In the corporate sector, boardroom presentations are still important to senior management. At these events, senior people can absorb performance and trending data critical to the strategic decisions they need to make.
The Dell S518WL Advanced Laser Projector is built for that exact scenario; delivering presentations on a regular basis that can be easily viewed by more than a handful of people.
What makes this design stand out are the choice of laser light rather than a conventional bulb, and a price point that won’t upset the financial director.
Price and availability
Dell has recently reduced the price of this unit, as it was £1,522 ($1499.99 in the US) when first released (VAT included). The new pricing at £1,204 ($999.99 in the US) makes this a singularly more attractive option, as there are relatively few laser-based designs at this cost if you exclude those that are designed primarily for portable applications.
A director competitor is the BenQ LW61ST+, which is a little cheaper but only generates 2500 Lumens of light.
Another alternative is the Casio XJ-F210WN, a laser projector with almost identical specifications to the Dell S518WL, for under £1,000.
For those wanting a higher resolution solution with the laser light source advantages, expect the cost to be at least double that of the S518WL or even more. It’s available across the globe, directly from Dell through its online store.
The pictures of S518WL show a stylish and refined design, though they don’t reveal the significant scale of this hardware.
Being 386 x 303 x 115mm in size, this isn’t a projector that a salesperson would realistically take on the road. Instead, it is better suited to a permanent installation in a conference or classroom, and Dell has ceiling and wall mounts available for exactly that application.
It can be placed on a desk, though with the short throw distance it needs to be one that is not more than 3.67 feet from the presentation wall.
At this range, it will generate a 100-inch wide projection. The smallest display that this unit is intended for is 70-inches, and the closest you can effectively place it is 31-inches away.
Focusing is manual, but the keystone adjustment is automatic with a manual override. We found it very quick to setup and get usable results even with its dramatic size.
Where it diverges from many built-for-business projectors is the chosen light source, which in this model is a Mercury-free Laser Diode. The advantage of using this over more conventional light sources is the extended lamp life, reducing the ongoing costs.
Dell quotes 20,000 hours of ‘Normal’ use of the lamp, which equates to eight hours per working day for almost ten years.
The laser light passes through a single chip DLP dual LVDS and still manages to deliver a quoted 3200 lumens at maximum brightness. Dell offers cheaper projectors with even greater levels of light output, though not with the same bulb lifespan or contrast levels.
While the use of laser light is innovative, much of the rest of this device follows the expected conventions of large-scale projectors.
All the connectivity is at the rear, where up to four computers can be connected using HDMI (2x), VGA and composite video. There is a VGA-through option for those that need a local monitor, although given that most computers have multiple video outputs these days it is somewhat redundant.
Along with the video input options, there is also full scope for audio input and output, a LAN port, RS232 serial, and two USB ports. The single full-size USB port can be used to add a WiFi capability through a dongle, and also enable the S518WL to offer a PC-free output for a limited selection of file types. The other USB, a mini type B port, has the single purpose of applying firmware upgrades.
To manage the inherent interface there is a small button cluster on the top service, and Dell also includes a high-quality remote control. If networked it can be accessed by apps are available for both Android and the PC to allow ‘casting’ of sorts to the device of certain file types.
This option is probably the best method to drive the S518WL, because once mounted in the ceiling, for example, it isn’t easy to make ad hoc connections without the dangling cables potentially obscuring the view. Casting also expands the possibilities file types can be presented well beyond the limited selection that the internal interface will work.
For a modern computer user, so much about this design harks back to a previous era. One where sales staff were burnished on a regular basis for their inability to make presentations with PowerPoint that made sense, visually or numerically.
There are token gestures to the contemporary era, but the casting option is a clumsy implementation that would have been much better had Dell merely included a Google Chromecast in the box.
The true strengths of this device are the high quality of construction, the extended five-year service life that Dell offers for an additional fee, and the excellent clarity of the projected image.
It isn’t a projector that is meant to be yet another piece of boardroom equipment to go with the cutlery for special occasions, but hardware that is part of a presentation model chosen to be installed along with other technology to make viewing experience as slick as possible.
Capital expenditure reviews where ongoing costs are a factor will also be easier with this hardware, as other than the possible extended warranty there aren’t any.
That makes the S518WL business friendly, but does the user experience match that?
The aspect of this design that truly shines, in more ways than the obvious one, is the projection assembly. Whatever source you use, the projected image is stable, sharp and has colours that are punchy and vibrant. Especially when using a freshly painted wall, the results are crisp with excellent contrast.
As with most projectors we cover, a test was performed to access the validity of the quoted 3200 Lumens. With a maximum brightness set, a value of 2,832 lumens was recorded, not far from what Dell promised.
Brightness certainly won’t be an issue, even if you don’t have the best blinds or curtains in the intended room of use.
Where many projectors falter is their representation of skin tones and other subtle light and shade transformation, but not here. Overall, the moving image experience is especially good, either from a video file or streamed content.
The only substantial snag, if there is one, is the natural resolution of 1280 x 800.
As most laptops come with a screen that’s considerably larger than that, plugging it into the S518WL will require some adjustment to the display scaling, and shuffle any desktop icons to the top left.
With some DLP designs now offering 1080p, the S518WL’s inability to keep up with those specifications is its Achilles heel. When you consider how good other aspects are, and the asking price, it should have had a higher natural resolution.
What’s not up for debate is how well DLP and laser technology work together. It is also remarkably quiet even when generating the brightest possible image, and the 10-watt internal speakers easily override what little fan noise it does generate. At 300 watts power use, this isn’t any more power efficient than any other backlight technology, and more demanding than most large LCD panels.
There is plenty to like in this design if you can ignore the physical scale and relatively low resolution. It comes down to balancing a lower cost device that will need bulbs buying every couple of years, and this where you don’t.
On the plus side, the lower resolution might make sales avoid slides with too many bullet points and wordy descriptions.
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