Most projectors need to be a long way from the screen to deliver massive pictures, but not this DLP model from Toshiba. It uses an ultra short-focus lens to generate a 2.5m (100-inch) image when placed just 1.3m from the screen, making it an ideal choice for small rooms.

It also boasts a built-in DVD player and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, thanks to the six on-board speakers that deliver a combined output of 18.5W - not bad for a projector.

Piper at the gates of dawn

For external sources there are HDMI, component video and composite video inputs, alongside a PC jack. You can also pipe the Dolby Digital bitstream from a DVD to your surround sound system using the electrical digital audio output.

The TDP-ET20 has been made as user-friendly as possible. The simple on-screen menus have been stripped of complex options, while the remote is clearly laid out and logical.

The unit boasts a movie-friendly 16:9 panel, but the resolution is a mere 854 x 480, denying it an HD ready badge and not really making the most of that HDMI input.

Otherwise, the TDP-ET20 seems impressive on paper, particularly the inclusion of the Silicon Optix HQV video processor (used to great effect in Denon's recent DVD range), but in action it's a mixed bag.

The short throw lens does a great job, easily mustering an image of 100 inches in size from 1.3m away, and reveals some impressive features of our Fellowship of the Ring test DVD.

Colours are perfectly balanced, looking deep and vivacious without making skin tones seem unnatural. A hint of grey mist stops blacks reaching world-beating depths, but they're still good enough to ensure a solid, cinematic appearance. The creases and folds of the Ringwraiths' robes are also picked out with ease.

On the downside, the pixel structure is too visible during bright scenes, giving the picture a chicken wire effect that's more closely associated with LCD projectors. It's particularly noticeable on text.

Fine detail is poorly rendered, not only due to the low resolution and visible pixels, but also to a smattering of noise that occasionally clouds clarity.

Mother superior

As for Dolby Digital performance, the inclusion of a 5W subwoofer makes it far superior to most projectors, but its surround sound capabilities are far from convincing.

Our aural gripes don't stop there either - it won't play DTS soundtracks, the unit tends to rattle when turned up too loud and, worst of all, the fan noise is quite distracting.

All in all, the short-throw lens works well, and the Toshiba TDP-ET20 will no doubt appeal to those who put convenient features over performance. Everyone else would do well to seek out a projector that offers the resolution and picture prowess needed to do movies justice.