When Epson laid out the specs for the EX30, some of its designers must not have received the memo about this being a budget model. While it costs just $549, the EX30 is one of the most impressive of this company's long line of budget-priced projectors. While it's not as portable as more expensive projectors, the EX30's price tag is liable to make you forget that extra weight.
In terms of looks and shape, the EX30 is almost identical to the latest member of Epson's low-priced PowerLite S family, the S6, but has some gray accents, as opposed to the S6's all-white body. Like the other Epson budget models, the EX30 is no lightweight, weighing in at 5.8 pounds, but its travel weight of 6.7 pounds (including the usual complement of cables and remote control) still fits well within our definition of portable.
Of course, budget models must have some shortcomings--otherwise, who would buy anything else? The EX30 has no optical zoom, which could be a problem when fitting an image to a particular screen size. This is partially offset by a two-prong AC cable plug that can mate with any extension cord, making it easy to use this model just about anywhere.
The remote control, which is the size of a tiny cell phone, lacks a laser pointer but does include some small but useful buttons for navigating a PowerPoint slideshow. For some odd reason, these Page Up/Down buttons do not work by default. To activate them, you must access the projector's on-screen menu.
As with almost all budget models, the EX30 has rather low resolution (800 x 600, or SVGA), but the image was enjoyably large. The projector produced an image size of 54 inches in diagonal at a 5-foot screen distance.
On our lab tests the EX30 performed quite well, if not superbly. Our brightness test revealed 1946 ANSI lumens, less than 10 percent shy of the advertised value and just as bright as models twice its price. On our checkerboard contrast test, it scored a ratio of 226:1, about average for LCD projectors. Up close, the individual pixels showed a slight registration error, with red and blue fringes. This makes very small text hard to read, but you're unlikely to be using very small text in a presentation anyway.
On the plus side, that same LCD technology generated beautiful colors, especially brilliant yellows and rich reds. The images were also amazingly steady, without even the slightest hint of flicker. The cooling fan noise in the default high-power mode seemed about average, but in low-power mode (only 20 percent dimmer) it was very quiet.
Although you don't usually think of an SVGA projector in association with high-definition TV, the EX30 comes with its own component video adapter--a feature lacking on many higher-resolution projectors. Sure enough, when we connected the EX30 to our 1080i set-top box, we were impressed with the picture. Although we did see some occasional motion blur, this model's relatively low resolution seemed to stand up well with higher-resolution XGA models.
The EX30's warm-up and cooldown times were amazingly short: 14 seconds and 3 seconds, respectively. Accessing the cooling fan filter, which must be changed periodically on all LCD projectors, is very easy.
Like any budget model, the $549 Epson EX30 is not quite perfect. In fact, the NEC NP100 offers even greater performance for the dollar, but if you want the rich colors of an LCD projector and a super-steady image for a budget price, the EX30 should be high on your list.