Product Review - Toshiba TW40X81 40" TheaterWide® High Definition DTV Rear Projection Television - March, 2000

Stacey Spears


Toshiba TW40X81 DTV

40" Widescreen (16x9)
2 New ColorStream® HD Video Inputs 
2 S-Video Inputs
2 Rear A/V Inputs
Front Panel A/V/S Inputs
Center Channel Audio Input
A/V Outputs
Dual RF Inputs
Variable Audio Outputs

Size 37 13/16" (W) x 44 1/8" (H) x 18 7/16" (D)
134 Pounds
MSRP: $2,799 US


Toshiba America, Inc., 1251 Sixth Avenue, Suite 4100, New York, New York 10020; Phone 212-596-0600; Web

Toshiba was one of the early 16x9 TV manufacturers in the US.  They had a hit on their hands with the original 56” 16x9 set.  It even came with a couple of anamorphic LDs so that you could get the most out of the current high-end format.  Other than that, I really don’t remember much in the way of Toshiba prior to the launch of DVD. 

Now we all have Toshiba to thank for the early adoption of component video outputs on their DVD players.  But, what good are component outputs on a DVD player if you have nothing to plug them into?  Toshiba knew this and were among the first, if not the first, to offer component inputs on their TVs.  The original TW40F80 (F80), reviewed in Secrets a couple of years ago, was one of those first 16x9 component video-equipped sets.

With the dawn of DTV upon us, Toshiba has blessed the market with an updated version of their 40” that offers 1080i and progressive DVD compatibility. It is officially a Digital Television (DTV).

Enter the TW40X81

I am going to be very blunt right now.  If you do not intend on having this TV properly calibrated by an ISF type technician, then I recommend that you look elsewhere.  Prior to the set's arrival, I did a little leg work and visited a few local showrooms that had the set on display.  Every place that had this TV on the showroom floor had done a poor job of calibrating it, and it looked bad.  When I got mine, I plugged it in and it looked just like it did in the stores.  It was poorly converged and very fuzzy.  The gray scale was not even close to being consistent from black to white; dark scenes were tinted red while bright scenes were tinted blue.  I don’t mean to pick on Toshiba, because all TV manufacturers are guilty of poor factory settings.

Often, projection type televisions need some tweaking to get them into tip-top shape.  They rely on three CRTs being aligned as well as properly focused, and things do tend to get bumped around when they are shipped.  Twenty-four hours later, the TV was transformed from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan in my living room.  Any properly trained tech with the right equipment should have no problem with this transformation.

Just like its predecessor (TW40F80), the TW40X81 (X81) is small.  It's so small that it is not really possible to mount a big center channel speaker on top of it.  No problem for me, as I built a speaker stand that fits snugly around the TV that holds my center channel.  I actually built it for the TW40F80; the new one is just a hair shorter but still fits nicely.

The TV contains five source inputs: four on the back and one on the front.  Two of the inputs on the back are the DTV/progressive DVD inputs.  There is also a standard component video input and the usual S-Video and composite.

The TV has three color temperature settings: Cool (Default in Standard mode), Medium, and Warm (Default in the Theater mode). When first turned on (straight out of the box), the TV is in Standard mode with the contrast at 100 (aka “Torch mode” ). The first thing that should be done is to bring the contrast down to about 15, and let the TV warm up for a couple of hours.  During the first month of using any new TV, you should readjust to compensate for any drifting, and that includes both the picture controls and convergence.

The X81 also has several modes in which to watch TV programs.  You have the standard mode, which should be used for all 4:3 films.  The borders on the side will be either gray or black depending on which mode you are in.  For anamorphic DVDs and HDTV, you will want to use the FULL mode.  One thing Toshiba has done that is really nice is that they allow you to change the video mode even on the progressive inputs.  For HDTV, it should always be set at FULL, but on DVD with a progressive or line doubled source you may need to change the mode.  This is for 4:3 and non-anamorphic DVDs.  You will want to use the Theater Wide settings for non-anamorphic DVDs.  Theater Wide size 2 is the one you should use, as it will stretch the picture equal in both the horizontal and vertical direction.  Using either the Theater Wide size’s 1 or 3 will stretch the picture in only one of the other directions, distorting the picture.

