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Dell S718QL - A First Look at A New Class: The Laser, Ultra Short Throw, 4K UHD Projector

I started to write this to let folks know that I'm starting a new review today, of the Dell S718QL, a DLP, UST (ultra short throw) laser projector with 4K UHD resolution.  Then I realized with the S718QL projector review likely to post within 2 weeks, it made more sense to look at the Dell projector now, as representative of a new class of projector, or rather, a new set of features.  Down below I'll provide the basic specs and key features of the S718QL, but mostly I am using this space to discuss what a laser powered, UST projector with 4K UHD brings to the party - that is, why consider it, what advantages does it have, and who might be the types of users to purchase one (or many). And, of course, with all that in mind I also recalled that Ron recently posted his review of what has to be considered competition to the S718QL, and that projector would be The Optoma UHZ65 - also 4K UHD using the same DLP chip, also laser, but not Ultra Short Throw.  It's also not near as bright, but otherwise, a competitor in that it is 4K UHD, and laser.  Although it is not as bright it only sells for about $500 less, so that makes it an even more serious competitor.
Dell S718QL - Laser projector

Dell S718QL - one of the first business projectors to combine 4K UHD, Laser engine, and Ultra Short Throw design

  I should note that Dell (and also Optoma) in announcing these 4K UHD projectors have positioned them for business, commercial, education use, not for home, but there's plenty of interest in laser powered 4K UHD projectors as home theater and home entertainment projectors as well.  One can easily point out that a laser engine offers advantages in the home perhaps even greater than in the business world. Ron, in reality (really being a home theater enthusiast extraordinaire), originally wrote the Optoma UHDZ65 laser projector review with a home use slant although I asked him to go back and add to it in depth as a business solution as well, which he did.  I'm in the same position wth the S718QL.  We normally don't calibrate business projectors just home theater ones, but I had Eric try to calibrate the Dell S718QL, because I saw interest in it as a home projector.  Well, first tidbit about the Dell - they didn't provide all the calibration controls we need to do a great home theater calibration.  Is that a deal breaker - I'll let you know in the full review (I can't answer that yet, as I've only fired it up briefly).
Ultimately the Dell S718QL for that reason (and some others) is a better solution for business and education than it is for home use.  That's all I'm going to say about the Dell, (or the Optoma), as home projectors, in this blog.  What I want to spend the next couple of minutes on is what these projectors - and others arriving soon, with similar configurations, bring to the business/education community. The three standout features of this new class of projector that the Dell represents - that is, the key features of this new class are:  Ultra short throw design, 4K content handling, and a bright, laser light engine.  All make sense in many commercial environments. 4K Content Handling Do most business and education setups need 4K content capability?  Hardly - most of K-12 Education hasn't even gotten to 1080p or WUXGA (1920x1200) resolution yet, rather is still WXGA and 720p, or XGA or even older SVGA. Higher Education installations are far more likely to be 1080p or WXGA, but do they need 4K content handling?  Few setups will allow participants to appreciate a real difference between content shown in WXGA vs 4K UHD.  Why? Start with where people sit.  Like sharpness, distance vs screen size is the key.  As I like to use as a over the top example, you can look at a 27 inch old school pre HDTV TV set and a 27 inch 1080p set, and at 5 feet away, the difference in sharpness and resolution is obvious, and massive.  But move back to 25 feet, and you probably won't be able to tell a difference.  Now think conference room.  Sure the person speaking at the front, and the first few folks at a conference table will be able to see a difference between WUXGA and 4K UHD projectors on 4K content, but the folks further back in the room won't.  It's like projecting a spreadsheet - the numbers have to be big enough to be readable in the back, no matter how sharp they are in the front of the room.
back panel of projector

