Our first looks at the Toshiba TLP-MT7 were at the CES, NAB, and INFOCOMM tradeshows earlier this year. Quite frankly, it didn't look very good. But Toshiba had set up their demos with standard factory presets, so the units were not optimized for best video quality. When someone called to ask if we wanted to review the MT7, we jumped at the chance to see what could be done to improve the image.
Out of the box the MT7 was of course calibrated to factory presets. And firing it up it delivered the same lackluster image that had been seen at the trade shows. However, after ten minutes worth of some relatively simple adjustments to color, contrast, brightness, and sharpness, the image was magically transformed. We are pleased to report that the MT7 is a much more exciting product than one would have guessed from its trade show debuts. So here is a closer look at Toshiba's newest home theater entry.
The MT7 is a sleek, compact home theater projector, weighing 11.7 lbs. Its white case, contemporary design, and small form factor enable it to be ceiling-mounted rather unobtrusively in many environments.
The MT7 features a 1,280 x 720 pixel array on three 1.3" LCD panels, making it one of the few native 16:9 aspect ratio machines on the market. It is rated at 1000 ANSI lumens with a full on/off contrast ratio of 400:1.
Throw distance. The 1.3x manual zoom and focus lens projects a 100" diagonal image from a minimum distance of 12.7 feet and a maximum distance of 16.3 feet (measured from lens to screen). The exhaust is directed out the front of the unit, so it can be ceiling mounted relatively close to a rear wall. There is no clearance spec in the Owner's Manual, but to ensure adequate heat dissipation we would suggest allowing at least a foot from the rear of the case to the wall if it is to be ceiling mounted. Placement in a bookcase or rack without proper ventilation is not recommended.
Lamp. The MT7 has a 150-watt lamp that must be replaced every 1000 hours. Buyers should be aware that the retail price of the replacement lamp (at this writing) is $437 (not unusual for this class of product). So lamp replacements should be factored into the cost of ownership to avoid surprises.
Fan noise and extraneous light. Fan noise is extremely low, almost silent-a highly desirable feature in a home theater projector that many competing units cannot quite match. Furthermore, Toshiba engineers have done an outstanding job in controlling scattered light; the only place light comes out of the MT7 is the lens, which is an impressive achievement in a projector with such a small form factor. That is important because scattered light emerging from intake/exhaust vents can reduce the contrast performance of any projection system.
Signal compatibility. The MT7 takes a variety of video signals including HDTV 1080i and 720p, EDTV 480p, as well as standard 480i in component, composite, and S-video formats. It is also compatible with computer resolutions from VGA to UXGA (1600x1200). The MT7 supports NTSC, PAL, SECAM, PAL-M, PAL-N, PAL-60, and NTSC 4.43.
Connectivity. The MT7 has one 15-pin D-Sub VGA connector that serves as the input port for all computer, HDTV, and 480i/480p component video sources, as well as one S-video port and one composite RCA jack. That means if you are running multiple sources you will need signal switching capability in your equipment rack to avoid the nuisance of unplugging signal cables every time you want to change a source. If your component sources have 3 RCA jacks as outputs, you will need a cable with three RCA jacks on one end and a VGA connector on the other. Toshiba provides one of these cables in a ten-foot length with the unit.
Image formatting. The MT7 will take a variety of 4:3 and 16:9 input signals and format them to your desired viewing format. 4:3 can be displayed with black bars on the side, stretched horizontally, or blown up to full 16:9 screen width with the top and bottom truncated.
Features for commercial presentation use. There are several features incorporated into the MT7 that are intended primarily for use in data presentations. Keystone correction enables you to display a rectangular image rather than a trapezoidal image in the event the projector's centerline is not perpendicular to the screen. For data images this is fine, but for video it is much preferred to align the projector properly with the screen and set keystone correction to zero. Keystone adjustments introduce artifacts and distortions that diminish the quality of the video image.
