targets. Red was a little orange, yellow a little green, cyan a little blue and magenta a little red. It was as if those colors were all shifted clockwise on the color chart just a little bit.

Brightness, as claimed and as measured, was lower than you’d hope for a $1,000 projector. I measured 650 lumens in the Bright Cinema mode, less than half the EF-100’s approximately 1,500.

Contrast ratio was also low, at an average of 394:1. This was slightly better than the EF-100’s 315:1, but still roughly half what the average projector can do in this price range in 2020.

Geek Box

Test

Result

Score

Black luminance (0%)

0.18

Poor

Peak white luminance (100%)

72.23

Poor

Derived lumens

650

Poor

Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)

6,457

Poor

Dark gray error (20%)

6,299

Poor

Bright gray error (70%)

6,509

Poor

Avg. color error

3.93

Average

Red error

5.222

Average

Green error

1.049

Good

Blue error

1.483

Good

Cyan error

6.575

Average

Magenta error

3.849

Average

Yellow error

5.394

Average

Avg. saturations error

3.55

Average

Avg. color checker error

5.4

Poor

Input lag (Game mode)

120

Average


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