It's hard not to be impressed by the Dell M409WX. This ultraportable projector weighs a mere 2.6 pounds yet can beam out 2000 ANSI lumens of brightness at a widescreen resolution that pairs well with many new laptops. The remote control could be easier to use, but overall this is a top-notch, affordably priced projector for traveling presenters.
In keeping with the current design motif for Dell projectors, the M409WX has a sleek black exterior, with hard edges and right angles. Even at a height of slightly less than 3 inches, it slides easily into its padded carrying case. The full travel weight, with the remote control and a typical complement of cables, is just 4.0 pounds--lighter than most notebooks.
The remote control is our least favorite feature of this projector. We applaud the inclusion of a laser pointer and a pair of buttons for navigating through PowerPoint slideshows. Unfortunately, however, form has prevailed over function: Much of the time we had trouble finding the right buttons. Like the projector, the remote is a a sleek black rectangle. Most of the button labels, however, are printed in tiny blue type, making them difficult to read, especially in a dimly lit conference room.
Also, to work the remote's Page Up/Page Down buttons, you'll need to supply your own USB cable to link the projector with your laptop. Once, Dell traditionally supplied cables for practically every device, but lately it has cut back on its cable bundles.
Not surprisingly for Dell models, the M409WX actually turned out to be somewhat brighter than advertised. In our lab, we measured 2042 ANSI lumens. TheOptoma EW330--which is essentially the same projector--achieved similar brightness results, but is advertised as being significantly brighter (Optoma's 2200 lumens versus Dell's 2000). Nevertheless, the bottom line is that both projectors are bright enough for all but the largest, most sunlit venues.
On the full-on/full-off contrast test, Dell claims a contrast ratio of 2,000:1, which is fairly typical for DLP projectors. On our more realistic checkerboard contrast test, it achieved a ratio of 464:1, which, though only a fraction of the advertised spec, is still much more than necessary for most business applications. This is also the best contrast ratio we have seen for a widescreen projector; by comparison, the Optoma EW330 has a contrast ratio of 359:1.
On some other tests, the M409WX was less than extraordinary. Uniform brightness, comparing corners to center, scored a relatively low 66 percent. The image size was also somewhat small, measuring 45 inches diagonally at a screen distance of 5 feet--the same as the Optoma EW330. Another widescreen model, theCasio XJ-S52, projects images that are 20 inches larger, and its uniformity is 86 percent.
Image and Video Quality
Our more subjective tests revealed sharp, steady images with no interference noise and only an occasional hint of flicker. On close examination, the only artifact we saw were tiny comet tails on individual pixels in the upper right corner. Text resolution was excellent.
On our entertainment tests, the M409WX displayed 1080i HDTV (viewing ESPN sports and the movie Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer) and DVD movies (The Matrix) with fabulous results. When connected to a DVD player or set-top box, however, this widescreen projector defaults to a traditional 4:3 aspect ratio. The presenter mus=t set the projector to a widescreen ratio manually. This projector also defaults to the Movie Color mode in these applications, which helps to ensure accurate color rendition, but cuts the brightness approximately by half. As is typical for DLP projectors, yellows were somewhat dull.
Quick Shutdown and Eco Mode
One of our favorite features on the M409WX is its quick shutdown time, which lets presenters pull the plug after only 11 seconds. The quick shutdown feature is not a default setting; presenters must set it (only once) from the on-screen menu.
Because the cooling fan on this projector is relatively noisy, we recommend using the low-power Eco setting, which diminishes the fan noise to tolerable levels yet trims the brightness by a mere 24 percent. The Eco mode also increases lamp life to an impressive 5,000 hours--particularly important for a model whose replacement lamp costs $350.
The Dell M409WX represents a truly impressive combination of portability, affordability, solid image quality and widescreen resolution. On the downside, some default settings seem to hide some of this projector's best features. Once presenters replace those defaults with more desirable settings, the M409WX becomes one of the best all-around widescreen projectors we have tested. We prefer the identically priced Casio XJ-S43W, because it offers better brightness and a larger image in a slimmer (but heavier) package. But you can't go wrong with this projector.