On “Scope” films (2.35:1 aspect ratio), there will still be black bars along the top and bottom.  This is normal.

Changes from the F80

Several changes have been made since the F80, including a new first surface mirror, color purity filters for the red and green CRTs, improved lenses, and multi-scan capability.  Their literature for the X81 has many features listed, including the useless Scan Velocity Modulation.  I am always amazed at how they try to spin a positive story on it.  Thank goodness it is turned down when in theater mode.  It is also simple for an ISF type tech to permanently disable.

The color purity filters bring the red and green CRTs closer to where they should be.  The reds are red instead of orange.  At the end of "The Music Man", you can see just how pure the red is on the marching bands' uniforms.  The downside of color filters is they limit light output.  For the record, the X81 outputs plenty of light.

On the subject of light output, the X81 greatly benefits from its internal line-doubler or being fed a progressive source.  More phosphor is actually being used at once, creating more light output.  (When the signal is line-doubled, the phosphors are being bombarded by the electron beam for a larger percentage of the time.) The X81 puts out at least 20% more light than the interlaced picture of the F80.

The remote has been improved from the previous F80 version.  The biggest change would be the addition of back-lighted buttons.  They have a smooth red glow to them.  There is a button at the top of the remote that actually activates the light.  Any time a button is pressed, the light button illuminates.  The remote fits nicely in your hand and is easy to operate.  Just be careful not to hit the reset button by mistake.

Performance testing by using test patterns

For testing the X81, I used both Avia and Video Essentials DVDs.

DC Restoration:   This is the ability to hold black at black throughout the picture, and it is one area that the Toshiba falls short in. If you set the black level on the PLUGE with log gray scale, then switch to the other pattern (PLUGE with white), you will see the black level change as the light output changes. This is a bad thing.  For the X81, you must set the black level based on the high output level pattern (PLUGE with white), and when doing this, you will see the blacker than black line on the PLUGE with log gray scale. (This is necessary.This behavior is very similar to the TW40F80 that I reviewed a long time ago.

One difficulty in setting black level on a rear projection set is internal reflections.  There is a half moon type reflection that shows up on the PLUGE pattern.  Most rear projection sets that I have seen have this anomaly.  I tried several things to get rid of it, but it's there for good.

Color Decoder Accuracy:   This is how well the TV is able to decode RGB from the composite and S-Video sources.  The Toshiba does a VERY good job, it still pushes the red a little but it is a lot better than many TV’s out there.  When you use the component inputs, you are bypassing this section getting an even more accurate picture.  There does seem to be a very minor push of the red when using the component connections.  When you are using the DTV inputs, be sure to set the TV properly.  You have the option of the input being HDTV or Progressive DVD.  Selecting the wrong choice may affect the decoding process.  I should also note that with the X81, you are able to change the tint control on the component inputs.  This should never be an option, but it is.

Grayscale Tracking:   This is how well the picture is able to track a grayscale from black to white.  The Toshiba is very linear and does an amazing job once its calibrated.  Out of the box this was a different story.  The bottom end of the gray scale had the color temperature for a 20 IRE window at 3,542 Kelvin’s and the 100 IRE window at 10,112 Kelvin’s.  This was in theater mode where the gray scale is set at medium.

White field Uniformity:   When putting up a solid white or gray pattern, you will see a color shift from one side to the other.  If you look at a full white or gray screen, there is slight red tint to one side and blue to the other, but it is not really noticeable when you have an actual movie playing.

Comb Filter:  How good is the TV’s internal comb filter?  The Toshiba has a 3D-comb filter that does a great job on Cable, VHS, and LD.  You bypass it when using either the S-Video or Component inputs.  This 3D comb filter is actually much better than the one in the F80.  The F80 exhibited "tearing" in the Snell & Wilcox zone plate pattern; the new filter appears to be flawless.  It actually performs much like the one in the Pioneer CLD-99 LD player.