Input panel on back of the Dell S718QL projector

So, there will be some demand, in higher ed - for specialty applications, renderings, such as architectural, or engineering, medical imagery, or perhaps projecting works of art.  But mostly, the 4K UHD isn't going to be in huge demand anytime soon in higher education, except for such uses.  It's just not going to be needed in a literature class and probably not urban sociology.  In a lecture hall, those folks in the back will have no idea they are being "treated" to a 4K source. The Basic Features and Specs of the Dell S718QL Projector:
  • 5000 lumens
  • Technologies in Use:  DLP, Laser light engine, 4K UHD resolution, UST design, Pixel shifting, Media player,
  • 3 HDMI (2 HDMI 1.4a, 1 HDMI 2.0)
  • 20,000 hour laser engine (Normal power mode - which is full power)
  • 2716x1528x2 resolution (pixel shifts to put 8.3M pixels on screen)
  • 500 watt maximum power draw
  • Noise levels - 36db and 29db (Normal and Eco)
  • Screen size - 100" to 130" diagonal
  • Built in speakers - 2 x 6 watts
    • Bluetooth to work wirelessly with external speakers (a very nice touch!)
  • Split screen capability - Four sources at once
  • On board media player for PC free - can project Microsoft office files
  • Weight: 33 lbs.
  • LAN networking (content over network limited to WUXGA and lower - not 4K), Crestron compatible
  • Pricing - List price:  $5999, but Dell sells it on their own site for $4999, which should make $5K the "unofficial" street price, as any dealers are likely to sell it for no more than that, and possibly less.
  • 2 year warranty with rapid replacement program, Extended warranties available out to 5 years total,  including replacement program extension
UST - Ultra Short Throw design UST projectors tend to be a good deal more expensive than traditional normal and short throw projectors.  That said, they are fast gaining in popularity, and if there was price parity, that would happen much faster. Why?
There are several basic reasons, and projectors like the S718QL support those:
  • They sit close to the screen, so that the presenter isn't blinded by their light, nor creating shadows blocking the image
  • They are ideal for using projectors interactively.  This Dell isn't a fully interactive projector but be sure those are coming, and the S718QL, I suspect can do the basic interactive behaviors by controlling them from mobile devices, as is true of many projectors. Easy to use pen, or fingertip, control of the projector, creating and manipulating content, and annotation are part of what we call full interactivity.
  • Installation cost of UST projectors is less than traditional projectors.  If they are mounted, they are on the same wall as the screen, so less wiring.  Or, they can often be used table top, not needing to be ceiling mounted, because, sitting on a credenza in front of the screen, they are "out of the way."  And out of the way, is also what ceiling mounting does.
Laser light engine Both the S718QL (and also that non UST UHZ65) have long life laser light engines so you can figure, (pre-mature failure notwithstanding) that the laser engines will outlive the projectors usefulness, unless you drop the projector into something like a 24/7/365 environment (but that rarely is the case, except for somedigital signage applications). 20,000 hours even running 24/7/365 is 168 hours a week, or roughly 2.5 years.  But even 8 hours a day, 5 days a week works out to 10  years! One real advantage for special applications for laser light engines is combining them with edge blending or projection mapping to create a seamless image (with the same color) stretching across multiple projectors.  That, folks is high end stuff, but these first generation 4K UHD UST projectors aren't offering those features.  That tech is often used in museums to project large images across multiple projectors as a single image. The primary advantages of laser light engines, though, are the long live, and no lamps to change, with lamp changing being a support function that requires some tracking and manpower, both of which can be expensive if managing a fleet of projectors. Still lamp life has been improving so that in eco modes 5000, 6000, or even 8000 hours has been showing up on the spec pages of many lamp based projectors.  (In the good old days - aka 1999, 500 hours was all you could expect).
Laser engines have other benefits. Lamp projectors start losing brightness pretty much on day one.  By the time you have a few hundred hours on most lamp based projectors you are already down 20% in brightness. By the time you replace the lamp, it's down 50%. With a laser - it too drops in brightness, but slowly over those typical 20,000 hours, so that by 20,000 hours (longer in Eco mode) brightness will have dropped 50%.  So you have a bright image for far, far, longer, and won't be in a situation like some with lamp projectors where you need to replace the lamp long before it is near its full life because you need to get the brightness back up. Today, we're paying roughly $2000 extra for a laser engine in most projectors, so that's the trade-off.  Over its life, you can figure that if it was lamp based, there would be 2-4 service calls to replace lamps.  We figure that that's got a real cost of a couple/few hundred dollars each time.  