Posted on March 13, 2018 By Art Feierman
Dell S718QL 4K UHD Laser Projector Review – Summary: Summary, The Competition, The Bottom Line, Pros, Cons
Let’s start with a brief summary of what this Dell S718QL brings to the party, and why we have awarded it one of our Hot Product Awards – our top award other than those given out specific to our Best Education, and Best Home Theater Projector Reports.
First of all, this Dell is a commercial projector – it’s suitable for business and education, as well as some other applications such as digital signage, entertainment venues (including everything from bars and nightclubs to museums), and even houses of worship. Sure, you can put it in your home with some success, but it really wasn’t designed for that. In a shorter, separate review, I will discuss the performance and limitations for home use.
The current street price of this 5,000 lumen, 4K UHD, ultra short throw laser projector seems to be about $4,999, $1,000 below the list. How do we know that? Well, since Dell is selling it online for $4,999 on their website, we have to expect dealers to set their price to be no higher than that (well, at least online dealers).
As one would expect from a 4K UHD projector – this one is very sharp, using a 2716 x 1528 DLP chip, and pixel shifting to double the pixels on the screen to 8.3 million pixels. In a perfect world, its sharpness will exceed (slightly) that of 1080p x2 pixel shifters, including those from Epson and JVC, as well as new 1080p x4 DLP pixel shifters. And, equally theoretical, it will come up short of native 4K projectors such as those from Canon and Sony. But, of course, it depends on how well each projector is implemented.
No matter, the Dell does a great job. If sharpness is very important, it will be up to you to determine how much extra to spend in each small increment of improvement. Consider that the least expensive native 4K UST projector is $25K list price (a Sony), while the least expensive pixel shifters that handle 4K content start at about 1/4th the list price of this Dell.
Also worth considering is that some 4K content will use HDR – High Dynamic Range – to enhance the picture. While there are trade-offs with HDR, count that as a plus. This Dell, however, while it tackles HDR, it doesn’t support the wider color gamut (superior color) known as P3, a subset of BT.2020, and better than the standard REC709 we’ve all been used to at lower resolutions, including Blu-ray, DVD, and HDTV. Dell mentions a wider color gamut, but they seem to be speaking of an inherent advantage of laser projectors rather than this Dell working with reproducing the P3 standard (same as 4K movie theater projectors).
Because it is a laser projector, it has several advantages over lamp based projectors. One that really affects what you use a projector for is digital signage. This laser projector can be used with the usual vertical screen, or a horizontal one, it can be rotated on its side to do portrait, instead of landscape, and it can be placed on any angle. Most lamp projectors are strictly designed for the usual wall mounted screen, or maybe also have the ability to project up or down on to a table top, but off angle, and portrait are normally not possible with lamp projectors.
That, the long life, and the ability to run 24/7 make this Dell highly desirable for digital signage, especially since it works at 100” to 130” diagonal, far larger than any affordable LCD monitor, and drastically sharper than any large LED signage display (like large outdoor electronic billboards).
In more typical uses, the value proposition of the S718QL remains strong. If the UST design of having the projector right below or above the screen, and only inches out, works for a particular room and application, and 4K content is going to be presented, then this Dell is one of only a few projectors on the market that can “play.” Alternatives, without spending far, far, more (i.e. that native $25K Sony), are few, but include the Optoma UHZ65, which we reviewed a couple of months ago. It’s 2,000 lumens less, and sells for about $1,000 less, so this Dell packs a good bit more brightness per dollar spent, and a better value in those terms.
If you need the brightness, great, if not, the Optoma has the advantage of being able to be tuned to produce more accurate color. Both use the same 4K UHD DLP chip, and are similarly sharp. I believe in sophisticated AV settings the Optoma has the advantage of better color control, but overall, any advantage in color is only significant if your application demands very accurate color.
Other competitors to the Dell, of course, include a host of lamp based projectors. Figure for the same level of brightness, you won’t find any 4K UHD DLPs – the lamp based ones top out at 3,200 lumens claimed, but you can get plenty of lumens even many times more, with pixel shifting 1080p projectors that are lamp based, and handle 4K content. Epson and NEC, for example, have multiple competitors.
Of course, you are paying for 4K content handling, but not everyone needs that. One particular competitor that is, in many ways, similar (UST and laser) but also very different. With standard WUXGA resolution – no pixel shifting, no 4K content, no HDR – that would be Epson’s Brightlink 710Ui. That UST projector also offers a 20,000 hour laser engine, and puts out 4,000 lumens, but it list prices for around $3,500 (and an education price of $2,700). This Epson alternative for those not needing 4K also happens to be a fully interactive projector. Like the Dell, it has a media player, but it also lets you control the projector and also annotate on the screen using pens or fingertips (up to 8 at once). In other words, lower res, lower price, but more featured for those not needing 4K.
