Marantz VP-11S1 DLP Video Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors DLP Projectors
Written by Brian Kahn   
Saturday, 01 July 2006

Introduction
These are exciting days as the Marantz VP-11S1 is the first consumer 1920 x 1080 DLP front projector on the market. Retailing for $19,999, the VP-11S1 certainly isn’t inexpensive, but if it keeps pace with the precedent set by the VP-12 series, it should be worth it. We will see below how it fares in its attempts to fulfill the expectations set forth by its VP-12 predecessors.

The VP-11 builds upon the VP-12 series, using its rigid, noise-deadening cast-aluminum chassis (which can use the same ceiling mount as the VP-12S4) and 200-watt DC super high pressure, 2,000-hour lamp. The processor is the 10-bit Gennum VXP 9351, the next generation of the VXP 9350 processor used in the VP-12S4. Like its predecessor, the VXP 9351 features Gennum’s TruMotion HD, FineEdge, RealityExpansion and FidelityEngine technologies, which were described in AVRev.com’s earlier review of the VP-12S4. The VXP 9351 is twice as efficient as the VXP 9350, which enables it to better handle the demands imposed by the VP-11S1’s 1920 by 1080 resolution. The VXP 9351 is in fact said to be able to process images up to 2,048 by 2,048.

The new 1920 by 1080 Texas Instruments DLP chip does more to improve upon the prior 720p chips than just increase resolution. The new DLP chip features smaller, more reflective mirrors with a higher fill factor (smaller gap between pixels). Dual drivers, used in parallel, control the new chip, which is said to provide more precise control and enable 12-bit gamma processing for four times the resolution in gradations (smoother color transitions) and over 68 billion colors.

The VP-11S1 continues the Marantz tradition of utilizing custom optics by Konica-Minolta. The VP-11S1 has two lens options, each with a wider zoom range than the VP-12 lenses, so that the VP-11S1 can cover a similar zoom range with two lenses, rather than three. The lenses are based upon the VP-12S4 lens, with refinements for better peripheral focus and reduced chromatic aberrations. As before, the lens assembly is completely sealed to increase performance. The extended distance lens will be available later this year. It is also worth noting that at any given distance and zoom setting, the VP-11 will generate a larger image than the VP-12, due to the larger size of the 1920 by 1080 chip.

The projector maintains vertical shift ability, which enables the projector to be mounted at approximately one-third of the screen height above or below the screen. A new option will let the VP-11S1 take advantage of the current rage of constant height 2:35:1 capabilities. With this option, a special lens will slide into place and Vertical Stretch Mode will engage when 2:35:1 movies are played, which will give the projector the ability to stretch the image to use the full resolution of the chip on the actual image, rather than the black bars. This option is not yet available, but will feature an anamorphic lens that will slide into place when an extra-wide ratio image is being projected.

The brightness is roughly equivalent to the VP-12S4 with 700 ANSI lumens, with the iris at f 3.0 and 600 at f 6.0. However, the contrast ratio is significantly improved over the previous VP-12S4, with a reported contrast ratio of 6500:1 with the iris set at f 6.0. The VP-11S1 also features a large 98mm seven-segment color wheel spinning at 6x / 10,800 rpm; this higher speed is 20 percent faster than the VP-12S4 and greatly reduces the potential of the rainbow effect, which occurs in single-chip projector designs when the eye can detect color break-up. The color wheel itself is a seven-segment wheel. There are two segments each of red, green and blue; the seventh segment is green with a neutral density filter. This custom color wheel allows much more accurate reproduction of green hues, which elicits a more sensitive response than other colors in most people. This custom new color wheel achieves and even surpasses the effect of the VP-12S4’s ORCA filter, with a wider color gamut and more accurate colors. To correct the generally weaker red output, Marantz boosts the output of the lamp when the red segment is in front of the light, increasing luminance by 25 percent. A large, high-speed color wheel has the potential for creating a lot of noise. Marantz has effectively dealt with this potential problem by utilizing a fluid dynamic bearing motor, such as those used in computer hard drives.

