Just when home cinema projectors from the likes of Epson became affordable, along came mass market flatscreen TVs to steal the sales, but this cinema-in-a-box measures up to the competition in convincing style.
Arriving in our test rooms in a padded pouch, Epson's latest all-in-one is clearly trying to make projection as portable and personable as possible. It just about works, although the EH-DM3 does have some limitations.
It's very similar to its predecessor, the EH-DM2, apart from the addition of a few extra pixels: this incarnation boasts a 960 x 540 resolution where its older sibling's was 854 x 480.
The built-in DVD player also supports CDs and, new for 2010, DivX playback. So to its moveable speakers, which wrap around the front or back (your choice) and provide a few extra notches of power over the former model at 10W. There's even a Virtual Surround mode.
Together with those improvements, alongside tripled contrast ratio and almost doubled brightness, the EH-DM3 might sound like the ideal occasional movie companion.
By design the projector is light on cables by dint of its built-in DVD player, although its rear also sports a HDMI input in case you want to hook-up either a Blu-ray player, a PS3 or an Xbox 360. Further proof of its mainstream appeal comes in the shape of a microphone input, which could attract a few karaoke fans.
Ease of use
Despite its extra dollop of brightness, the EH-DM3 can't compete with daylight. Best used in a blackout, it's also important to use it in as big a room as possible because, while it's capable of throwing 300in images, there are caveats.
Firstly, at that size picture quality is terrible and, secondly, you'd have to position yourself somewhere around nine metres from the screen, in a giant room, if you want to hear the speakers. A compromise is usually best; we settled on an 80in image thrown from seven feet from the screen.
You can angle the device as much as possible using its retractable feet and then use keystone correction to level the image. But that still leaves the conundrum of where to sit.
Help is at hand from one of the EH-DM3's cleverest features: its spinning top. Sit behind the projector and you can hear some acceptable audio (even in a quasi-surround mode) from the front, or you can swivel the lamp and sit in front of the device to get audio from behind.
Despite these options, we found it best to slip on a pair of headphones. Using the USB input is similarly two-pronged. Inserting a Flash memory stick is tricky, since the power cord is in the way, although once achieved, the EH-DM3 immediately starts playing MP3 and WMA files stored within, although at unpredictably high volumes.
Select some JPEG photos and a slideshow begins, while the music continues in the background. The device defaults to USB if there's a dongle in situ.
Movie playback is limited; feed the machine some DivX or MPEG video files and they play in seconds, but there's no recognition of any other video file formats.
Blowing up a DVD to 100ins does, of course, present a few problems that won't be solved until Epson releases an HD Ready or even a Blu-ray version of the EH-DM3. We can only hope for that at some future date.
Lost In Translation on DVD boasts some reasonably well-saturated colours, although they can appear a touch muted. A murky shot of the Park Hyatt hotel lobby features some dirt in backgrounds, but there's still plenty of brightness to liven up the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. However, shots of traffic reveal motion blur, as do the camera pans between the cocky director and his assistant during Bob's Suntory advert shoot.
Nor is there a great deal of contrast on offer, but when watched in total blackout conditions the EH-DM3 does produce some acceptable black levels. You might think it futile to pump in Rescue Dawn on Blu-ray, but the lightbox can accept a full HD 1080p signal, even if it can't display it completely.
Pictures from Blu-ray are tighter, while at the other end of the scale, images from DivX video files are best kept small.
While hardly powerful, the beefed-up speakers edge slightly above the minimum level required to comfortably listen to music or for undemanding gaming.
Movies are less well catered for, with a lot of detail lost in subtle soundtracks, though dialogue-led animated fare (this projector was bundled with the Ice Age trilogy at time of writing) is fine.
Unsurprisingly, the surround option doesn't live up to its name, but audio isn't a write-off. Typically for the EH-DM3, there are options; the provision of both a headphones jack and an electrical digital output to hook it up to an amp should please most users. The headphones option, in particular, is utterly unique to a home cinema projector – and perfect for late night viewing.
To call the EH-DM3 a home entertainment centre might be pushing credibility, but Epson just about succeeds.
Trying to make a projector portable is no easy task and this one is best left alone once you've found it a home and tweaked the settings. But this cleverly designed device will perfectly suit undemanding users looking for an occasional projector.
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