Overscan:  The amount of overscan varies from TV to TV and may drift over time.  There is an internal adjustment that service personel can do, like an ISF tech, to get you close.  You do not have the same flexibility as a front projection CRT, but Toshiba does provide a lot of control for a properly trained tech.

De-Interlace:  Unlike the F80, the X81 has a built-in line-doubler that de-interlaces the signal.  It does not do film mode detection (3:2 pulldown/inverse telecine).  It just puts the picture together as it comes into the TV.  Since it can accept a progressive DVD player signal or an external line doubler signal, there was no real need for the added cost of 3:2 pulldown.  I found it to be good enough for TV broadcast programs and DSS.  I would, and did, add an external doubler to improve my LD collection (iScan Plus from DVDO).  I eventually ended up running the ReplayTV, DSS, and LD through the iScan into the X81.  This allowed me to take advantage of the black bars instead of the annoying gray ones.  I also found the picture to be a little sharper and with more depth through the iScan than through the built-in line-doubler.  This was really noticeable on ZDTV with shows like Silicon Spin, The Screen Savers, and The Money Machine.  The built-in line-doubler is an improvement over previous attempts by other TV manufacturers.

One of the things I always disliked about the F80 was the fact that I had to zoom in to watch non-anamorphic DVDs.  This made scan lines extremely visible and in my face.  Now, when I zoom in on progressive DVD, it's much more tolerable on the X81.  From my seating distance, 12 feet, I can’t see any scan lines in the zoom mode.

Post Calibration

The Toshiba blew me away after it had been properly calibrated!  I calibrated the TV in such a way that if the TV's controls are reset, the defaults produce a near perfect picture.  I found this necessary since they put a reset button on the remote.

The TV did drift for the first several weeks.  I had to re-converge almost daily until the drifting slowed.  The TV actually has different convergence memories for 480i, 480p, and 1080i.  Multiply this by the 3 (standard, zoom, and full modes) and you see how much work it is to properly set up the TV.

The original F80 offered the user a center convergence (essentially a 1-point convergence). The X81 actually gives the user 9-point convergence.  This is a significant step in the right direction for end users, and it allows the user to get a much better picture.  It still does not compare to the service mode convergence, but it’s a good move on Toshiba’s part.

If you remember, the F80 was not able to fully resolve all 540 TV lines that DVD is capable of (480 in all but test patterns)It looked as if the F80 could only resolve around 440 lines.  I am happy to report that the X81 could fully resolve all 540 DVD lines.  The Avia test DVD contains a couple of test patterns that have a 6.75 MHz window (540 line test pattern).

There are some other picture options like “Flesh Tone” and “Noise Reduction”, but you should just turn these off!  Activating them will prevent you from getting the best overall (most accurate) picture.

After I removed the protective screen, I had to re-focus the lenses.  I also did a full convergence on the picture.  The picture was now much more crisp, and the fuzziness I had once witnessed was gone.  After all of the time-intensive work was done, it was time to adjust the gray scale.

The measurements were taken in the theater mode with the gray scale set at medium.  The test patterns were from the Avia DVD, and the measurements were made using a Sencore PC based color analyzer (photo of setup shown at left).  As you can see below, the measurements were pretty bad out of the box.  (The Pre, meaning measurements before calibration, and Post, meaning measurements after I calibrated the TV, numbers are in degrees Kelvin (K), i.e., the color temperature. Lower numbers represent a reddish color, while higher numbers represent more of a blue-white color. The numbers are referenced to measurements made on the color of the inside of a 1 cm3 platinum cube that has a small hole in which a probe is placed, and the cube having been heated to various degrees Kelvin. The color of the inside of the cube is measured as it gets hotter and hotter, and it begins to glow from the heat. IRE means Institute of Radio Engineers and are values assigned to brightness, with low numbers being gray and high numbers being more towards white. An IRE of 0 would be total black. An IRE of 100 is total white. You may have seen some information about black level options on new DVD players being a choice of IRE 0 or 7.5. Some video material uses IRE 0 to reference black and others IRE 7.5, so you can set your DVD player to match the source. IRE 1 Volt Peak-to- Peak Video is divided up into 140 IRE units. This is done to make numbers for luminance levels easier to communicate. The amplitude of the video signal from blanking (zero Volts) to peak white is 0.714286 Volts or 100 IRE units. Synchronization signals extend from blanking to - 0.285714 Volts or - 40 IRE units.) The 3452 measurement (Pre-Calibration) at 20 IRE confirms the red tint I had noticed upon initial viewing.  Once the calibration was done, the picture was no longer tinted red. The blinking line on the chart represents 6,500 K, which is the desired color temperature.

