Lately, it seems like HP has moved its industrial design team to Cupertino. Not only is the company selling iPods, it's also come out with Apple-white printers and now this podlike projector. Much like the iPod itself, the ep7120 looks great and performs well right out of the box--and unlike Apple's white wonder, it isn't inordinately expensive. We're not thrilled about the lack of RGB controls in the user menu, the slightly spotty scaling, and the noticeable distortion at maximum zoom, but at this price level, we don't expect miracles. As it stands, HP has created a darn good projector for the money.
The ep7120'shousing is easily leveled by using the dial on the front left of the base and swiveling the unit gently by hand. Power, menu, volume, picture mode, keystone, and input buttons, along with a four-way rocking controller for menu controls, reside atop the projector. The remote, itself a comfortable-to-hold orb, includes all the same controls, plus mute. The keypad lights up when you press any button.
The ep7120 uses a Texas Instruments 1,024x768 native resolution DLP chip. Unlike other projectors that use TI's 1,280x720 HD2+ chip, the HP doesn't have enough resolution for full 720p HDTV, so both 720p and 1080i sources are converted to fit the available pixels. Furthermore, wide-screen DVD and other 16:9 sources are also subject to lots of scaling, which may have contributed to some of the artifacts we saw.
While the ep7120 doesn't provide much in the way of picture tweaks, each preset picture mode can be customized as you see fit for contrast, brightness, and the other basics. The Warm color temperature comes closest to the 6,500K standard (see the geek box for more). Aspect-ratio controls aren't as sophisticated as those of some other displays. All you can do is indicate whether the selected input is wide-screen or not and choose a stretch mode of Best Fit (stretches 4:3 signals to fit wide-screen), 1-to-1 (displays each pixel without change), or Reduced (fits 4:3 material into 16:9 screen height). Keystoning is vertical only.
Connectivity options include one component-video, one S-Video, one composite-video, one RS-232 control port, and one DVI with HDCP. HP bundles both a VGA-to-DVI adapter to connect non-DVI computer sources and a 20-foot S-Video cable inside the projector box. The long cable is convenient if you plan to hang the projector from the ceiling, but as always, component or DVI should yield truer color.
We tested the ep7120 using a 96-inch-diagonal Da-Lite HighContrast Da-Mat screen specifically designed for use with LCD and DLP projectors. Right out of the box, the color temperature was impressive compared to that of many projectors. But it was still a bit blue and varied substantially from 6,500K up and down the grayscale. We couldn't access the service menu to calibrate the projector by press time, and there were no RGB user-menu controls. After we properly set black level, however, the grayscale improved noticeably. The color decoder showed minor red push.
Black-level performance was impressive, with little detail lost in dark portions of the image. The dark scenes in the barn and the horse's stall in chapter 10 of Seabiscuit, for example, were a pleasure to watch. Plenty of detail was visible in Seabiscuit's head and neck, though we have seen some similarly priced projectors do even better. Unlike some LCD projectors, this DLP has no noticeable screen-door effect, even when viewing closer than the recommended distance of two screen heights.