As a result, the labor intensive aspects of a lamp projector aren't great enough to rationalize spending for a laser projector, but those costs should at least wipe out about half of the difference. The other rationales are the overall less hassle, the more consistent brightness, and perhaps extremely important to some.  Lamp based projectors shift color as the lamps age.  Lasers will too but any shift should prove minor by comparison. Full Interactivity? Neither the Dell S718QL (or the Optoma UHZ65 for that matter) offer full interactivity, but its quite likely we'll see future versions of both that add that.  How soon? That well may depend on how fast 4K UHD projector prices fall, and start closing in on WUXGA models with similar features.  I suspect that far more interactive projectors go into schools than businesses, and if that's accurate, pricing and need for 4K UHD in schools may delay the arrival of full interactive 4K UHD models. For this Dell- or rather its future interactive siblings, to be successful, here's the hurdle: A similar UST type, but merely WUXGA projector, but one with more features, especially massive interactive abilities, exists.  The obvious, and excellent example, is Epson's new Brightlink Pro 710UI which we just reviewed here.  It sells for $3500 list price for normal business, but for far less with education pricing. In their Brighter Futures education program, Epson offers the projector to schools for $2699).  Not only do you get full interactivity, but similar brightness (it splits the difference - the Dell claims 5000 lumens, the Optoma 3000 lumens, and the Epson 4000 lumens. By comparison the Dell sells for $5000 to business, and the Optoma about $4500 street. So, buyers will need to decide if they will get enough benefit from having 4K support, in exchange for spending $1000 - $1500 more for Optoma and Dell projectors that lack interactivity, and are respectively 1000 lumens less bright and 1000 more bright than a WUXGA alternative. The Bottom Line: First, I think both Dell and Optoma need to launch fully interactive versions of their projectors.  They should do well because increased demand for interactivity is the demand, and technically it doesn't add that much to the cost ($500? maybe).
That aside, both, with the Dell being a lot brighter for not much more money, than the Optoma, unless we find some glaring advantages to the Optoma, the Dell is likely to be the better value.  I'll let you know when I post the Dell S718QL full review. Mostly though, sales of these models should do fairly well, (very well considering their very high prices compared to alternatives - because they are 4K UHD).  Buyers on the non-home side most likely will chose this "new" class of projector because they have an immediate need to show 4K content, or HDR content, or because they have the budget, and want to future proof as much as possible.  Just remember, it takes us a long time for our industry to move up one full step in resolution.  A dozen years ago WUXGA (and 1080p) projectors were a tiny part of the market.  Yet today, I still don't think WUXGA projector make up more than half of K-12 purchases.  On the other hand, WUXGA should be significantly larger in market share in business and higher education. So the real bottom line comes down to what you need, what you want, why, and whether you can afford the difference. Last thoughts:  Projector Screens - a nice thing about UST projectors is you can pair them with what are now called ALR (light "rejecting") screens, that are specifically designed for UST projectors.  That's a good thing.  Just remember this, those ALR screens are not nearly as effective at working in high ambient light rooms as ALR screens designed for normal throw projectors.  They are, however, very effective when lighting is coming from overhead, and the UST projector is table top. If the  UST projector is mount above the screen, though, then it is helpless against light above, but very effective against light rising up from the floor in front of the projector.  (Not a likely scenario).  The UST ALR type screens aren't noticeably more effective on light coming from the back of the room either. The alternative would be standard screens with little or no gain - ie. 0.9, 1.0 or 1.1 gain.  Higher gain screens will appear too dark in the corners when paired with a UST projector.  These normal screens cost far less than the ALR types and in many rooms work virtually as well. Where in your organization will a UST projector work best - and also an interactive UST projector?   Possibly in "huddle "room" or in small conference and other setups where everyone sits around  and close to the front. That way, people can see and take advantage of the higher resolution the Dell S718QL - and the non-UST Optoma UHZ65 projectors offer in terms of sharpness and detail.  As soon as the people viewing start sitting further back - conference tables, or theater style seating, the 4K UHD value becomes limited, mostly to the folks up front. I'm looking forward to putting Dell's S718QL projector through its paces - both as a commercial - be it business, education, entertainment or other uses, and also as a home entertainment, home theater projector.  Look for the full review late Feb, 2018.  If it's past that time, the full review, and a short video, should be live for your viewing! -art

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