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Dell is renowned for products that pair good quality and performance with a lower price than the competition's. Its new 5100MP business projector is no exception. It has excellent brightness and contrast, you can control it over a LAN, and it's half the size of comparable projectors. It falls short of a home run, however, lagging on color performance and lacking the ability to grab images from a network. Still, at $3,499, it's a good buy for offices on a budget.
Compared to other network-ready projectors, the 5100MP is small and light, weighing 8.2 pounds and measuring a petite 13.0 by 10.3 by 4.5 inches; it's less than half the size of the Canon LV-7565 or the Sanyo PLC-XP56. The Dell's gray-and-black plastic case feels sturdy enough to withstand some travel. Inside is Texas Instruments' latest digital light processing (DLP) engine, which uses a 0.95-inch projection chip. Capable of SXGA+ resolution, it delivers more-detailed images than other projectors but maxes out at a 25-foot-diagonal image--much smaller than the 33-foot images other network-ready projectors can produce.
With a single adjustable leg in the front and a pair in the rear, the 5100MP is easy to set up. The onscreen menu (OSM) controls are easy to navigate, and the projector also has dedicated buttons for adjusting the brightness and the volume. The menu controls everything from color to audio. Though we really like the built-in test pattern for focusing, the 5100MP lacks motorized focus, lens tilt, and zoom--features that other, more expensive networked projectors, such as the Sanyo PLC-XP56, have. The included remote can control all of the OSM's features and doubles as a mouse when the projector is connected to a laptop via USB.
Despite its diminutive dimensions, the 5100MP provides a slew of features, including digital, analog, S-Video, composite-video, and component-video ports and BNC connections. It even has the latest high-definition HDMI connector and plays decent audio through its two 2-watt stereo speakers. The 5100MP comes with all important cables, but not a travel case--just a dust cover.
Unlike the Sanyo PLC-XP56, the Dell 5100MP has a LAN module built in. The 5100MP can use a static IP address or one assigned by a server, and you can monitor and control it from any connected computer. Once you have it networked, you can turn it on or off and adjust its projection mode, video source, and a slew of other settings. If it starts to overheat or the lamp goes bad, it will send an e-mail alert. Its one failing is that it can't project images from a network source, as the more expensive Canon LV-7565 and Sanyo PLC-XP56 can.
The Dell 5100MP delivers enough brightness to compete with bigger, more expensive projectors. It puts 3,741 lumens onscreen (3,026 in low-power mode), only slightly fewer than the $8,000 Canon LV-7565, which produces 4,428 lumens. Unfortunately, its image quality isn't as good. In our tests, grayscale images showed only 231 of a possible 255 shades of gray. As for color, blues showed a slight shift toward green, and greens had a yellowish cast.
The 5100MP takes nearly a minute to start up and requires 2 minutes to cool down. The lamp is rated at 1,700 hours of use and costs $400 to replace--a price on a par with that of other projector lamps.
The Dell 5100MP comes with a two-year warranty, including Dell's Advanced Exchange service; adding a year costs $90. A full three-year warranty with accident-protection insurance adds $340 to the projector's base price. Most manufacturers offer similar warranties and service for no additional cost. Dell guarantees the lamp for an industry-standard 90 days. Dell's support Web site is quite good, offering downloadable manuals, troubleshooting information, and FAQs. The company's toll-free help desk is open 24 hours a day, and Dell promises to return e-mail messages by the next day.