The Dell 2100MP is a compact and lightweight SVGA projector that marries a full complement of basic features with good overall performance. Traveling business types will appreciate its 4.1-pound heft, rugged carrying case, small remote control, and image brightness. Home users will love its exceptionally quiet fan, great contrast, and component video cable. And everyone will love its low, $1,299 price tag (Dell often runs promotions that push the price even lower). The only things lacking are a speaker and a laser pointer.
The Dell 2100MP deviates from the traditional boxlike projector design with a stylish curved, silver-and-gray case. The size is about average for a portable projector, measuring 10.2 by 8.5 by 3.5 inches (W, D, H). At 4.1 pounds, it's one of the lightest in its class.
Its overall traveling weight is also one of the lightest in its class. The excellent carrying case has a hard-plastic exterior lined with plenty of foam. An outside pocket accommodates any cables you might need. With the projector inside and a typical assortment of cables in the pocket, the total package weighs just 5.3 pounds.
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The curved case sets the Dell 2100MP apart from its blander competition.
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The Dell's control panel is simple but effective.
Inside, the 2100MP uses a single Digital Light Processing (DLP) chip from Texas Instruments rather than an array of small LCD screens. DLP chips, which form images by way of hundreds of thousands of microscopic movable mirrors, generally take up less space than LCD-panel arrays, and this helps to minimize the overall size and weight.
Setting up the projector is a breeze. All connectors except the AC socket are conveniently located on the back panel, and the long AC cable gives you wide latitude when positioning the unit. When turned on, the projector automatically searches for a source signal.
The 2100MP, like many of the latest projectors, is designed so that, when placed flat on a table, it projects a perfectly rectangular image without any keystoning--that is, trapezoidal distortion of the image. If needed, a pop-up leg under the front panel can easily elevate the device. A rotating leg at the left rear corner offers only a small degree of tilt correction.
The 2100MP's lens sits on the left side of the machine and is only about the size of a quarter. It is recessed behind a protruding ring and seems well protected, even without its tiny lens cap. Although the lens is small, we had no problem using the projector's focusing ring, which is easily accessible.
Atop the projector sits a simple but effective control panel. The most important button--the one for power--is easy to identify by its large size. The cursor buttons for navigating the projector's onscreen menu can also be used to select image sources and adjust keystoning.
The Dell 2100MP has everything you need, and almost everything you'd want, in a projector. You get all of the basic video connections, including VGA-in, composite-video, and S-Video. One unexpected plus is a VGA-out connector, so you can see the image on your monitor as well as on the projected screen. Another treat is a component-video cable for connecting video sources, such as a DVD player, to the projector's VGA-in port. Most projector manufacturers charge an extra $100 for the necessary cable. The 2100MP features a USB port, which you can use to connect a laptop, then you can control the laptop with the projector's remote control (to advance PowerPoint slides, for example). The only big omission is a speaker (and therefore, an audio connector).
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The standard connector configuration includes a bonus: VGA-out.
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We like the small, competent remote, although it lacks a laser pointer.
The included remote control is small but includes all of the basic functions, including keystoning, freeze, and digital zoom. Most importantly, the remote gives a prominent position to the two most-often used buttons: the ones that advance or reverse PowerPoint slides. As on most other projectors, digital zoom enlarges a particular part of an image to the exclusion of other areas--and enlarges any jaggies and other distortions in the zoomed area. We only wish the remote had a laser pointer.
Although this Dell projector works best with laptops set to its native SVGA resolution of 800x600, it can also accept input formatted in any of several other resolutions. These range from VGA (640x480) to the surprisingly high SXGA+ (1,400x1,050).
The 2100MP presents a couple of projection challenges. For one, it has no zoom lens. If you want the projected image to fit a particular screen size, you'll have to move the projector. Also, to project a standard, one-meter-diagonal screen, we had to place the projector 7.8 feet from the screen, more than a foot farther than the average for lightweight projectors.
Brightness diminishes with the age of the bulb, and Dell recommends a new bulb after 2,000 hours. Replacing the lamp entails loosening two screws for the lamp cover and three more for the bulb itself. A new bulb costs $299, the least expensive among the SVGA projectors we've tested.
The Dell 2100MP's performance was good overall, with some key strengths but also some notable weaknesses. It is one of the brightest portable SVGA projectors we've tested. In fact, its tested brightness of 1,046 lumens actually exceeds Dell's conservative estimate of 1,000 lumens; most projectors miss their spec by a noticeable margin. Unfortunately, the 2100MP's brightness falls off considerably at the image's corners, producing a pronounced hot spot in the center. If you show, for example, a slide that has three swatches of color, the one in the middle may appear a little brighter than it should.
The 2100MP's contrast ratio of 622:1 falls significantly short of Dell's stated 1,800:1 ratio; however, it was the highest by far among the projectors we tested. This enables the projector to display truer blacks, which is especially important for home-entertainment applications.
The Dell 2100MP's chromaticity diagram illustrates how the projector's color quality (red outline) compares to that of a typical desktop monitor (white outline).
Like many DLP projectors, the Dell did not perform consistently well in our color tests. Its color temperature of 7,000 degrees kelvin (K) was good--just slightly bluer than the ideal sunlight white of 5,500 K to 6,500 K. The 2100MP's color accuracy was a bit off, however. Reds and greens shifted slightly toward yellow, while blues tended slightly toward cyan. Interestingly, when the projector is switched to video mode for our DVD-movie tests, the images tend to be greenish. For most users, the effect will be barely noticeable. Still, if you connect your DVD player to both your television and to this projector, facial tones will probably look ever so slightly healthier on the TV.
The 2100MP's imaging quality varied. Projected screens looked crisp and, for the most part, flicker-free, but we observed slight blurriness at the extreme corners. The 2100MP also struggled with gray levels, displaying the least range of any of the projectors we tested and having more than the usual trouble handling extreme lights and darks. Most disturbing was the tendency of the projector to show slight pink ghosting on some test patterns, making it difficult to read small white-on-black text, though most text on a PowerPoint slide should be large enough to eliminate this problem.
The 2100MP operated at extremes. It took a fast 41 seconds to warm up--a process that seemed faster because of the projector's diverting onscreen, 30-second countdown--but more than two minutes to shut down. It is remarkably quiet (37 decibels) while running, but maybe it could have used more fan action, because the 166-degree F air it exhausted was the hottest air from any projector we tested.
Dell provides only a one-year warranty on parts and labor for the 2100MP--dismal compared to the two or three years you get from many other manufacturers. Dell's warranty policy, however, includes an interesting service called Advance Exchange. If Dell decides that a replacement is warranted, the company will send one out immediately--before it receives the old unit back. As on most other projectors, the bulb is covered for only 90 days.
The 2100MP's manual is a bit skimpy, with little explanation of various buttons on the remote control, although it covers the basics well. A copy of the manual can also be found on Dell's Web site. Dell's site has an option for technical support by e-mail, as well as tech-support phone numbers for what seems like most of the countries in the world.