|Marantz VP-12S4 DLP Video Projector|
|Home Theater Front Projectors DLP Projectors|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Thursday, 01 December 2005|
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Viewing the Projector
I started off by watching DirecTV’s high-definition channels. I kept the DirecTV TiVo unit set to display the native rate of the channel, 1080i for most and 720p for ESPN-HD. While watching 720p source material, the native resolution of the projector was able to bypass all video processing. It was quite easy to discern the varying degrees of quality of the source material. High-quality sources, such as high-definition NFL games, looked phenomenal on the VP-12S4. Sunday Night Football on ESPN is consistently the best HDTV broadcast of the week, followed closely by HD-NET’s NHL hockey programming in HD.
Without scaling and other processing to deal with, I was anxious to see what the limits of the projector’s capabilities were. One of the first things I noted was that the S4 did a good job with color rendition and skin tones, and the grass field looked natural. The range of the projector was such that the natural colors were not at the expense of vibrancy when vibrancy is supposed to be there, as with brightly-colored jerseys, graphics or signs. As can be expected with a high-quality source, the detail was excellent on the brightly lit scenes. Some of the shots into the crowd were dimly lit and I found a live, high-definition broadcast of auto racing under an overcast sky. In both of these scenarios, despite the poor lighting, there was a great amount of detail and no visible dithering noise. A slight fringe effect was noted, although it was greatly diminished by the firmware upgrade and less noticeable than in other DarkChip 3-based projector systems.
While watching “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” in HD via DirecTV’s 1080i HDMI output, I found that Marantz did a great job with scaling 1080i images as well. The range of images ran from the bright lights of Vegas to dim, flashlight-lit crime scenes. The bright images were vibrant and sharp, the dark scenes maintained a good amount of shadow detail and dithering noise was not noticeable. The hues appeared to be accurate, with plenty of saturation. On all images, the gradient transitions were smooth throughout the spectrum. Contrast appeared to be equal to the best digitally projected images I have seen, with the darker images being particularly clean providing an exceptional amount of detail in notably difficult areas for digital projectors.
Regular 480i TV images were not nearly as good and I noted stair-stepping or jagged-edge artifacts, although rarely to the point of distraction. Color saturation was slightly less than on the high-definition channels and of course the resolution was noticeably reduced. Video noise reduction was not as effective on standard definition television as it was on the high-definition broadcasts.
I watched DVDs through both 480i component and 720p HDMI inputs. Unless noted otherwise, my notes below refer to watching DVDs through the HDMI input. Looking at an old favorite, “The Fifth Element” (Columbia TriStar), I was impressed with the projector’s high amount of detail while watching the reconstruction of Leeloo (Milla Jovovich). The gold foil walls of the room were clearly detailed and her unnatural hair color was vibrant. When Leeloo is making her escape, she stands on a ledge looking down the side of the building. The image at this point is reminiscent of a properly calibrated nine-inch CRT projector; the perception of depth and distinction between levels was clear. Video noise on this and other DVDs was minimal. DVDs viewed through the component connection were slightly less sharp, as though someone barely nudged the focus knob, and had slightly more noise.
The battle scene in “Master and Commander” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) is well known for its dark details, a traditional source of difficulty. I found the S4 to do a great job. The colors seemed to be very realistic and without any unnatural gradations. The amount of details in the darker portions of the scene were at least equal to that of any other single-chip DLP projector I have seen and appeared to be even greater due to the almost nonexistent visible dithering noise.
I tried to watch some of the same video clips that I watched with other projectors, so I watched the 1,001 robots scene in “I, Robot” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) and the scene where Frodo, Sam and Gollum approach the gates in “The Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line Home Entertainment). As before, I found that the S4 did a great job with colors and detail and not only had an impressive contrast ratio, but also maximized its use at the extremes by minimizing video noise.
I spent some time going through the Silicon Optix test DVD with my Marantz DV-9500 hooked up directly to the projector, bypassing my system to provide the cleanest signal path. I placed the DVD player on a stand next to the projector so that I could use short cable runs, employing component and HDMI cables from Accell’s Ultra Video line. While this was my first exposure to these cables, they appear to be well-constructed and were carefully packed. Once I got the player hooked directly up to the projector and the test disc in place, I went through the tests with the 480i component input (unless otherwise noted), so that the only video processing was that of the projector. The projector had no problems reproducing the full available 480i resolution and reproduced the color bar test pattern without any flicker. The color and shade gradations were smooth. On the “Jaggies” test, the diagonal filter did okay but not great, doing slightly better with the 720p HDMI signal on through mode than with 480i via component. I noticed significant improvement with a 720p HDMI source and with the projector’s video processor engaged. Despite the performance with test patterns, the flag test looked quite good.
On the detail test, the images were sharp and not overly processed to smoothness. The 720p HDMI image was even sharper and more detailed. With respect to noise reduction processing, I preferred a slightly higher noise reduction setting than the factory presets, which appeared to have the noise reduction setting all the way down. The S4 did a good job on all the cadence tests and mixed video and film signals. The projector’s processor passed the film detail test when fed a 480i component signal.
In actual use, I thought that, with both 720p and 1080i film-sourced high-definition signals, the projector portrayed an excellent image with minimal artifacts. When watching video-sourced high-definition signals, I noticed a very slight amount of artifacts, but never to the point of distraction. When watching video-sourced 480i signals, the images ranged from pretty good to awful. As with accurate high-end audio equipment, it is a case of garbage in, garbage out. I think that the projector did a better than average job with these signals, but some were problematic and produced notable jagged edges. While watching DVDs, I thought that the image quality was excellent. Again, the source is important as there was a noticeable improvement with the HDMI input. Everything seemed to be a touch sharper and tighter.