Dell S500wi Projector Review

22 Sep

Dell S500wi

Interactive projectors are becoming increasingly common, but the Dell S500wi ($1599 direct) stands out for being one of the few that combines interactivity with an ultra short throw. Built in interactivity lets you interact with the image without needing a separate, and expensive, interactive whiteboard. The ultra short throw lets you project a big image from just a few inches from the screen, making it easy to avoid shadows. The combination makes the S500wi particularly attractive.

The S500wi isn’t the first interactive ultra-short-throw projector we’ve reviewed. That honor went to the Editors’ Choice Epson BrightLink 450Wi ($2,199, 4.5 stars). However it’s the first one built around a DLP chip, which makes it the first to take advantage of TI’s version of interactive technology.

Dell S500wi View SlideshowSee all (4) slides

Dell S500wi : Back
Dell S500wi : Top
Dell S500wi : Remote
Dell S500wi : Front


Beyond that, it offers a fairly common set of features for a data projector today, with WXGA (1,280 by 800) resolution and a 3,200-lumen brightness rating. The combination is a good potential fit for a small to medium-size conference room or classroom.

The Basics
The projector measures 7.5 by 12.9 by 16.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 15.6 pounds, which is a clear indication that it’s meant primarily for permanent installation. Because the interactive feature doesn’t need calibration, however, you can also put the projector on a cart, easily move it from room to room, and still be able to set it up quickly when you need it.

Dell S500wi Specifications

Engine Type


For permanent installations, you’ll typically want to mount the projector on the wall above the area you’re using for a screen, so it projects down. This positioning has the advantage of tending to hide any shadows.Your arm reaching out to the screen, for example, will tend in a position to hide the shadow from the arm.

Setup is standard fare for an interactive projector, with a suitably wide choice of connection options for data and video. The S500wi offers an HDMI port for either a computer or video source, two VGA inputs for computers or component video, a pass-through VGA port for a monitor, both composite video and S-Video inputs, and support for a WiFi connection. It can also read jpg and ptg files from a USB memory key and accept data through a USB or LAN connection.

Big Picture from Inches Away

The big attraction for any ultra-short-throw projector is its ability to throw big images from short distances. For my tests, I measured a 63-inch wide image (75 inches diagonal at 1,280 by 800) with the front of the projector just 5 inches from the screen.

That’s a little less amazing that it might seem only because the lens is near the back of the projector, pointing towards a mirror that reflects the image back to the screen. The mirror was about 19 inches from the screen in my tests. More generally Dell’s stated range for the projection distance, as measured from the mirror, is 19.2 to 25.8 inches from the screen for a diagonal image size of 77 to 100 inches.

Interactivity and 3D
The interactivity worked in my tests as promised to let me draw, highlight, and otherwise interact with the image. In case you don’t have one already, Dell provides an interactive program, as well as one interactive pen, or wand, but the projector should work with any interactive software.

TI’s interactive technology works by projecting a grid on the image that’s invisible to the human eye, but visible to the pen. The grid works much like lines of latitude and longitude on a map, so the pen can report what it’s pointing at in terms of the grid. One advantage of this approach is that it eliminates the need to calibrate the pen. Another is that the pen only has to see the screen rather than touch it, so you can use literally any surface as a screen. You can even use things like cinderblock, which might harm a stylus, or a freshly painted wall, which might be harmed by a stylus. The feature also frees you up to move around the room. In my tests the pen worked from more than 30 feet away, although controlling it with any precision is pretty much impossible from more than a few feet.

The 3D also worked as promised, although the promise is limited in this case. For my tests, I connected it to a Blu-ray player by way of an Optoma 3D-XL ($400 street, 4 stars). By itself, the projector will work only with a computer with a Quadbuffered, Open GL 3D-compatible graphics card. It won’t work directly with a Blu-ray player or the 3D from your cable provider or the equivalent. However you can’t count this against the projector, since these limitations apply to all current inexpensive projectors with 3D, including, for example, the Optoma TW610ST ($1,000 street, 4 stars).

Image Quality and Other Issues
The S500wi scored well on image quality for data images, sailing through our standardDisplayMate tests without any problems worth mention.

Image quality for video was far less watchable, which is a common issue for data projectors, including the 450Wi. Even more than most data projectors, however, the S500wi had a problem with shadow detail, losing detail in dark areas even in scenes that most projectors don’t have any problems with, and turning large areas of the screen into solid black in scenes that tend to cause the problem. I’d call the projector useable for short clips, but nothing more than that.

I also saw a significant rainbow effect with video, with light areas in the image turning into little red-green-blue rainbows when I shifted my gaze or an object moved on screen. The rainbow effect is a potential issue for any single-chip DLP projector, but some projectors tend to show it more easily than others. The S500wi showed very little rainbow effect with data screens, so it shouldn’t cause any problems even for people who are sensitive to the effect, as I am. With video, however, the rainbows show often enough so anyone who’s sensitive to the effect will likely find it annoying for anything by short clips.

One final plus for the projector is its built-in stereo audio system. The 5-watt speakers put out enough volume to fill a large conference room or classroom, and they offer far better sound quality than most projectors.

Ultimately, the S500wi offers an impressive list of features at a surprisingly low price. The features—ultra short throw, interactivity, high-quality data images, 3D support, and even a quality sound system—make it a highly attractive choice. The price, meanwhile, makes it particularly easy to recommend.


Dell S500wi

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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


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