Presently, dedicated instrument developments at large telescopes (SPHERE for the VLT, GPI for Gemini) are about to discover and explore self-luminous giant planets by direct imaging and spectroscopy. The next generation of 30m-40m ground-based telescopes, the Extremely Large Telescopes (ELTs), have the potential to dramatically enlarge the discovery space towards older giant planets seen in reflected light and ultimately even a small number of rocky planets. EPICS is a proposed instrument for the European ELT, dedicated to the detection and characterization of expolanets by direct imaging and spectroscopy. ESO recently launched a phase-A study for EPICS with a large European consortium which - by simulations and demonstration experiments - will investigate state-of-the-art diffraction and speckle suppression techniques to deliver highest contrasts. The final result of the study in 2010 will be a conceptual design and a development plan for the instrument. Here we present first results from the phase-A study and discuss the main challenges and science capabilities of EPICS.