Just as interactive short throw projectors are getting common enough to lose their status as interestingly different, along comes the Dell S500wi with, well, an interesting difference. It ups the ante by shrinking the throw distance, from short to ultra short, making it even easier to avoid throwing shadows while interacting with the screen.
Built around TI's interactive technology, the DLP-based S500wi offers some familiar features, including an interactive wand, or pen, that doesn't need to touch the screen plus the ability to set up the projector quickly without having to calibrate it. Beyond that, however, it offers 1280x800 (WXGA) resolution, a bright image with a 3200 lumen rating, and a surprisingly low price for an ultra short throw, at $1599.
Ultra short throw. Anything truly in the ultra short throw category should be able to throw a big image from a few inches. The S500wi passes that test with ease. At the native 1280x800 resolution, we measured a 75" diagonal (63" wide) image with the front of the projector just 5" inches from the screen.
As with other ultra short throw projectors, the S500wi actually projects the image from nearly the back of the projector, bouncing the image off a mirror that was about 19" from the screen in our tests. That's consistent with Dell's stated range for the projection distance of 1.6 to 2.15 feet (19.2" to 25.8") for an image size of 77" to 100" diagonal.
For an interactive projector, the payoff for an ultra short throw is that you can interact with the screen without having to worry about shadows. Granted, you may cast a small shadow, but it won't be much larger than whatever's causing it, and you won't hide much of the image.
Interactivity with almost everything you need. As with most interactive projectors, the S500wi comes with almost everything you need, including an interactive wand that will work with virtually any annotation software. The wand also lets you control your mouse pointer and give left and right mouse button commands. In case you don't already have an annotation program, Dell also includes InterWrite Workspace software. Also worth mention is the laser pointer in the projector's remote, which can come in handy when you're not in interactive mode.
Fast Reaction Time. One minor issue with earlier TI-based interactive projectors was a slight lag between moving the wand and seeing the result on screen. The sluggishness isn't bad enough to hurt usability, but it takes a little practice to adjust to. The S500wi didn't show any lag at all, which makes it feel natural from the instant you start using it. Count this as a small, but significant, advantage over projectors with a lag.
No calibration. One highly welcome feature in TI-based interactive projectors is that they don't need calibration. The projector overlays a grid on the image, which the human eye can't see, but the wand uses like map coordinates to tell the projector where it's pointing. Not needing calibration is a major advantage if you need to move the projector around -- most likely on a cart, given the 15.6 pound weight. Set the projector in place, and it's ready to work.
No need to touch the screen. One of the more important benefits of not needing to touch the screen with the wand is that you can use literally any surface, including rough surfaces that could harm a stylus, sensitive surfaces that a stylus might leave marks on, and surfaces without a solid backing, like a screen hanging freely from a support.
In addition, because the wand works from a distance -- well over 30 feet in our tests -- you can move around the room. In a classroom, for example, you can move to a student's desk. As you might expect, however, it's hard to control what you're pointing at from a distance. I find that trying to click on a menu command from even 10 feet is usually enough to move the pointer off the item I'm trying to click on.