Dell S500wi Interactive Projector Shootout
January 18, 2013,
The Dell S500wi earns fourth place in our Interactive Projector Shootout, but comes in second (or tied for second) in two key areas: interactive features and brightness in interactive mode. It also comes in third for video quality in the brighter mode we tested video with. What drags its score down is primarily its data image quality, which came in last place. However, data images are more than good enough to be usable for most purposes, and the S500wi has other strengths to make it well worth considering.
Data image quality. The S500wi shares a tendency with the other DLP models in this shootout for colors to be dull and dark in terms of a hue-saturation-brightness model. One exception with the S500wi is that cyan tends to be on the pastel side. Overall, it comes in tied for first among the DLP projectors for color quality, along with the Dell S320i, but far behind either of the LCD projectors.
The S500wi also loses points on maintaining detail, with both black text on white and white text on black easily readable down to only 9 points. That should be acceptable in most cases, but if you need to show images with fine detail, it could be a problem. The Dell S320wi, in contrast, offered highly readable text at sizes as small as 7 points. Pixel jitter was also a problem, and easily noticeable from 15 feet on images that tend to cause jitter.
The S500wi was the only projector in this shootout with visible bowing of the image, which was particularly obvious on graphics with straight horizontal lines. On the plus side, rainbow artifacts were less obvious on the S500wi than either the S320wi or the SMART 40wi.
Interactive features. Along with the other DLP models in this shootout, the S500wi shares the advantage of its interactive pen not needing calibration and not needing to touch the screen. Beyond that, the interactivity worked best when I was holding the pen a few inches from the screen, with the system highly responsive, and no lag. When drawing while touching the screen, it tended to lose pieces of lines in my tests, possibly because of shadows, a trait it shares with the LightRaise 40wi.
Interactive software support. Interactive software support is better for Windows than for the Mac. The S500wi comes with a Windows annotation program, doesn't need a driver for Windows, and fully supports Windows 8. It should also work with any Mac annotation program, but Mac users will need to download a driver from Dell's Web site and get their annotation program elsewhere.
Video image quality. We compared all six projectors side-by-side in both Presentation mode (or equivalent for highest brightness consistent with acceptable color) and Theater/Movie mode (or equivalent for optimum color). In the brighter modes the S500wi came in second among the DLP projectors in contrast and color quality and best for shadow detail. In the Theater/Movie modes the S500wi was tied for second among the DLP projectors. The LCD projectors offered much more vibrant color than the DLP models. However, the S500wi is reasonably watchable for long sessions in both modes.
Installation and maintenance. The S500wi doesn't score well on either installation or maintenance issues. The wall mount uses two studs, which gives it more stability than mounts using only one stud, but it offers no easy way to adjust roll, yaw, or horizontal or vertical position. For maintenance, the lamp life is 2500 hours in Standard mode and only 3000 hours in Eco mode, and you have to deal with a screw to replace the lamp.
Audio. The audio system in the S500wi is good enough to be potentially useful. The two stereo 5-watt speakers are loud enough for a mid to large-size room, but with significant bottom-of-the barrel echo effect. If you need good audio quality, you'll need an external sound system.
Brightness. Dell rates the S500wi at 3200 lumens. We measured its white brightness at 2772 lumens in its brightest preset, and 910 to 1510 lumens in other presets. However, its brightness doesn't drop significantly when you turn interactive mode on. At 2620 lumens, it's the brightest of the DLP models in interactive mode.
As with all the DLP models, the S500wi's color brightness, at 522 lumens, is significantly lower than its white brightness. So although it's tied for second place for white brightness in interactive mode with the Sony VPL-SW535C, color images like photos are not as bright on the S500wi as they are on the Sony. On the other hand, black/white images like text documents will be essentially the same brightness on both projectors.
Connections. The S500wi includes all the connectors you're likely to need:
If top quality data images are essential, you'll need to look elsewhere, but if you can live with minor flaws in data images, the Dell S500wi has a lot to recommend it. In addition to the features you'll find in all the DLP models, including 3D support, no need to calibrate, and the ability to interact without touching the screen, it delivers the brightest image in interactive mode of any of the DLP projectors, and either the best or second best video, depending on the preset. At $1,599, with the mount optional at extra cost, it's less expensive than either of the LCD projectors in this shootout, all of which makes it a more than reasonable choice for the price.
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