The new Dell M900HD is a lightweight portable WXGA presentation projector that is packed to the gills with features. It uses a pure LED light engine with no laser components to create a bright image with an estimated lifespan of 30,000 hours. Onboard PC-free document compatibility lets you use your projector without a laptop, and the projector's 2GB of onboard storage means you'll never lose your presentation flash drive again. WiDi connectivity makes it possible to go wireless even when using an external source. For the presenter on the go, the M900HD has a lot to offer -- and with an $899 MSRP, it won't break the bank, either.
The Dell M900HD comes packaged in a small box, inside of which is an even smaller carrying case. The projector is about the size of a hardcover novel, measuring 1.7" tall by 9.1" wide and 6.5" deep, and could easily fit in a shoulder bag or laptop case if you do not want to use the included carrying case.
Unlike ultralight projectors of years past, the M900HD does not have a separate power brick. It uses a standard three-prong power cable found on most common consumer electronics. This is good news -- not only is the projector's 2.9 pound weight spec accurate, but if you happen to break or misplace your power cable, replacements are inexpensive and easy to find.
The M900 is clearly a presenter's projector. It has a fixed focal length lens, meaning there's no zoom. The projector will display a 60" diagonal image from roughly six feet away from the screen, and at this size the image is sufficiently bright to combat ambient light in a typical office or meeting room -- though the picture does look better if you turn off the lights. The projector throws its image essentially straight out, such that the bottom edge of the image is aligned with the center of the lens. Setting up this projector is really an exercise in point and shoot, as there are few controls to speak of. The projector does have a tripod socket in its base, for those times when the conference table and the wall are not positioned how you want them.
The first thing we noticed about the image itself was the M900's use of diamond-shaped pixels rather than traditional square pixels. Diamond-shaped pixels are formed by rotating the DLP chip 45 degrees, thus giving the pixel matrix the appearance of a series of staggered diamonds rather than a rectangular grid of squares (more on this below). The image itself is clear and bright, and the M900 has a variety of image modes that will be useful in different types of presentations. Color saturation is excellent, while black level is very good for this class of projector despite the projector's low contrast rating.
LED light engine. The M900HD is powered by three clusters of light emitting diodes (LEDs) in red, green, and blue. LEDs are solid-state and have a much longer estimated lifespan than traditional high-pressure lamps. Instead of a lamp life rated in the thousands of hours, the M900HD's light engine is expected to last 30,000 hours at full power.
Fast startup, fast shutdown. The M900HD's image leaps onto the screen a scant few seconds after power-up. Unlike high-pressure lamps, which need to warm up over a period of 5-10 minutes, LEDs reach full power only seconds after startup. They do tend to "cool down" and lose a portion of their total brightness in the following minutes, but the important facet of this technology is that it allows you to start presenting right away.
Onboard document viewer. The M900HD's onboard media software is quick and responsive, and in our testing the Dell M900 was snappy and responsive when navigating a USB thumb drive loaded with photos, music, video, and documents. The user interface is intuitive and simple to navigate with the projector's remote control. The document viewer is compatible with common image file formats (GIF/JPG/PNG) as well as common document types including files from Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and PDF. The projector can also handle common video files, but given the immense variety of available video codecs and container file formats, it is recommended that you test any mission-critical video on the M900HD before going out on the road.
Connectivity. The M900HD's best feature is its ability to connect to just about any device in multiple ways, several of which do not require the use of a cable.
The M900 has only a scant few ports on its rear connection panel, including a USB-A port, one HDMI port, a 3.5mm audio output, and an SD card slot. These connections are covered by a tethered port cover which both protects the ports and hides them from view when they are not needed.
Using these few ports, the M900HD can connect to a cornucopia of devices in a dizzying number of ways. Using USB, you can connect a flash drive or other USB storage device. You can also connect a laptop computer directly; the projector will automatically prompt a software installation that allows you to project audio and video over USB. You can also use this USB connection to load documents to the M900's internal 2GB flash memory, obviating the need for any external storage media whatsoever. The projector comes with a USB cable to make this easier, as not everyone has a USB-A to USB-A cable laying around.
The M900HD also has Wi-Fi. This allows you to use the Dell Projection Connection Manager software to project from your laptop over wireless, or use Intel's WiDi to control the projector from your PC. You can also view documents from a mobile device using either Miracast on Android and Windows or WiFi-Doc on iOS and Android.
Onboard sound. The projector has a three-watt mono speaker which is loud enough for presentations to small audiences in small rooms. External speakers can be connected via the 3.5mm audio output jack, but if you're going for portability, the internal speaker is certainly better than nothing.
Light output. The M900HD is rated at 900 lumens. Our test sample produced 852 lumens in Bright mode using a white test pattern immediately after startup, which is when LEDs are at their brightest. Light output dropped 13% to 741 lumens after a fifteen minute warm-up period and finally stabilized after 30 minutes at 733 lumens, 14% below the initial reading. As such, all lumen measurements below were taken after the projector had warmed up for at least 30 minutes.
Bright mode boosts white light output but lowers color light output in relation to white. As a result, Bright mode is best for black and white images where color fidelity is not important.
Presentation mode, which has better color balance and brightness, measured 504 lumens. Presentation mode is a good do-everything mode for presenters who need the M900 to display both images and data, as it balances light output with improved color fidelity and brightness.
For color-intensive content, sRGB mode measured 450 lumens on our projector and had color brightness that equaled white brightness. It also showed the least color bias or cast of any preset image mode. As such, sRGB mode is the preset of choice whenever color is of the utmost importance. (Click here for more on DLP color wheels and Color Light Output).
