Performance
Features
Ease of Use
Value
Intended Use:
Education
Dell S320wi Projector Dell S320wi
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2200:1 Contrast Ratio
3000 Lumens
PC 3D Ready
$1,253 Street Price
$1,299 MSRP

Dell S320wi Interactive Projector

Marc Davidson, January 18, 2013

Overview
BenQ MW860USTi
Dell S320wi
Dell S500wi
Epson 485Wi
SMART LightRaise 40wi
Sony VPL-SW535c
As the lowest resolution model in our Interactive Projector Shootout, the 1024x768 Dell S320wi outperformed expectations by coming in fifth place rather than last. Its strong points include the best data image quality for any of the DLP projectors and the second best video quality. It's even the brightest DLP projector in non-interactive mode. However, in interactive mode it's the dimmest by far. But it's also the least expensive at $1,299 (mount optional at extra cost) which definitely makes it worth a look if you're on a tight budget.








Best Points
  • Ranked as #3 (#1 for DLP models) for Data image quality
  • Ranked or tied as #4 (#2 for DLP models) for Video image quality
  • No calibration needed
  • Pen doesn't have to touch screen
  • 3D Ready

Limitations
  • Ranked as #6 for:
    • Brightness in interactive mode
    • Interactive software support

A Closer Look

Data image quality. The S320wi's data image quality is its strongest feature. It does a near-excellent job with details, with both black text on white and white text on black easily readable at sizes as small as 7 points. It was the only projector in this shootout to score that well. It was also the only one to sync well enough with an analog connection so that even images that tend to cause pixel jitter were as rock solid as with a digital connection.

As with all of the DLP projectors, the data image quality is hurt by colors that are dull and dark (in terms of a hue-saturation-brightness color model) in comparison to the much more vibrant color of the LCD models. Compared just with the other DLP projectors, however, the S320wi comes in tied with the Dell S500wi for best color quality. Rainbow artifacts are relatively obvious with the S320wi. However, I saw them only with images that are particularly prone to showing them.

Interactive features. The S320wi gets a low score for interactive features because its brightness drops to just 862 lumens with the brightest preset when you turn on interactive mode. In most other ways, it does well. As with all of the DLP projectors in this shootout, the pen doesn't need calibration, and it doesn't need to touch the screen. The S320wi also was the most reliably responsive of the DLP projectors, with no lag between the pen and screen when not touching the screen, and with drawn annotations not showing a lag even when touching the screen. Oddly, though, I saw a slight lag for the pen icon on screen when I was simply moving the pen while touching the screen.

Interactive software support. Dell does a better job supporting interactivity for Windows than for Mac. The S320wi comes with a Windows driver and Windows annotation program, and both work with Windows 8. Mac users need to download a driver from the Dell Web site. And although the S320wi should work with any Mac annotation program, Dell doesn't provide one.

Video image quality. As with all of the DLP projectors in this shootout, the S320wi comes in well behind the LCD projectors for video quality, primarily because colors aren't as vibrant or natural looking as with the LCD projectors. However, the S320wi did reasonably well on this score, coming in second or tied for second among DLP projectors for both the Presentation modes as well as the color optimized modes. For the brighter mode it ties the S500wi for best color quality, but loses noticeably more shadow detail. With the color optimized modes, the Dell models are tied, but the SMART 40wi beats them on color quality. In both modes, however, the S320wi's video quality is suitable for reasonably long sessions.

Installation and maintenance. Installation can be an issue for the S320wi, with the longest setup time using a wall mount for any projector in this shootout, and with the mount lacking any way to adjust roll, yaw, or vertical position of the projector. It scores a lot better for maintenance, with a lamp life of 3000 hours in Normal Mode and 4000 in Eco mode, although you have to deal with three screws to replace the lamp.

Audio. The S320wi's audio system, with one 5-watt speaker, is adequate for a small room, with reasonably good quality but relatively low volume.

Brightness. Dell rates the S320wi at 3000 lumens. We measured it at 2877 lumens with its brightest preset, and 981 to 1358 lumens with other presets. Unfortunately, it loses far more of its brightness than any of the other projectors when you switch to interactive mode, dropping to 863 lumens with the brightest preset, and an oddly higher 930 lumens with the other presets. Even at 930 lumens, it's less than half as bright in interactive mode as the next brightest projector in the shootout.

As with all DLP projectors in this shootout, the S320wi's color brightness is significantly lower than its white brightness, at 540 color lumens in non-interactive mode with the brightest preset. That translates to color images not being as bright as they are on LCD projectors with similar white lumen measurements.

Connections. The S320wi offers a typical set of connectors:

  • 1 HDMI
  • 2 VGA IN (for RGB or component)
  • 1 S-video
  • 1 RCA composite
  • 1 USB A (for directly reading files from USB key)
  • 1 VGA OUT (monitor loop-through)
  • 1 USB B (for direct USB display)
  • 1 mini USB B(for interactive control and mouse control from remote)
  • 1 LAN (for image data and network control)
  • 1 Stereo mini plug input
  • 1 Stereo mini plug OUT
  • 1 RS-232 (for external control)
  • Wi-Fi

Conclusion

The Dell S320wi's low brightness in interactive mode limits its usefulness in rooms that need a large, bright display. However, if its brightness is adequate for the image size and ambient light that you need it for, the S320wi delivers more than reasonable value for the price, with reasonably high quality for both data and video, plus the convenience of not needing calibration and not needing the pen to touch the screen. In addition, being 3D-ready is a potentially useful feature. Even with its fifth place ranking, it's a reasonable choice for the price.

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