The projector starts up somewhat slowly, taking 48 seconds for the image to appear. Perhaps that's time well spent, as the projector recognizes the signal source (computer or video) and optimizes the image, but it's more than twice the time the pricier Epson PowerLite 765c takes to start up. There is an automatic keystone-correction feature that senses the projector's elevation angle and ensures a rectangular image shape. Also, this projector has the handiest tilt adjustments we have ever seen: just press a button on each side, and the rear legs drop down to the desired length.
CNET Labs' tests provided airtight evidence that Dell has violated the low-price/low-brightness law. The 1200MP delivered an amazing 1,940 lumens, just shy of the 2,000-lumen specification, but significantly brighter than other budget projectors we have tested, such as the Hitachi CP-RS55 and the model it replaces, the Dell 1100MP. Its brightness rivals that of the more expensive, XGA Toshiba TDP T95U. The Dell 1200MP is certainly bright enough for all but the largest conference rooms. This model was similarly impressive in our checkerboard contrast tests, where it scored an enviable contrast ratio of 648:1--ideal for entertainment applications. It came up short in image size, however, with only a 36-inch projected image at a 5-foot distance. With regard to color, reds and blues were accurately detailed, but greens were shifted to a yellowish shade.
In our highly critical subjective tests, the projector produced impressively sharp and steady images. Unfortunately, grayscale resolution was a bit low at the white and black extremes (we could resolve only 244 of 255 shades). Also, in our entertainment tests, the projector showed some jumpy motion during fast-moving video, its low resolution had trouble with HDTV, and its fan was a bit too noisy. Home-theater buffs will want to look for a projector with a higher resolution, such as the $999 Dell 2400MP, which offers XGA resolution and an even brighter image but a similarly loud fan.
To get the price below $700, Dell includes only a one-year warranty but still manages to throw in its Advanced Exchange rapid-replacement service. Other warranty options abound, ranging from three years (add $129) to a five-year warranty with Dell's CompleteCare insurance coverage--tack on an extra $528 for that, which nearly doubles the price. Dell's support features are commendable. The 65-page user manual is one of the nicest we have seen in quite a while, and the projector comes with a handy full-color information card that is small enough to stay in the carrying case for quick reference. Online, you can download the user manual, check product-support FAQs, and seek more specific help either via a community message board or an e-mail sent to a technician. Support is also available by a toll-free 24/7 phone line, although its menu system confused us.
The standard warranty covers the lamp for only 90 days; replacement lamps for the Dell 1200MP cost $299 and are said to last for 2,500 hours. This yields a consumables cost of 12 cents per hour, which is about average for a budget projector. We measured the power consumption of the projector at 247 watts. In a typical stationary usage profile, the 1200MP will cost $32 annually in electricity. (We measured power consumption both on and off and assumed a typical usage of 1000 hours per year.)