Dell's new S300WI projector is an ultra-short-throw DLP wireless network projector with an interactive pen and 3D display capabilities. Apart from these two latter features it's almost identical to the existing S300w model, and powered by Texas Instruments' S450 DarkChip3 DLP chip. Promoted as an alternative to fixed interactive whiteboards, the S300WI has the advantage that any suitable surface can be turned easily into an interactive surface for classroom projects and demonstrations.
The projector weighs a fraction over 3kg and measures 30.6cm wide by 9.9cm high by 24.6 cm deep, making it a very compact and portable unit. In the box is a remote control with integrated laser pointer, a couple of video cables (VGA and USB), plus a 6m-long mini-USB cable for use with the interactive pen. No audio or network cables are supplied. Printed documentation is a motley and confusing collection of leaflets that offer little practical help. You're much better off spending some time with the PDF manual. The unit can be ceiling or wall mounted and can work in either front or rear projection modes.
Video input is via two VGA ports (a VGA pass-through output is also provided), HDMI, composite or S-Video connections. HD input resolutions up to 1080p are supported, although the native resolution is 1,280 by 800. A USB display driver is stored in the projector, making for a quick and easy connection using the supplied cable. There's also an applet for viewing JPEG photos on a USB memory stick — a bundled converter converts PowerPoint files (20 slides maximum) into a suitable format.
The Dell S300WI provides a browser-based management interface
A wired or wireless (802.11b/g) network connection can be used to connect up to 30 PCs, each using a small applet downloaded direct from the browser-based management interface. There's support for four-way split-screen conference calls when using a network connection. Crestron RoomView is supported for web-based remote control and management.
The S300WI's control applet, which supports four-way split-screen conference calls, is downloaded from the web-based management interface
The S300WI's 3D-Ready feature means that — with a suitable graphics card, 3D content and DLP Link active 3D glasses (which synchronise wirelessly with the DLP chip) — multiple users can watch projected 3D content.
Setting up the interactive pen can be a little confusing; although it's wireless, it requires a USB or network connection between the PC and the projector. Thankfully the supplied mini-USB cable is 6m long, giving you a little more freedom.
The pen is a chunky affair powered by two AA batteries that deliver a claimed 50 hours' use. On the top of the pen are two mouse buttons and a third that can be assigned various functions. We found the pen difficult to grip and use, as the buttons are rather awkwardly located.
Interwrite WorkSpace, and e-learning application, is bundled with the S300WI
A replaceable 'nib' (five spares are included) triggers the drawing mode when pressed on any hard surface, or you can simply wave it around in remote cursor mode from up to 10m away. Range and performance are directly linked to the brightness of the projected image, as an optical diode detects the pen's position with respect to the screen. A single-licence version of Interwrite Workspace is bundled — an e-learning application with a large selection of free images, templates and interactive content. It's not the most intuitive software to use, though.
Once everything's up and running, it all works well. The fan is reasonably quiet and the on-screen menus are logically arranged. The 0.52 throw ratio gives a minimum focus distance of just 0.5m, delivering an impressive 96cm by 60cm display (113cm diagonal). This rapidly increases up to a maximum of 633cm by 396cm (746cm diagonal) at 3.3m, making the S300WI eminently suitable for use in confined spaces.
The 8W mono speaker copes in small rooms, but otherwise you'll need to connect speakers via the stereo audio-out jack. A 3.5mm jack and a pair of phono connectors are provided for audio input, and there's a 3.5mm microphone jack. A 12V DC output can be used to control an automatic projection screen. The display quality is good (ignoring the unavoidable DLP 'rainbow' effect), and more than adequate for its intended use. But with a brightness of 2,200 ANSI Lumens from the OSRAM E20.8 190W lamp, and a maximum contrast ratio of 2,400:1, the picture soon washes out in bright environments.
We noticed a few minor niggles; the adjustable feet are fiddly to operate, and one is located too close to the hot air exhaust vent. The control panel on the projector isn't illuminated (apart from power, lamp and overheating warnings), and neither is the remote control. There's also no HDMI cable supplied.
The S300WI lives up to the 'interactivity in a box' idea pretty well, and could certainly appeal to educational users seeking an alternative to electronic whiteboards. It's not cheap, however, and there's a fairly steep learning curve before those unfamiliar with interactive applications will be able get the most out of the package.