In 2010 we reviewed Dell's S300WI, an interactive 3D-ready projector with some impressive capabilities. The new S500wi ultra-short throw model has many similarities to the S300wi, but in other aspects it's radically different.
Let's start with the differences. The most obvious is the fact that the S500wi uses a mirror projection system rather than a clever lens to achieve its ultra-short throw capabilities. This design has its pros and cons, however. On the plus side, it allows the projector to to be placed much closer to the screen — the specs quote 0.489m as the minimum projection distance, although we successfully used it abutting against a wall (0.4m lens-to-wall), at which distance it produced an impressive 53in. (diagonal) picture. This mechanism does make the unit bulky and heavy, though.
Dell's S500wi uses a mirror projection system to achieve its ultra-short throw capabilities
The downside of the mirror system is that brightness loss is more severe as the projected screen size increases: even with its 280W bulb and a 3,200-Lumen quoted output, the maximum usable screen size is only 100in. This compares poorly with the S300wi's 294in. maximum screen size. The screen size also increases incredibly rapidly with distance, giving the projector a tiny usable range of between 0.489 and 0.655m. It also projects quite high up on the wall compared to a standard projector at the same distance and height.
This short range may constrain the S500wi's use in some environments, but on the plus side it's great for small rooms. It's primarily intended for use as a ceiling-mount unit (a mounting plate is available separately for £119) but it also works perfectly well in desktop mode, where the mirror system and short range means that presenters can easily avoid lamp glare. There's a focusing ring around the lens, although we found this was only needed at the closest distances.
The S500wi is powered by the same Texas Instruments S450 DarkChip3 DLP chip found in the S300WI, giving it the same 1,280-by-800-pixel native resolution. It also gives the S500wi the same 3D capabilities, meaning that it can connect wirelessly to multiple DLP Link 3D goggles (3D projection requires a suitable graphics card and 3D content).
Also echoing the S300WI is the interactive mode, which uses a wireless pen that allows you to interact with the projected display on any surface. We disliked the S300WI's pen intensely, so we're pleased to see it's been completely redesigned. The pen is now much slimmer and uses a rechargeable battery. If you plan to ceiling-mount the projector, remember that although it has integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi and 100Mbps LAN connections, a USB connection between the projector and the PC is needed for the interactive pen to work. Bundled with the projector is a single-user licence for the Interwrite Workspace e-learning software that turns almost any surface into an interactive whiteboard.
There are comprehensive AV inputs, including HDMI, dual VGA, composite and S-Video ports, although only a VGA cable is bundled. PCs can also connect via USB, with a USB display driver stored on the projector. It can also display photos and Presentations To Go stored on USB sticks. Stereo audio and mic input jacks are provided, but again you'll need your own cables. There are twin 5W speakers built in, providing a decent level of sound for most rooms; there's also an audio-out jack for connecting up an external sound system.
We found the S500wi pretty easy to set up, helped by a decent on-screen menu system. The white remote control is annoyingly small and is not illuminated, however, while the keypad on the projector is pretty awful. Overall, this is still a very impressive projector with good picture quality. It will be of particular interest to those needing to project large displays in confined spaces.