The cabinet and rear panel are nearly identical to the VP-12S4. My sample was colored a pearlescent off-white, with a dark gray bezel that surrounds the large lens assembly, which is offset just to the left of center. I have been told that black cases will be an option. The cabinet top features the lens shift, status lights and other flush-mounted controls and the back panel has a lit input/output panel that features two HDMI terminals, two multi-scan component video terminals, two trigger outputs, an IEC power cord, remote in and out, composite video, S-Video, RGB/HD (via D-Sub 15 pin) and, lastly, an RS-232C port. The entire cabinet measures approximately 16 inches wide, 19 inches deep and just over six inches tall without the adjustable leveling feet. The VP11S1 weighs in at 28.6 pounds, the same as the VP-11S1. The remote control is a new fully backlit model that I found quite easy to navigate. As the chassis is nearly identical to the VP-12 series, the VP-11S1 will fit the ceiling mount for the VP-12.

Set-up
I placed the VP-11S1 in the same place my VP-12S4 resided, which was on a high stand between my two couches that brought it to the level of the screen bottom, slightly behind and between the viewing positions. In this position, I was easily able to adjust the projector to obtain a larger image than the one available from my VP-12S4 with the medium-throw lens. The VP-11S1 has no noticeable light spill and was no louder and possibly slightly quieter than the VP-12S4.

I continued to use the screen that Stewart Film Company was kind enough to lend me. The screen I chose was their new GreyHawk Reference, which has a gain of .95. This screen material has a neutral gray material, which helps with reproducing darker images, a traditional problem area for DLP projectors, although I found that when the room light was well-controlled, excellent images were obtainable on swatches of white screen material as well.

Video connections were made both directly to sources and to a Halcro SSP-100 audio video processor (review forthcoming). The VP-11S1 was connected directly to a Marantz DV-9600 DVD player and a Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player. The DV-9600 was set to output 480i via an Accell HDMI cable and the HD-XA1 was set to output a 1080i signal via a Monster Cable M1000 HDMI cable. The Halcro was connected to the VP-11S1 via Monster Cable Ultra Series THX 1000 component video cables.

I used both Digital Video Essentials and the Monster Cable/ISF calibration disc to calibrate the projector. The Standard setting was very close to what I ended up with and the adjustments were simple to make. Anyone familiar with these calibration discs shouldn’t have too much difficulty in getting the VP-11S1 dialed in short order.

There are 18 picture profiles, three each for Theater, Dynamic and Standard, and nine user profiles. Each profile has five gamma presets and Theater, Dynamic and Standard modes for eight configurations. In addition, there are many fine adjustment menus, including color temperature, aspect ratio, black level adjustment, gamma and more. Marantz will be offering software on its website to create custom gamma curves as well. The professional calibrator will have numerous tools and options available to obtain the best picture quality for any situation.

Watching the VP-11S1:

DirecTV High Definition

I started off by watching high-definition episodes of Alias on TNT fed to the VP-11S1 in 1080i via component video. I was fortunate to be able to watch this with the video editor who edited the program for TNT’s HD channel. He noted that the colors were accurate, with the proper saturation. I was happy to see proper color saturation in the VP-11S1’s image as it is especially important for realism and is not often achieved by many display devices. Often cable or satellite HD feeds can look compressed because of the provider. The VP-11S1 did a remarkable job processing and displaying the image so that it reproduced the image intended by its creator which after all is what we are aiming for with an accurate display device. To have a second opinion from someone who literally made the HD feed for the show helps in an overall evaluation of the device.

I watched Pearl Harbor on ABC, which suffered from some compression artifacts that made the explosions look a bit artificial, but gave me plenty of opportunity to see how the projector would do with quick pans in the air combat scenes. Pans were generally smooth, with only slight blurring, although I found the pans on a NASCAR race I watched later that day on the high-definition Discovery HD Theater to be just as smooth with much more detail. While I am generally not a NASCAR fan, I was captivated while watching the race. The detail and depth of the picture was amazing, as were the vibrant colors. While just about any display device can crank up the saturation, the VP-11S1 was able to provide intense color saturation where appropriate without any loss of realism where it is not. I especially noticed this while watching on of the HD Net travel shows that was in part filmed in an area near my home. The area features some fairly muted desert areas as well as some vibrant landscaping and buildings, all were produced with accurate color fidelity and saturation. Detail, was as you would expect, phenomenal with no artifacts or jagged edges from the deinterlacing performed by the projector’s Gennum processor.

