Epson Home Cinema 880 projector review: Bright and cheap, but that’s about it

The Epson 880 is a tale of two specs and a price. On one hand, it’s the brightest projector I’ve measured recently, dethroning the previous champ after less than a month. On the other hand it also has the worst contrast ratio I’ve ever measured, worse than even cheap portable projectors that are much dimmer. On the third hand (third hand? Whatever, go with me here), it’s only $600. So it’s inexpensive, but you sacrifice a lot compared to projectors that cost just a little bit more. 

Don’t Like

  • Weak overall image quality
  • Terrible contrast
  • Details look soft
  • No zoom

Few projectors can better compete with ambient light than the 880. It will still lose to the sun or some lamps, but it will be more watchable than most projectors in less-than-completely-dark conditions. It can create a massive and bright image. It’s small and highly portable, while being significantly brighter than a true portable projector — one that runs on batteries. It even has excellent color.

Unfortunately the image is quite washed out, it looks softer than its 1080p resolution suggests and with no zoom or lens shift, it’s far harder to position in a room. While the $600 price tag is tempting, my advice is to save up for something like the BenQ HT2050A.


Lumens, lumens, lumens

  • Native resolution: 1,920×1,080 pixels
  • HDR-compatible: No
  • 4K-compatible: No
  • 3D-compatible: No
  • Lumens spec: 3,300
  • Zoom: None
  • Lens shift: No
  • Lamp life (Normal mode): 6,000 hours

1080p resolution for $600 is pretty impressive. It wasn’t too long ago $1,000 was the full HD threshold. As you’d expect for a budget projector, it’s not HDR, 3D, nor 4K compatible. That’s fine at this price.

One way Epson saved money to get you resolution and brightness is by removing a zoom control from the lens. The lack of zoom makes it harder to position the 880 in your room. The projector has one place it can sit/hang to fill a specific-sized screen and that’s it. If you don’t have a fixed screen, like you’re just shining it on a wall, then this isn’t an issue.

Let’s talk about those lumens. This thing is a beast. I measured a remarkable 232 nits in its most accurate modes. This converts to roughly 2,085 lumens. That blows away our previous light output champ, also an Epson, by 20%. It’s always a fair assumption with TVs and projectors that prices will go down while brightness and resolution will go up. Even so, that’s a big, impressive leap. In eye-bleed Dynamic mode you can get 359 nits out of this thing! That’s over 3,000 lumens and brighter even than the LG laser projector that costs $3,000. It wasn’t long ago that TVs struggled to produce 3,000 lumens. 

Remarkably, the 880 runs on a regular lamp and not some mixture of phosphorus and napalm. It’s rated for 6,000 hours in Normal brightness mode, which I’ll be surprised if you use often. The dimmer-but-still-bright ECO mode gets around twice that.

epson-880-7-of-9

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Budget-level connections

  • HDMI inputs: 1
  • PC input: No
  • USB port: 2
  • Audio input and output: 3.5mm stereo output
  • Digital audio output: No
  • Internet: No
  • 12v trigger: No
  • RS-232 remote port: No
  • MHL: No
  • Remote: Not backlit

Inputs are sparse, which is again fine at this price. One HDMI gets the job done along with 2 USBs. There’s a 3.5mm audio output, or you can use the meager built-in speaker.

The small remote has tiny buttons, but thankfully you only really need to use it for setup and to turn the projector on and off.

In the Normal lamp mode the 880 is pretty loud, which is typical for small, bright projectors. This might be more of an issue than usual depending how big your screen is, since without a zoom you might be forced to place it closer to your seats than you’d like.

epson-880-2-of-9

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Picture quality comparisons

The 2250 isn’t a direct competitor at twice the price of the 880, however it does show what’s possible if you want to go with an LCD projector. The BenQ HT2050A is still one of our favorite projectors. When new it was around $1,000, but now it’s often around $750. While that’s technically 25% more than the 880, as you’ll see I feel this is a reasonable amount to spend for the increase in performance. I connected all three via a Monoprice 1×4 distribution amplifier and viewed all on a 102-inch 1.0-gain screen.

