Dell Advanced Laser Projector S518WL review

Dell pitches an affordable laser diode projector

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Our Verdict

Dell chose an interesting combination of laser illumination and DLP projection for the S518WL. A powerful short-throw solution designed for boardroom deployment, this design is only undermined by a mediocre resolution.

For

  • Plenty of Lumens
  • Excellent contrast range
  • Quiet operation

Against

  • Low resolution
  • Physical scale

In the corporate sector, boardroom presentations are still important to senior management. At these events, senior execs 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 ($1,345). 

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. This projector is available across the globe, directly from Dell through its online store. 

Dell S518WL

Design

The pictures of the 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 situation. 

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 10 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 two HDMI ports, plus VGA and composite video connectors. 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 Wi-Fi capability via a dongle, and also enable the S518WL to offer a PC-free output for a limited selection of file types. The other USB connector, a mini Type-B port, has the sole purpose of applying firmware upgrades.   

There is a small button cluster on the top surface to navigate the interface, and Dell also includes a high-quality remote control. If networked, the device can be accessed by apps which are available for both Android and the PC, to allow ‘casting’ of sorts for 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 number of file types that can be presented well beyond the limited selection that the internal interface will work with. 

Dell S518WL

Business audience

For a modern computer user, so much about this design harks back to a previous era: one where sales staff were berated 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 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 the 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?