Before calibration, the TV was being forced to put out 30 foot lamberts (fl) of brightness.  When I was finished, I had the TV putting out 12 fl.  A movie theater generally puts out 10 fl.  While 12 fl might seem like a small number, believe me it is plenty.  I will probably get a much longer life out of my CRTs, and there should be no chance of burn-in from video games or MSNBC's intense network logo. (I have seen that logo and the Home Shopping Club logo burned into a lot of TVs.)


Like all products, there are features that are useful and others that are not.  And, in most cases, people do not often agree on the same features.  The following are features of the X81 that I do not like or would like to see improved.

The screen shield is one of the biggest things about the X81 that I do not like.  Unlike the F80, where Toshiba glued the glare screen in place, you can easily remove it from the X81.  There is a large gap after removal, but this can be easily fixed with a few pieces of weather stripping.  If you do remove the screen, the CRTS need to be re-focused.  I actually lived with the glare screen on for about five weeks.  I could not watch the TV with the overhead light on.  The glare was really bad, and I could see myself and everyone else while I was watching TV.  The glare screen also cuts down on light output

There are only 3 picture options: “Standard”, “Theater”, and “Memory” modes.  As soon as you make a change in either the “Standard” or “Theater” mode, it automatically becomes the “Memory” mode.  So in reality, you can only change one mode, and that is the “Memory” mode.  This is OK except that LD and DVD require different picture settings.  VHS and cable can be set based from LD because, with LD, you are getting a studio quality picture (at least my hand calibrated CLD-97 does).  The reason DVD is not close to a reference standard is because it is the player that is converting the signal to NTSC on the fly, not the software like LD.  And of course, the picture settings are different with DVD when using the S-Video and Component connections.  So to make a long story short, you must change the picture settings every time you switch between sources, that is if you want the best overall picture.  Toshiba has made this process easy though; they have supplied numbers (instead of "high" or "low") for adjusting the settings, so you can easily write down the exact number for each source.

Their onscreen menus are very nice looking, but they are in the way when you try to set the picture controls. This is particularly true when setting color and tint.

The X81 has gray bars on the side in the 480i modes.  As soon as you switch to the DTV/progressive DVD inputs, they turn to black bars.  I don’t really understand this; they should all be the same (black or at least a choice of black or gray).

They put a reset button on the remote that I have hit on more than one occasion.

Cycling through the inputs is a slow process because there are five inputs, and it takes approximately 1.5 seconds before you can move on to the next.  Pioneer has always offered direct inputs, and I wish Toshiba had offered this.

My last gripe is a minor one.  Theater Wide settings are not retained when power is lost.  So if you unplug the TV or have a power outage, you will have to be sure you change back to Theater Wide 2.

A little tweaking never hurts

A few weeks after watching the TV, I wanted to see if I could improve the picture.  I was trying to eliminate the half moon reflection I had experienced on the PLUGE pattern.  I lined the entire inside of the TV with black velvet.  The TV was already a dark plastic on the inside.  This tweak did not eliminate the reflection, but I did get a startling improvement.  I was able to improve the quality of the blacks in the picture.  I did not realize how gray my blacks were until I saw the truly deep blacks I obtained after the tweak.  During the process I also covered parts of the mirror that were not in use.  This was not an easy task, and velvet contains lots of little particles that required a cleaning of the mirror and lenses.  I took a risk of scratching both.

