Dell's assault on the AV market continues with this DLP projector. The company, better known for its computers, has an admirable policy of offering a complete AV package for a modest price, so that when you buy one of its products you're ready to get started right away. With the 2300MP, the package includes a carrying case and all the cables and connectors you'll ever need.
However, this projector is found wanting in many key areas. The first dagger to the heart of any home cinema fan will be that it has a native 4:3 format chipset, meaning it isn't really geared up for movies. The brightness also leaves a lot to be desired, making this a projector that's only suitable for a darkened room. There are also noticeable traces of the dreaded rainbow effect (see 'Performance'), and the image size is very limited when the projector is less than 5m away from the wall (a quoted 0.625m image is possible from 1.2m away). While the price points towards a home cinema projector bargain, particularly as it uses a DLP chipset, you'll soon find that it's anything but.
Projectors have to follow a strict design rule: ventilate as much air around the lamp as possible. This is perhaps why the Dell 2300MP looks like any other projector currently on the market, with no distinguishing flourishes or touches, but plenty of grilles on the front, back and sides. The chassis is compact and light, though, and the front of the projector has a foot that can tilt the projector upwards if it's table-mounted.
In terms of connectivity, the 2300MP projector delivers an awful lot for your money. A sub-£1,000 DLP projector is quite a novelty by itself, but Dell has made sure you've got everything you need straight out of the box. The back panel has relatively few physical connections, but there are adaptors and leads to allow you to connect up most of your AV equipment. For example, we were pretty horrified to see no component inputs, but an adaptor for the VGA socket is included as standard. While there are also composite and S-video inputs, everyone in the UK that uses Scart equipment will be left out of the loop, as there's no adaptor for this most common of connectors. Even odder, RS232 and USB inputs have been included instead, which will be of much less importance to the majority of users.
The carry case that's generously included as part of the standard package is of particularly good quality, made of faux-leather material and big enough to hold the projector and all its accessories. The remote control is similarly impressive -- it features a large kink to help it balance on your hand, which we haven't seen before, but it works really well. There are very few buttons on the face of the remote, making it simple to use, but it's just as easy to navigate from the projector itself. You can digitally correct the keystone (the angle of projection) from the remote control, which is particularly cool if you've set the projector up at a friend's house and realise the image needs adjusting mid-movie. Tweaks for focus and image size are made manually using the two rings around the projector's lens, which is very simple to change.
The projector can be ceiling-mounted, although stands and ceiling mounts are sold separately. Anyone setting up a home cinema will probably want to use it in this way, and once it's in place there are options in the menu system to flip all material upside down, automatically correcting it. If you want to take the projector to your friends' house, which will be very easy due to its size, you can leave it on a desk and use the leg on the front to increase the angle for projecting onto a screen.
The picture modes available on the 2300MP are numerous and useful. They are all selectable from the remote control, with specific options for RGB sources (such as VGA and component) as well as PC, Movie and Game modes. User mode allows you to adapt the brightness, contrast and colour settings yourself using a test disc and save them to a preset selection. From this same menu system, you can change the projector to display in 4:3 and 16:9 modes, which simply retains the original aspect ratio of your source material, as well as change the volume of the on-board speaker and hide/unhide video. Don't get excited about the on-board speaker -- it's merely meant for presentations, so you don't need to carry multimedia speakers around with you.
The user interface may be simple, but this means it's easy to use. You can call up plenty of information about the on-screen source you're running, such as resolution and whether it's progressive or interlaced. The projector scans its inputs until it finds a signal, so when you turn it on you can let it find the video source itself, which usually takes about 5 seconds. There's an Eco mode that dims the brightness of the lamp to preserve its life, but as the default brightness is already pretty low, we'd advise against using it. However, it does extend the life of the lamp from 2,000 hours to 2,500 hours, with replacements costing £240.
The downside of using adaptors on the input sockets is that you can't have a component input and VGA input going in simultaneously, so you'll have to swap between DVD player and computer. There's also no DVI input, meaning that the projector lacks that all-important high-definition compatibility.
There's a large gulf between sub-£1,000 and £2,000 projectors, and the Dell 2300MP isn't going to buck the trend. We're finally reaching a point where nearly all displays, and certainly all digital ones, are produced in a widescreen format. However, as the 2300MP is natively 4:3, it's taking a step back. Most people will use the projector for watching movies on, but as these are all made in widescreen, they appear squashed when displayed. And as the throw distance is pretty poor, you need to put the projector quite a distance away from the screen to get a decent image size.
The brightness of the projector is also poor, so don't bank on being able to use the projector in a dimly lit room -- you really need to remove all ambient light. The rainbow effect -- where you can see the component parts of the colour spectrum when you run your eyes across the image -- afflicts the Dell 2300MP more than any other projector we've seen. While you shouldn't expect too much from a bargain projector, even first-time buyers are likely to be disappointed, unless they're buying it for presentations. However, for these people we'd recommend an LCD projector, so with not much going for it in either camp, the Dell 2300MP occupies an uncomfortable middle ground.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide