Dell 3400MP Portable Projector Review: Image Quality
Image quality on typical data presentations is very good. Text is clear, sharp, and very readable, even small type sizes down to 8 points, when the Dell 3400MP is fed signals in its standard XGA (1024x768) resolution. (Click to enlarge)
Graphics are equally sharp, making charts, diagrams and renderings look clean, and professional. The first image here, shows small to medium sized type from my laptop, set for XGA resolution, and there is nothing here to fault the 3400MP.
The second image (click to enlarge), shows the Dell handling a higher resolution signal from my Dell widescreen, of 1280x800. Compressing the image to fit, the 3400MP does a better than average job, although it does much better with white text on black, than black text on white.
As is typical, the Dell has more problem handling color on color text, (yellow on blue, in this case), than black on white, but, surprisingly, it did better handling yellow on blue, than white on black. In fact, the small type (color on color) is definitely more readable than on the InFocus IN34, which was recently reviewed.
Color accuracy, however, is the achilles heel of most DLP projectors. As a rule, almost no portable DLP projectors do a good job of handling bright reds and bright yellows in their brightest mode. The Dell 3400MP portable DLP projector is no exception. Like the bulk of its competition, bright "fire engine" reds tend to be reproduced more like a rich dark wine color, and bright yellows tend to look mustardy, and have a greenish caste. In the case of the 3400MP, both colors suffer, but, not quite as badly as most DLP projectors. The pie chart shown here, is in the 3400MP's PC mode, it's brightest mode, designed for presentations. The color issues described are evident, reds are anything but "fire engine red, and the bright yellow - well, the image speaks for itself.
Like other DLP projectors, this is correctable, but normally at the expense of a lot of the projector's brightness. In the case, of the 3400MP, by going to the Video Mode on the Image Settings menu, you can select Movie, instead of PC, and end up with beautiful reds and yellows. The price you pay is giving up just over half of the projectors lumen output. (Again, very typical). For those not needing perfect reds and yellows, but wanting them to be better than the default PC mode, and want more than the Movie mode's brightness, there are manual controls that will allow you to create a compromise setting.
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The second image (above) of the pie chart, was taken with the projector switched into Movie mode. And the improvement in color handling is striking. The red background is vibrant, and the yellow slice of the pie chart is good, although still not perfect. In Movie mode, the Dell still managed to output almost 1000 lumens, plenty for the typical conference room that is moderately bright.
Speaking of movies, I dropped in Lord of the Rings into my laptop's DVD player, and watch a few minutes. As you can see from this image of Gandalf, it looks pretty darn good from a color standpoint. So, if one of your rationales for buying the 3400MP, is to bring it home to watch an occasional movie, I think you'll find the Dell projector to do a good job. Certainly no match for a dedicated home theater projector, but in movie mode, I should point out that it's about twice as bright as most home theater projectors in their best modes, and about comparable to most in their brightest modes. (Click on Ganalf, for a larger image.)
Contrast is claimed to be 2100:1, which is a general reference as to how good a projector handles blacks, and reveals details in dark areas, such as dark scenes in movies. The 3400MP did well in this area, but definitely not as good as the typical, comparably priced home theater projector. You can see that the border around the image is not as dark as found on this same image on home theater projector reviews, and a lot of shadow detail is lost in the very dark areas on the right side.
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For handling a typical "business video" the overall performance of the Dell 3400MP is just dandy, and no one should have any complaints. Sure, an architect needing to have color perfect renderings might demand more, but then we would be talking about meeting requirements that easily match that of a good home theater projector, or much more expensive commercial ones, and we are talking about a very tiny percentage of those needing portable projectors.
One more note on this whole color accuracy issue, relating to reds and yellows. While the Dell can do an excellent job in Movie mode, those needing maximum brightness and excellent reds, yellows and other colors, are likely best served by choosing an LCD projector rather than a DLP model. Of course, there is one serious tradeoff. There simply aren't any LCD projectors out there anywhere near as small as the 3400MP, with most of the smallest still being twice the size of this Dell, and only one or two of the smallest LCD projectors weigh in below 4 pounds (just barely) and a few more, under 5 pounds, compared to the 2.4 pounds of the 3400MP. Most LCD projectors are simply much larger and heavier.