The number of options for home theater enthusiasts on a budget is increasing steadily every month. With the recent influx of sub-$2000 854x480 DLP projectors, the high-quality big-screen experience has become more affordable than ever. Following this trend, Toshiba has released the TDP-MT200, a powerful little machine that has been getting a lot of attention from home theater enthusiasts seeking the best picture quality for the least investment.
Specifications. 700 ANSI lumens, 2000:1 contrast, native 16:9 widescreen format, 854x480 resolution DLP chip with a 5x speed six-segment color wheel.
Compatibility. HDTV 1080i, 720p, 576i, 480p, 480i, and computer resolutions up to 1024x768. Full NTSC / PAL / SECAM.
Lens and Throw Distance. 1.20:1 manual zoom/focus lens. Throws a 100" diagonal image from 13'7" to 16'4", depending on zoom.
Lamp Life. 2,000 hours in standard mode, 3,000 hours in low mode.
Connection Panel. One composite video, one S-Video, One set of standard YPbPr component inputs, one 15-pin VGA port, DVI-D port with HDCP, and one RS-232C port for an external control.
Installation Options. Table mount, rear shelf mount, ceiling mount.
Warranty. Two years, 90 days for lamp.
The MT200 is rated at 700 ANSI lumens; by our measurements it is capable of outputting about 580 ANSI lumens maximum, so there is not a large gap between theoretical and measured output. Optimized for home theater (in Theater mode with the lamp set to low) lumen output was about 330 ANSI - which, in a light-controlled viewing environment is plenty adequate. However, due to the relatively low light output of the MT200, we would recommend a maximum image diagonal of about 100".
The MT200's contrast performance is excellent. Black level is impressively deep, and shadow detail is clearly differentiated. There is seldom any dithering in dark areas of the image.
Out of the box the MT200 needs a little calibration to reach its peak color performance. Our test unit was biased towards green and slightly undersaturated. However, with a few minor adjustments the problem was corrected, and the MT200 produced a combination of deep, rich colors, realistic fleshtones--overall a beautiful image.
Scaling is quite good for the most part. The MT200 downscales 720p and 1080i signals with precision, delivering a clean and clear image that looks like it is coming from a much more expensive projector. Furthermore, keystone adjustments are clean, with a bare minimum of blurring at image edges. The only time that the MT200 seemed to struggle was when the "zoom" aspect ratio control was used, as it tended to produce some image instability and edge blurring.
Deinterlacing is, in a word, excellent. Even the most difficult scenes (such as the opening of Star Trek: Insurrection, with some nearly-impossible haystacks) were handled exceptionally well, with very little breakup or image degradation. If you own a progressive-scan DVD player, you may wish to see if the MT200's onboard deinterlacing is superior to that of your player. You may be pleasantly surprised.
The bottom line is that the MT200 delivers an impressive image that is highly competitive with the best of the 854x480 class projectors.
Though the MT200's image quality is superb, it falls short in features and ease of use. It has basic independent color adjustments for red, green, and blue. However, there is no ability to adjust contrast and brightness on red, green, and blue, there is no gamma adjustment, there are no preprogrammed color temperature options, and no ability for the user to program and save preferred calibrations. That means, for example, that there is no way to preprogram a warmer color temperature setting for use with classic black/white films. The only way to adjust color temperature on this projector is by switching picture modes to Dynamic, Standard, or Theater - Dynamic is cool, and leans towards blue; while Theater is warmer and has more red overtones. However these preprogrammed calibrations alter gamma as well.
The MT200 includes an adjustable fan mode; it is set on "standard" by default, but can be switched to "high" for high-altitude environments or areas where air circulation is less-than-ideal. However, the projector's fan is never completely off; even when powered down the fan in the MT200 continues running slowly to keep the power supply cool, which can be annoying in an otherwise quiet room. To shut off the fan completely you must either cut AC power to the unit, or turn the projector's main power switch off.
The MT200 only has three aspect ratio options available. "Full" will display a 16:9 or wider image correctly, and stretch a 4:3 image to fit the frame horizontally. "4:3" mode presents a 4:3 image in pillarboxed format in the center of the frame. Finally, "Zoom" mode expands a 4:3 signal horizontally and vertically to fill the 16:9 frame, cutting off the top and bottom areas of the image in the process.