There’s no escaping the 880’s poor contrast ratio. While viewing a movie with letterbox bars, in this case Thor: Ragnarok, the bars go from black on the BenQ, to fairly black on the 2250, to flat out gray on the 880. The image looks very washed out and flat. I measured an average contrast ratio of 221:1, the lowest I think I’ve ever measured. The 2250, for comparison, is 1,026:1 and the BenQ is twice that. Interestingly, in person the 880 doesn’t look that much brighter than the 2250 despite measuring 20% higher light output. Both Epsons are so bright the 880 doesn’t draw the eye as much as you’d think. In turn both are definitely brighter than the 2050A, but that projector isn’t exactly dim.

A bit more surprising is how soft the 880’s image looks. All three projectors are 1080p. The DLP-based BenQ looks sharpest, as is that technology’s biggest strength. You’d think the 2250 and 880 would look fairly close, since they’re both the same resolution and are LCD-based, but not so much. My guess is that a combination of a cheaper lens and low contrast are making fine detail less apparent.

The 880’s color is good, I’ll give it that. Spot on greens, reds and blues. In this regard it actually measures better than many projectors that cost far more. This isn’t as noticeable as you’d hope, however, given the contrast. It doesn’t hurt to have good color, of course, especially when bright DLP projectors usually have fairly mediocre color.

epson-880-4-of-9

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The 2250 shows that LCD can look good, though perhaps it’s just expensive to do so. $1,000 is a lot of money for a 1080p projector these days. Which brings us back, as we often go, to the HT2050A. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it does most things right, looks great and just costs about $150 more than the Epson. Yes, that’s 25%, but this is one of the rare cases that I recommend spending a bit more since you’ll get a much better image.

I didn’t have the Optoma HD146X or HD28HDR on hand, both of which are closer in price to the 880. Going over my notes and measurements, the 146X had a contrast ratio of 568:1 and the 28HDR a 716:1. Neither are great numbers, but both would have more apparent depth and look less washed out than the 880. Both were dimmer and had worse color, but I think most people would prefer the better contrast ratio and sharper image of those projectors compared to the 880. That said, in all three cases spending a little more gets you a much better picture.

Sing me home, Bruce

You’ve got to hand it to Epson for making something so impressively bright for so little money. It wasn’t long ago that this kind of brightness was unheard of in projectors and 1080p was unheard of at this price. But I spent a lot of my time with the 880 trying to figure out who this projector is for. What’s the niche? And to be honest, I couldn’t quite figure it out. Sure it’s bright, but a lot of projectors are bright. It’s small, but a lot of projectors are small. Gaming maybe? But the input lag is an issue there.

What I finally settled on is that the 880 is a muscle car. If all you want is a flashy 0-60 time for not a lot of money, this is definitely your 1970 Dodge Charger. But beyond blinding lights, it falters. I adore the price and I rarely, rarely, rarely recommend spending more on gear than you need to, but in this case the picture quality available for just a bit more money is worth the extra outlay.

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.946 Poor
Peak white luminance (100%) 231.5 Good
Derived lumens 2085 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 2.401 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 2.688 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 2.225 Good
Avg. color error 3.737 Average
Red error 2.019 Good
Green error 6.949 Average
Blue error 5.381 Average
Cyan error 3.365 Average
Magenta error 3.239 Average
Yellow error 1.469 Good
Avg. saturations error 2.58 Good
Avg. color checker error 2.2 Good
Input lag (Game mode) 51.5 Average

Measurement Notes

The Cinema picture mode and 3 color temperature setting proved to be the most accurate. The darkest images, well, as dark as you can get with this projector, were noticeably blue. A full-black image was more like a full-navy image. Bright images lacked blue slightly, though this wasn’t as noticeable to the naked eye.

Colors were impressively accurate. Red was very slightly orange, but otherwise the other primaries and secondaries were pretty much spot on their Rec 709 targets.

In this mode, the 880 produced 231.5 nits and an average contrast ratio of 221:1. A new record, albeit an inglorious one. The Dynamic mode, which lacks any semblance of accuracy, did manage to produce a remarkable 359 nits.

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