At this point in time, there just aren’t a lot of ultra short throw projectors out there, especially 4K capable ones, although that will surely change over the next 12 months.
Another group of 4K capable competitors will be standard throw projectors with laser light engines. Not much out there yet, either. Although fully featured – including interchangeable lenses, there’s an Epson for about $7,500 street – the L1100U, which puts out 6,000 lumens and is a pixel shifting WUXGA projector. Sony and NEC have very affordable standard throw lasers selling for less than the S718QL, but they are strictly WUXGA with no 4K content handling. While we’re at it, here’s another WUXGA without 4K capabilities: Epson’s LS100 – another ultra short throw with only a $2,999 list price (3,000 lumens – so it’s also not as bright). I expect we’ll see more standard throw PJs that can support 4K content, in the next year, as we see more 4K capable projectors overall.
Remember, too, that while this Dell and others may support 4K content, they don’t all support HDR (this Dell does) or P3/BT.2020 expanded color. Dell talks about the greater range of color with a laser, but makes no mention of support for P3/BT.2020 which is what is found on most 4K Blu-ray discs. Those discs will still play, but without full support for the P3/BT.2020 color standard, the result is usually the same old REC709 color we’ve been used to all this century on HDTV and regular Blu-ray and DVD discs.
Sure, you can bring one home for a media room, etc. but as color, even calibrated, isn’t up to home theater enthusiast standards, I would not normally recommend it for home use, unless you just want big and bright, and aren’t worried about having highly accurate color that could be expected on any similarly priced projector designed for home.
As a commercial projector, I expect it will be very successful for certain digital signage applications (doing either front and rear projection). The 24/7 operation capability, combined with the ability to position at any angle, and the long life no laser engine to keep things consistent, makes it great for that. If there’s a digital signage limitation, it’s screen sizes, or that this Dell isn’t designed to be used as part of a larger array of projectors, for which it would need features like edge blending, or even projection mapping.
It is pretty ideal for a medium to large conference room, classroom, or multi-purpose room. Remember, maximum screen size is 130” diagonal, so don’t expect to use it in small auditoriums or large hotel ballrooms where bigger screens are needed.
In the classroom, I would suggest that it can handle lecture halls with up to 100-150 students. The built-in sound will do a respectable job on smaller rooms, but for something like that lecture hall, some extra sound is going to be needed. No worries, rooms like that normally have their own sound systems.
The overall value proposition I consider to be at least very good – assuming you do need to handle 4K content. If there’s no 4K content in your near future, then there are a number of far less expensive alternatives.
That said, we’re pretty much just at the beginning of 4K content, so if your organization sees the need to start working with 4K in the next months or even a couple of years, considering the long life of the laser engine, you might just want to get a jump on things today with 4K, so you aren’t faced with needing to replace the projector in 2-3 years, when a laser projector is good for typically far longer than a decade, except in setups requiring 24/7 operation or similar.
The best modes of the Dell are sufficient to do a good job on skin tones, and overall, that is fine for most business and education needs. But, if the application requires accurate representation of photographs or other accuracy-demanding applications, the S718QL probably is not the right choice.
Two extra positives to remind you of: The built-in media player is excellent, supporting not just video and photo formats (like some) but also providing a Microsoft Office player so you can run the usual Microsoft files (.PPT, .DOC, .DOCX, .XLS, etc.). The warranty is better than most – 2 years with rapid replacement for both years, and for 20,000 hours on the laser engine (even if over 2 years). And if you really want peace of mind, you can buy extensions of the 2 year replacement program, so that you can have 3, 4, or 5 years total! Sweet! Talk about peace of mind!
All considered, Dell should do very well with the S718QL. It’s the brightest of the short throw, “affordable” 4K capable laser projectors, and overall has a pretty respectable feature set. The end result is a bright, sharp image that, paired with a proper UST screen, can do a great job in rooms with a healthy amount of ambient light. Mind you, in rooms like conference rooms and boardrooms where there’s some decent lighting control, the S718QL projector can also work out well with traditional projector screens, not just those (more expensive ones) designed to work with ultra short throw projectors.
The Very Bottom Line: The Dell S718QL should be a short list choice if you need UST and 4K Capable. It is definitely a top choice if you need a UST projector for digital signage, especially if 4K content is planned (now or the future).
Well done Dell!
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