Kicking back and enjoying it

Ok, I have griped at how bad it looks out of the box, some of its idiosyncrasies, and how well it cleans up (the latter being the most important, since my first impressions of this set were poor).

After the full calibration was complete, the X81 was truly transformed into something beautiful.  It took a lot of work to get there, but the results are staggering.  Color purity, resolution, depth, blacks, it's all here.  Post-calibration, when paired with the SD-5109, produces one of the best pictures I have seen from an “affordable” consumer device.  The picture is even better than some top $$$ front projection systems I have seen!

I picked out five films that I thought really demonstrate some of the capabilities of the X81.  These were a non-anamorphic movie, a cartoon, a classic, and two new films.

"10 Things I hate About You" is the non-anamorphic movie I chose to discuss.  Aside from the 33% loss of resolution, Disney did a good job on this transfer.  If you haven’t seen the movie, you should go out and rent it, as it is fun to watch.  It’s a modern remake of "The Taming of the Shrew".  This is the first DVD that I watched on the TV with a progressive signal.  The scene that caught my eye was when Joseph Gordon-Levitt is talking with Heath Ledger in front of a track field.  You can clearly tell exactly where they are in relation to the track and the football field.  Every time I bring someone over, I have to show them this scene.

"Tarzan" shows just how good a cartoon can look.  It took Disney long enough to release their animations on DVD.  Aside from the serious sound flaw in Tarzan, the picture is the reference for what animation quality should look like.  I chose the scene when Tarzan transforms from a young child to a young adult.  This scene is filled with wonderful colors from the dark green forest to the bright underwater scene.  One scene that caught my eye in particular was when Tarzan was swinging on the vines as a child, and a bunch of small monkeys join him.  The monkeys are jet black with white fur. 

"In Too Deep" is the latest film with LL Cool J and Omar Epps.  Take a look at the opening scene with Omar and three other gangsters riding in the sports utility vehicle.  The TV displays very natural flesh tones, deeply saturated colors, and more of that wonderful depth.

"The Music Man" is a classic. It's fun to watch, and the DVD is a great transfer.  So many scenes I could choose to talk about, but the end with the marching band and their red and white uniforms really show how important color accuracy is.  This is a good scene to show how important those red filters really are.  The whites also look white thanks to the wonderful gray scale tracking.

In "Shakespeare in Love", both chapter 17 and 28 make great demo scenes.  They contain lots of fine detail and colorful clothes.  Again, the depth is so real it feels like you can just reach in and grab something.

All of the films I chose really show the improved depth this TV is able to display.

HDTV and me, NOT!

I was ready to watch HDTV on the X81, but trees surround the area I live in.  I tried mounting an antenna on the roof and using an RCA DTC-100 (w/ transcoder), but I was unable to get anything above 10 on the second satellite at 119 degrees.  I moved both the antenna and DSS over to a friend’s house a few miles away, and he picked the signals up fine.  In fact, he had the antenna sitting on his theater room floor and still picked up the local broadcasts.  This, of course, is not the X81's fault.  It just goes to show that unless people can actually receive HDTV, it's not going to get very far. We will probably have to wait until HDTV broadcasts are common on DSS and cable before it really takes off.

One thing to note about the X81 is that it only has component inputs.  Many HDTV products only output an RGB signal (this is different than component), making them incompatible with the Toshiba unless you spend more money on a transcoder.  A transcoder is a box that can convert a signal from component to RGB, or vise versa, though not all are bi-direction.  I don’t know whom to blame here, RCA or Toshiba, or perhaps the industry for not enforcing some type of standard.

The X81 uses 7” CRTs, so it will not fully resolve 1080i (you need 9" CRTs for that).  In fact, the scan lines on 1080i might even overlap. I have seen this on 7” CRT front projectors.  Even so, 1080i should still look fantastic with the scan lines overlapping.


Toshiba has another hit on their hands with this little fellow, providing you can have it calibrated.  I have never seen the depth or color purity on any other rear projection set, period!  Like other TVs, it has quirks, but they are all forgotten once the lights dim and the movie begins.

- Stacey Spears -


© Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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