There are folks who want the highest performance possible in a home theater projector and are willing to pay premium dollars for it. Conversely, there are those who want the best picture they can get for the least possible outlay. Then there are those in the middle-home theater enthusiasts who want clearly better performance than you get from the economy-class machines and are willing to pay extra for it. But they don't want the expense and the extravagance of the high-end machines.
With an MSRP of $3,999 and street prices much lower than that, the Toshiba MT500 is targeted at this mid-market buyer. It delivers superb video quality for the money, but it is not well-suited for very large home theater installations. Rather, it is an outstanding projector for those who don't have big rooms to accommodate a large theater set-up.
Light Engine: Native resolution 1024x576, 16:9 aspect ratio, 0.7" DLP chip, with 210W, 2000 hour lamp. Six-segment, 5x speed color wheel. Rated at 700 ANSI lumens and 2000:1 contrast.
Lens: Manual zoom and focus with 1.2x zoom factor.
Inputs: One DVI-I w/HDCP, two sets of 3-RCA component, one S-video, one composite, no audio onboard.
Signal compatibility: 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i, computer XGA compressed.
Color systems: NTSC, NTSC 4.43, PAL, PAL-N, PAL-M, PAL-60
Weight: 7 lbs.
Audible noise: 31 dB
Due to the publicity surrounding Texas Instruments' Matterhorn DLP chip, which is native 1024x576 resolution, many have assumed that this projector has that chip. It does not. It uses a native XGA (1024x768) DLP chip that has 192 lines deactivated. The net result is a native 16:9 resolution machine with the same resolution as the Matterhorn chip.
When we say deactivated, we mean deactivated. Those 192 lines are never used in any operating mode. If you feed the MT500 a computer XGA signal of 1024x768, the projector will compress it into 576 lines, which is not the way you want to view an XGA image. There is no option for native 4:3 display of an XGA signal. Therefore, the MT500 is for all practical purposes a video projector only. If your home theater viewing consists of cable TV, DVD, and HDTV, the MT500 is superb. If you want to factor Internet browsing or other computer-based display in as part of your projector's duties, you need a different machine.
The MT500 is officially rated at 700 ANSI lumens, which is overstated. After calibration our review sample measured closer to 300 lumens. That means that the MT500 is among the lowest light output projectors on the market. That in turn means that it is not appropriate for very large screen applications. On a 120" diagonal screen, blacks go gray, colors get dull and the image loses its snap. So if you are going for this size screen you need a brighter projector. However, the good news is that due to the excellent contrast of the MT500, 300 real ANSI lumens is plenty of light if you have a darkened viewing space and you don't overstretch the image.
The perfect set-up for the MT500 is on a 90" diagonal 16:9 format screen, with a viewing distance of ten to twelve feet, in a light controlled space. With this set-up you get a gorgeous, color-rich, high-contrast image that looks a lot like a huge plasma screen. Of course there is no such thing as a 90" plasma screen (yet anyway), and if there were it would be enormously expensive. So considering the cost of the MT500, what you end up with is an outstanding value.
Technically, the color decoding on the MT500 is among the best we've seen in DLP products under $5,000. The highly desirable 6-segment, 5x speed wheel delivers rich color and eliminates rainbow artifacts for all but a few unfortunate viewers. Deinterlacing and scaling for both standard and HDTV was precise and clean. The MT500's image is sharp even with the sharpness control turned down to almost zero, which is where it needs to be to eliminate ringing. But once this was done the video image from both DVD and HDTV was beautifully smooth.
The MT500 has a +/- 15 degree keystone correction feature that is designed to square up the verticals when projecting at an oblique angle. However, the keystone feature should not be used for two reasons. Rescaling to accomplish the keystone adjustment is not as clean as one would like, and it further reduces the light output and resolution of the active image. Therefore when setting up this unit, make sure the line of projection is perpendicular to the screen. This is true of most projectors since keystone adjustment is something you want to avoid if possible. But it is particularly true of this one.
The published throw distance specifications on the MT500 do not exactly match the results we saw in the lab. Therefore we are leaving these specifications off our MT500 spec page so that the Projection Calculator is not active for this model. Moreover, we found a variety of published specifications on the MT500 that differed from one another, as well as specs differing between the vendor's spec sheets and the owner's manual. The data listed on the spec page for this model represent our best guess as to which among the varying specs are correct. (This phenomenon is not uncommon by the way; it just happens to be more so for this particular model.)
Based on the MT500 we have in the lab, to set up the unit on a 90" diagonal 16:9 screen, you must have a lens-to-screen throw distance of 11 to 13.33 feet. In addition, the projector is one foot deep, and it exhausts out the rear of the unit. We would recommend a clearance from the rear wall of at least 24" to allow for heat dissipation. (This unit cannot be shelf mounted against a rear wall). The bottom line is that you need a room that is at least 14 feet in length to accommodate the MT500 with a 90" image.
The ideal viewing distance for a 90" image is ten to twelve feet. That means the projector is at the same distance from the screen as the viewer. You can either place it on a table between the seats, or ceiling mount it. Fan noise is very low on the MT500, so even though it is mounted in close proximity to the viewer, the fan noise will not cause any distraction.
Overall, the MT500 is a superb video projector as long as you do not push it beyond its limitations. For those who have a dark viewing space and want or need an image that is 90" diagonal or less, the MT500 represents a great value for the money.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Toshiba TACP TDP-MT500 projector page.