More than two years ago, Toshiba introduced its TDP-FF1AU, which was not only one of the first LED projectors but also one of the first battery-powered projectors. Unfortunately, the FF1 could beam out only 15 lumens of brightness. Now Toshiba has released its newest generation of LED projectors, the TDP-F10U ($715 direct, $489 online) which eschews battery power for AC power and is capable of enough brightness for business work. Like the $379Dell M109S, an even lighter AC-powered LED projector, the Toshiba has the same oddball variation of SVGA resolution (858 x 600), but the Toshiba TDP-F10U is significantly brighter.
At 5.5 x 4.9 x 2.2 inches and 1.4 pounds, the Toshiba projector is slightly larger than the Dell M109 (4.1 x 3.6 x 1.5 inches), and a little over half a pound heavier. Externally, the Toshiba TDP-F10U has a stylish black and white design that could very well end up in the Museum of Modern Art. The problem is that this device may be too stylish. Consider the power switch, a well-camouflaged slide switch recessed on the back panel, hidden in a black-on-black fashion. Focusing is done by another black slide switch tucked away on the left panel. And the top panel manages to disguise a set of menu-navigation buttons as a simple black circle. A quartet of blue LEDs indicate button placement but look like abstract designs. Presenters in dimly lit rooms will likely have a difficult time finding these controls.
Two of the best features of this projector are hidden behind a plain black cover on the back panel: a USB flash drive port and an SD Card slot. These input options enable presenters to leave their laptops home and travel light. To take advantage of these features, all you have to do is have PowerPoint save your slides in JPEG format. You can easily jump from slide to slide via a handy button on the remote control. You can also set the projector to transition to the next slide automatically after a set time, and have the presentation loop for unattended operation. The projector even gives you the option of adding simple transitions between your slides--something that is usually lost when you give a show from JPEG files. Unfortunately, these transitions are a bit slow and not quite ready for prime time.
As stylish as the TDP-F10U is, its real beauty is displayed when you power it on--or soon thereafter. It took 24 seconds to warm up. That's fast for a typical projector but almost glacially slow when compared with most other LED projectors, which can display images instantaneously. Once up and running, however, this projector displays some of the sharpest and steadiest images we have seen. We didn't see any flicker or image noise, and individual pixels were sharp with hardly any comet tails or color fringes. If only larger projectors could be this good. Of course, being a DLP projector, the TDP-F10U does have problems with yellows, which are fairly dulled.
Four different LED power settings range from 1 (the dimmest) to 4 (the brightest). And the three different picture modes significantly affect brightness: Normal (the default and the dimmest), True Color, and Bright (of course, the brightest). When displaying video, the projector has only two color modes: Cinema and Standard. That gives you a total of 12 possible combinations on a projector that can barely eke out 100 lumens of brightness. There is even a nice button on the credit card-size remote control that adjusts the LED power.
Brightness and Contrast
For our brightness tests, we used the default brightness setting (LED power of 3 and Normal picture mode), as this will probably be the one that most people will end up using. In this setting, we measured 71 ANSI lumens. The brightest setting (LED power of 4 and Bright picture mode) reached 88 lumens, about 12 percent lower than advertised. This level of brightness is at least an order of magnitude lower than most projectors, but it can be useful in small business rooms with the lights turned down low. The maximum usable image size is probably about 36 inches diagonal, depending on ambient light.
The TDP-F10U's contrast ratio was a modest 369:1, which is more than enough for business applications. The brightness uniformity (corner to center) was a remarkably good 94 percent. In video and HDTV (1080i) applications, the projector worked quite well, although you really cannot use it in daylight. It showed very slight difficulty keeping up with busy action scenes, but images overall were quite sharp.
Noise and Heat
So why would you want to lower the brightness on a 100-lumen projector? One possibility is noise. The cooling fan on this tiny projector often seems as noisy as models many times its size. At start-up, the fan is not very noticeable, but it can get quite loud as the device warms up and some sort of internal thermostat kicks in. Oddly enough, the projector's on-screen menu includes an option for increasing fan speed. Even odder is the fact that decreasing the brightness often has no effect on the fan noise, and increasing the fan speed has no effect on the brightness.
With all that fan noise, you'd expect the projector to run rather cool, and indeed it does. Also, cooldown times are instantaneous. But perhaps the projector's miniature AC power converter or brick should have its own cooling fan. After half an hour's operation, this component measured in at a scalding 135 degrees.
Overall, the Toshiba TDP-F10U is a good value for those who want to travel light. It beams out a steady, high-quality picture; it's powerful enough for most small business venues (with the lights turned down a bit); and its ability to go laptop-free with an SD Card make it eminently portable. Although this projector is relatively noisy and the controls could be easier to find, the TDP-F10U is a more practical business tool than the dimmer and more lightweight Dell M109S.