The MT200's remote is tiny. While some may regard this as a good thing, it also means that the buttons are small and cluttered. It is easy to hit the wrong button in the dark since the remote is not backlit. The buttons do glow in the dark, but the labels are printed onto the remote in small type, which makes them hard to read in the glow of the buttons. There are no direct-access source controls, only a button to auto-cycle the sources. Nor is there a button to change aspect ratios--one must go into the menu to do that. Meanwhile, there are buttons for freeze-frame and picture mute, which have limited use in home theater. We would have liked to see this remote real estate go to better use.
The menu system is slightly counterintuitive. Pressing the menu button displays an elegant, translucent menu system that lays out the adjustable options; however, pressing down to actually go into the menu displays a secondary menu, which is opaque (taking up precious screen space) and unlabeled except for icons. This switch seems not only unnecessary, but also confusing.
The feature most responsible for the MT200's current popularity is its 5x rotation speed, six-segment color wheel. No other projector in the 854x480 category (at this writing) has a 5x wheel; the Optoma H31 and InFocus Screenplay 4805 have 4x wheels, and the others have 2x speed wheels. The higher speed wheels are certainly good news for those who experience the rainbow effect, as you are much less likely to see color separation artifacts on the faster wheels.
However, just like any other projector specification, the 5x wheel speed must be kept in perspective. If you see rainbows on 2x speed DLP projectors but not on 4x speed projectors, the incremental rotation speed of 5x is not going to have much benefit to you. On the other hand, if you are extremely sensitive to rainbows, even the 5x speed wheel may not be fast enough to eliminate the problem. In this case you should probably look into LCD projectors and avoid single-chip DLP projectors entirely. The only people for whom the 5x speed wheel is a material advantage over the units with 4x speed wheels are those who see rainbows at 4x, but not at 5x. While there are no published studies on the subject, this group is in all likelihood very small.
As with all projectors, the geometry of the throw distance and offset make the MT200 ideal for some installations and difficult for others. Compared to other models in its class, it has a relatively long throw lens, producing a 100" diagonal image from a distance of 13'7" to 16'4". Coupled with the high throw offset where the bottom of the image appears 54% of the image height above the center of the lens, 1.2x zoom, and lack of lens shift, the mounting arrangements require some thought.
If you place the unit on a coffee table in front of the seating area, the projector will be at least 13'7" from the screen for a 100" image. Practically speaking, the viewers would be at least three feet behind the projector, or a distance of about 2.3x the screen width. That may be comfortable for some, but too far away for others, depending on one's viewing preferences.
Alternatively, you could place the projector on a table between the seats and move the seating closer to the screen. However, the 200W lamp in the MT200 causes it to throw a lot of heat, and those sitting close to it may experience discomfort.
The MT200's longer throw distance will in many cases help to accommodate a rear shelf mount more easily than competing products with shorter throws. However, unless it is placed on a high shelf and inverted, the offset angle will require a tilt, and a keystone adjustment to square it up. Keep in mind that our test sample had problems retaining user settings. In any mounting situation that requires keystone adjustment, this could become a serious annoyance - if you have to change the keystone settings every time you start up the projector, it can become tiresome very quickly.
Therefore, many users will find the ideal installation for this projector will be ceiling mounting with no tilt that would require keystone adjustment. This takes advantage of the built-in throw offset, keeps the heat away from the viewers, and allows for maximum flexibility to position seating where desired. Of course, ceiling mounts are more expensive and require more effort to install, especially if cables are to be run through the walls.
The MT200 produces a beautiful image at a bargain basement price, but it is not without flaws and limitations. For some it will be an ideal solution, and for others it will be more of a challenge to install and live with. As with any projector, image quality is pointless if the machine does not fit your needs. In terms of overall value, the MT200 is selling at street prices somewhat higher than competing units that are more fully featured for the home theater application.
However, assuming it fits well into your viewing space, you will be pleasantly surprised at how good it looks. With excellent performance on everything from DVDs to video games to HDTV, and the added advantage of a fast color wheel, the MT200 delivers great home theater potential on a limited budget.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Toshiba TACP TDP-MT200 projector page.