There is a digital zoom feature that enables you to enlarge small parts of the projected image-great for spreadsheet presentations, but of no value for video. The MT7 has a single 2-watt speaker on board which may have application in a conference room presentation, but is of no practical use in home theater. A mute button temporarily cuts the picture and sound so you can address your audience without the distractions the projector might represent. A carrying handle is built into the side of the case. It blends into the casework such that it is almost invisible when not in use.
Thus the MT7, despite being a native 16:9 machine, has wider application than just home theater. For those who want the projector to serve a second function as a mobile presentation device, it has all the basic features required to perform this service. Putting out 1000 ANSI lumens in its 12 lbs package, it is not the lightest or the brightest projector on the market by any means. So it is not the best choice for frequent travelers. However, it is an excellent choice for people who want to combine superior home theater performance with occasional data presentation use, all at an attractive price.
Once the MT7 is calibrated for video it delivers an impressive and satisfying picture, and certainly one that will be the envy of friends and neighbors. The scaling of 480-line video into the 1280x720 array is very good. The picture appears to be clean, sharp, stable, and pixel-free from a viewing distance of 1.7 times the screen width or greater. As you move closer to the screen you will begin to see a number of artifacts, but that is true of all digital projectors.
The ideal source signal for the MT7 is HDTV 720p which it displays in native format. Since there is no scaling and no deinterlacing required for 720p, the MT7 delivers a particularly stunning picture with this signal. That used to be a big "so what?" since there wasn't much 720p being broadcast. However, with ABC's plan to broadcast its entire prime time programming in 720p, there is now suddenly ample 720p material available. (In our experience, 720p is notably superior to 1080i. We applaud ABC's decision to broadcast in this format despite its higher bandwidth and cost. Suddenly, thanks to ABC, the world of HDTV just got a lot more exciting!)
HDTV's all well and good, but most people want good DVD performance as well. And you can get great DVD playback on the MT7, but with a word of caution. The MT7's internal deinterlacer for 480-line video is not very comprehensive. However, it can be bypassed simply by using a progressive scan source. The MT7 was tested with a JVC XV-D723GD progressive scan DVD player, a great little player that has the advantage in the lab of being able to switch its output from progressive to interlaced at the flip of a toggle switch. When switching it from interlaced to progressive output, the MT7 recognized the format change automatically and the picture clarity and stability improved quite visibly. So we strongly advise that MT7 owners make the move to progressive scan sources. As with all projectors, the use of the composite video jack is not recommended under any circumstances, and S-video is recommended only when you can't get a component signal from your source.
Color saturation was first rate and color accuracy very good. When optimally calibrated, errors in color will not be discernable to anyone but professional viewers.
Contrast performance, rated at 400:1, is very good, and much improved over earlier generation LCD projectors such as the Sony VPL-VW10HT. Though there are some competing models with somewhat better contrast, they are by and large substantially more expensive. Contrast performance can be further improved with the use of the Stewart Grayhawk screen. The combination of the MT7 and the Grayhawk produces a sparkling image that is a true joy to watch. The same might be true of the Da-lite gray screen product, but we don't have one in the lab and cannot comment.
Toshiba has always competed well in the projector market with very aggressive price/performance ratios. The company has been a price leader in a number of categories, and this entry into the home theater market is no different. Buyers will find street prices on the MT7 to be extremely attractive relative to many other products targeted at the home theater market.
The Toshiba MT7 is not for the committed videophile who must have the best possible projector regardless of cost. Nor is it for the person who habitually tracks the projector market and never buys anything, paralyzed by the fear that something better will hit the market next month.
Rather, Toshiba has made a product for the much larger audience of folks who simply want to enjoy a dramatic picture on the screen at a reasonable cost. The MT7 is for people who want to watch movies for the fun of watching movies. And it's for people who want to see ABC's primetime line-up this fall like it's never been seen before. If you are interested in a lot of video bang for the buck, we recommend the Toshiba TLP-MT7. And make sure to get a calibration disc like the AVIA Guide to Home Theater along with it. That's an easy way to get your new projector optimized for best home theater performance.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Toshiba TACP TLP-MT7U projector page.