In any image mode, brightness can be reduced by engaging Eco mode, which reduces the power to the LEDs. But the exact amount of the brightness decrease depends on the image mode. Bright mode reduces light output by 10%, while Presentation reduces output by 18% and sRGB falls off by 29%. However, since estimated LED life is already quite long and the projector does not produce a lot of light to begin with, few folks will have cause to use Eco mode. Eco mode does not significantly reduce fan noise, either.
Contrast. The M900HD is rated at "up to" 10,000:1 contrast according to Dell, with a "typical" contrast of 700:1. That 10,000:1 figure is similar to the one you see quoted on spec sheets industry-wide, and it reflects the maximum the projector is capable of -- its brightest white and deepest black. The 700:1 figure is still a full on/full off contrast measurement, but it more accurately reflects what most people will see during typical use of the projector in a real-world setting.
Specifications aside, the M900HD produces deep blacks and well-defined shadow detail in its better-calibrated modes like sRGB and Presentation. Highlights typically have a slight color cast, but this is not objectionable in a presentation projector. Overall, contrast is more than sufficient to give depth and dimensionality to photos and data graphics for the purposes of business and presentation.
Sharpness and clarity. The M900HD uses diamond-shaped pixels and has a native pixel matrix that is not exactly 1280x800. As a result, finely detailed material, especially anything that uses single-pixel grids or lines, will appear hazy or distorted if looked at too closely. However, as this is a mobile presentation projector and not a video projector, the distortion is less objectionable -- especially when using large-format content like Powerpoint slideshows or data graphics. Distortion is however quite noticeable when using small text.
Diamond-shaped pixels. The M900 has diamond-shaped pixels, as do several of its competitors, due to a 45-degree rotation of the DLP chip. The reason for this is that the other components of the light engine can be placed in such a way that the projector's height is reduced. If compact portability is what you want, diamond-shaped pixels allow you to carry a smaller projector with a higher native resolution.
From an image quality standpoint, though, diamond-shaped pixels don't do anything good to a native-resolution image. In part, this is because the use of a diamond-shaped pixel matrix means that native resolution is not actually 1280 x 800. This is most evident using a test pattern with a 1x1 pixel grid; the projector produces a smudgy, interpolated mess. In real world use, any single-pixel straight line will appear less straight and blurred around the edges. Small text, especially 10 point and smaller, will blur. Fine detail in photographs will smudge. And contrary to conventional wisdom, this distortion will appear most severe at the projector's native resolution.
Essentially, the M900HD's use of diamond pixels means that it has no native resolution. There is no benefit to feeding the M900HD a 1280x800 pixel signal, since the projector has to interpolate the rectangular pixel matrix data to its own grid of diamond pixels. As such, if you do need to use the M900HD with photographs, you should opt for full resolution files whenever possible. The projector will interpolate these down to WXGA (or at least WXGA-ish), but at least the interpolation will only happen once. If you pre-process your files to 1280x800, they are interpolated once by the conversion software and then again by the projector, so you end up with a cleaner image by skipping the first step.
Focus instability. As the M900HD warms up, the picture's focus gradually shifts, and after ten minutes a picture that was initially in focus is no longer perfectly sharp. This kind of problem is less noticeable on projectors that are permanently mounted, since they can be focused after the warm-up period. On a portable projector, though, there's no way to pre-set focus for the post-warmup position. The degree of shift does not make small text unreadable, but it does blur out very fine detail in images and could make complex spreadsheets difficult to read from a distance.
Limited light output. While light emitting diodes are brighter than they were a few years ago, they still aren't terribly bright. From a presenter's point of view, this limits image size to 60-65" diagonal in a room with moderate ambient light. The M900HD is best used for presentations to small groups in small rooms, where its light output and speaker power are appropriate to the setting.
Fan noise. The M900HD's cooling fan is noticeable, especially in smaller rooms when you are not using audio in your presentation. The projector does not expel much heat, which is good news for audience members positioned near to the projector. Fan noise is best described as a low-pitch rush of air. It's not difficult to ignore, given the lack of high-frequency noise or whining, and using the projector's speaker effectively drowns out the distraction.
No zoom lens. Like many of its competitors, the M900HD has no zoom lens. This means that image size is determined by the projector's distance from the screen. This is not a significant limitation since most ultraportable projectors with zoom lenses have minimal ranges of 1.1:1 or 1.2:1 at best.
Initial software install required. If you want to use USB or Wi-Fi connectivity with your laptop, be sure to install the included software before you take the M900HD on the road. Initial setup is not complicated, but it's something best done when there is no time pressure -- i.e. not immediately before your big meeting. At the present moment, the presentation software does not work with Apple's OS X operating system, though Dell informs us that an OS X version of the software is coming soon.
The Dell M900HD is a powerful, compact projector that packs a variety of presenting features into a tiny package. Its 30,000-hour LED light engine removes the need for lamp replacements, thereby reducing the number of things that can go wrong while you're out on the road. It has best-in-class connectivity thanks to its creative implementations of USB and WiFi projection. Compatibility with flash media and the presence of 2 gigabytes of onboard storage make PC-free projection a real possibility, while mobile devices can connect over WiFi using free apps like WiFi-Doc and industry-approved protocols such as Intel's WiDi and Miracast. It can read the most popular document types natively, and its onboard document navigation and viewing software is a pleasure to use.
The use of diamond-shaped pixels makes the M900HD a thinner projector and thus easier to transport, while its lack of power brick reduces one hassle commonly found on ultraportables. But those same diamond pixels make WXGA content less sharp and clear than on square-pixeled WXGA projectors. This trade-off makes the Dell M900HD an interesting product in today's market, and its $899 price tag makes it an attractive option for business use.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Dell M900HD projector page.