Toshiba's latest is a true home cinema projector: a DLP design using the Texas Instruments 1,024 x 576 pixel optical chip. The MT500 is lightweight, but there's no carrying handle or internal speaker. The picture is optimised for quality rather than quantity with a modest brightness of 700 ANSI lumens, though contrast ratio is an impressive 2,500:1, which is characteristic of the latest 12 degree deflection DMDs.
In addition to two component video inputs and the obligatory composite and S-Video sockets, there is also a DVI input with HDCP, which can be used with the latest generation DVD players with HDCD encryption. This allows a digital video to be delivered directly to the projector, eliminating one stage of D/A conversion in the DVD player, and an A/D conversion in the projector, both of which are lossy processes that degrade picture quality however carefully they are done.
The DVI input can also be used with the analogue DVI output of some computers, or using a supplied adaptor cable, from the 15-pin D-Sub monitor output of a graphics card or laptop computer. And you do get a very practical carrying case, so the Toshiba is not exactly out of the loop as a data projector - it's just a rather expensive way of showing Powerpoints which are going to end up looking rather dull on a big screen. By home cinema standards, however, the Toshiba is close to being bargain-priced for the specification and performance standards on offer.
The light engine in this case is a 210W high pressure mercury vapour lamp, which according to the supplied technical information has a lifetime of 2,000 hours. But elsewhere in the documentation, it is explained that the projector will turn the lamp off after 1,500 hours for safety reasons. Because the lamp hours counter can't be reset, this effectively puts the lid on lamp lifetime at this relatively modest figure.
On the plus side, the sealed cooling system runs relatively quietly, and is largely free of the whistling associated with spinning DLP colour wheels. However, it becomes very noisy indeed for a few minutes when switching off, as the fan goes into overdrive in an attempt to dump heat, which is exactly what you don't want to hear as the tension relaxes at the end of a film. The MT500 colour wheel runs at a relatively tardy 4x speed, and there were occasional glimpses of DLP 'rainbow' effect, though susceptibility to this tends to vary between viewers.
Picture adjustments are adequate for normal purposes, but the emphasis here is on ease of use rather than ultimate flexibility. Nevertheless, it is possible to group picture settings under three presets which can be called up at will, and there is a range of offsets available which allow specific colours to be emphasised or de-emphasised under the ICC control menu.
White purity can be set with the colour temperature adjustment. The backlit remote control is admirably clear in layout, as well as being backlit for use with the lights out. It includes direct access to the main functions, including source select, aspect ratio adjust, three preset picture adjustment settings and the key picture adjustment parameters - contrast, brightness, colour, tint, colour temperature, gamma and sharpness.
Picture quality with a good analogue output - component progressive from a Denon DVD-A11 in our case - is impressive. Using the standard settings, which gives by far the best picture quality, the picture is a little dark, and should only be viewed under complete blackout conditions.
Given this precondition however, which applies to some extent with all projectors, and which is also dependent on the nature of the screen surface, picture quality is clean and contrasty, demonstrating excellent highlight detail and pure blacks with plenty of subtle low level detail. Motion artefacts are well suppressed by the SiL504 deinterlacer, which has become something of an industry standard.
So given its prowess, how does this Tosh compare with its key rivals in the increasingly crowded cut-price projector market?
There is more raw contrast, and purer deep backs with this model than the Infocus Screenplay 5700 that has impressed us in the past (and you should not ignore the latter's £500 higher price).
However, the Infocus has the edge overall, with more subtle, apparently more filmic colouring, and a brighter on-screen image without the losses associated with running the projector at an artificially high gamma settings to increase brightness. It also offers superior image processing. With increasingly good machines now selling for less, and a quite genuine upper class at the £3k price point, the MT500 succeeds mainly in falling between two stools. Which is a shame.