Dell M209X projector

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The Dell M209X is a dependable projector that's inexpensive to maintain — as long as you don't mind the dull colours.

Test Procedure
The projector is placed exactly 3 metres away from a test screen and zoomed to establish a (projected) screen size of 100 inches. (If zooming to this size is not possible, we calculate the results for 100 inches based on what it is capable of achieving. This enables comparison with other projectors.)

Brightness is measured at several points around the screen in order to determine average brightness and variance. A chequerboard pattern is used to determine the projector's contrast ratio of black to white regions. Ambient light is subtracted from all brightness measurements before calculations and comparisons are made.

DisplayMate software is used to assess colour quality and sharpness of static images. We also consider the performance of the machine with video output. Fast action and animated film is used to measure: refresh times, skin tones, solid and graded colours, and borders.

The usability of the device is also an important consideration if you have to quickly get one set up and working in a room full of people. We examine menus and options, set-up, as well as connectivity options.

Fan noise is also important if you want to have it running during discussions. In the case of a network projector such as this, we also perform a simple check to ensure a wired network connection can be achieved simply and with acceptable results (linking a single projector to a single computer).

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Design and Features
This diminutive black beauty is just eight inches wide, seven deep and two and a half high. It's nice looking, but the casing is inclined to fingerprint easily — especially the glossy finished control panel and remote control.

The projection system used in this device, digital light processing (DLP) relies on tiny mirrors to reflect light to each screen pixel (one mirror per pixel) and colour is achieved by projecting light through a rotating colour wheel. This (theoretically) provides a higher contrast than competing 3LCD technology, but DLP may be accused of having slower refresh rates.

In practice the technologies to have converged sufficiently that, during testing, Enex TestLab will not typically detect differences between them — at least under ordinary usage models. Resolution on this device is only modest at 1024x768 pixels.

A good variety of input options are available. Video can be piped via VGA, HDMI, composite and S-video, allowing the device to be connected to a nice range of computers, DVD players and other AV devices. It also sports audio in- and out-jacks and a built-in, one-Watt speaker. Single Watt speakers are usually useless since fan noise tends to drown them out, and in this case, the M209X is no exception. It also features a USB port, which enables a mouse linked to act as the projector's remote control.

The M209X manual zoom varies the image size by just 10 per cent, so it only really serves as a fine adjustment. Screen distances between one and twelve metres are supported, allowing an image size from as small as 23 inches, up to almost 303 inches. Larger images are, of course, not as bright.

The menu systems on this unit were a muddle. One menu contained part of the colour and screen size controls, with separate menus for the rest of the colour controls and screen shape. Remembering what is contained on which menu is a challenge.

The basic warranty is two-years, with options to extend to five-years. A 90-day warranty applies to the lamp, which is typical of projectors in this category. If a fault develops Dell will attempt to resolve the issue over the phone, but a technician or replacement device can usually be arranged on the next business day if this isn't effective. Same-day service contracts are also available.

Verdict
During testing the brightness of whites were adequate but colours tended to be dull, regardless of adjustments made in the menu. Of greater concern was image brightness. The left edge of the screen was much poorer than the right edge, by approximately one-third.

Ultimately we discovered this was a faulty unit, and its replacement was much better, although it still demonstrated a slight bias towards the right screen edge and colours were still quite dull. Its contrast, however, was excellent. It exceeds all other recently tested machines (mainly 3LCD models).

Meeting demands for portability this machine comes with a good quality carry case, including plenty of space for cables and remote control.

Dell has a great base warranty with excellent options for faster service and longer contracts. Base warranty is two years, with next-day advance exchange service. The price is good at $1699 with excellent long-term total cost of ownership due to its low cost lamps ($311.30).

In standard mode, the M209X running costs equate to approximately 13.2c per hour, which can be reduced to around 8.5c per hour if you switch to economy mode. This is a very cost effective machine to run although economy mode does mean reduced image brightness. Its maximum brightness is 2000 lumens which is pretty good.

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