I was also able to catch a few minutes of an evening baseball game on the ESPN channel. The 720p feed was crystal clear and vibrant with the Gennum processor in the projector doing the scaling. Both Jerry Del Colliano and Adrienne Maxwell rave about the Sunday night baseball and football feeds from ESPN as the best-looking, week in and week out. Picture noise was minimal and I had no problems making out details, such as wrinkles in the White Soxs’ dark jerseys, a normally problematic area for DLP projectors. The depth of image clarity allowed me to easily make out features of individuals in the crowd, even when the camera was focused on the players. The projector again did a great job with the quick pans without giving up any detail and without any jagged edges. On the slower pans, such as those of the players running the bases, I was easily able to make out the details in the grass and dirt surfaces. While the 720p feed would theoretically look better in a 720p native rate projector such as Marantz’s own VP-12S4, I feel that the image was even better with the VP-11S1. The VP-11S1 excellent image processing let the projector’s higher contrast ratio and improved performance with dark scenes really shine through.

DirecTV Standard Definition
Regular 480i TV images were noticeably better than on the VP-12S4, but not nearly as good as HD (isn’t it always the case?). Noise reduction was good, but some video noise was visible and images were generally soft when compared to the high definition feeds, as though the veil went back over my eyes. The scaling was much better in that artifacts were minimal and the jagged edges greatly reduced from the prior processor which itself was pretty good.

Unfortunately, no matter how good the scaling is, there is only so much video data in a standard-definition signal; coupled with the compression necessary for efficient broadcast, the raw data is severely compromised. The VP-11S1 did an admirable job with these signals, but with the limited raw data, the image is bound to look a bit soft. This is not a knock on this projector or its Gennum VXP processor, as I have seen this on nearly every processor demonstration showing how that particular processor can make a standard-definition signal look “almost like HD.” The key word here is “almost.” Some processors do better than others, but SD is not HD and it never will be.

HD DVD
I was fortunate to obtain a HD DVD player the week before the VP-11S1 arrived. One of the first movies that I watched was Serenity (Universal Studios Home Video), as it was reputed to have great video quality. In one of the opening scenes in the interior of a ship, it was fairly dark, yet there was good detail with an extremely low level of noise and clear differentiation between colors. There were numerous dark scenes that re-affirmed my initial impressions of the VP-11S1’s ability to reproduce accurate, low-light level scenes when fed a good source. The chase scene through the desert had vibrant colors and I noted increased contrast in the mastering and shift in color balance from the prior scenes.

The Phantom of the Opera’s (Warner Home Video) opening auction scene demonstrated an increased clarity of spider webs in the opera house, along with great depth when compared to my recent viewings of this movie on DVD and high-definition DirecTV. This sense of picture depth was reinforced on the deep, large sets and the layers of detail within. The movie is mostly in color, with a few black and white scenes. Both were rendered with depth and detail that made them almost three-dimensional. Colors were extremely beautiful, lush and vibrant, showing off the costumes and elaborate sets. The color saturation was very good, much better than on most single-chip machines. Especially impressive was the lack of contouring, providing natural-looking color transitions. I noted that the top and bottom two rows of pixels of the picture just inside the black bars seemed to have greatly reduced color saturation. I noticed this on slightly half of the discs viewed and believe it likely to be an artifact of mastering. Overall, this HD DVD is a reference grade HD DVD, at least among the first wave of HD DVD releases.

Apollo 13 (Universal Studios Home Video), like the other features, was extremely clear and detailed. The disc had a slight grain to it, which I presume is due in part to the older masters for this release. Even so, it is noticeably cleaner and more detailed than prior releases of this movie. I only noticed some slight blurring of the metal gangways that swing away during the launch. The colors were much richer than the DVD and laserdisc versions that are also in my collection. The improvement runs from one extreme to the other, from the depth and texture of the blacks of space to the vibrant color of the flames and bystanders’ outfits in the takeoff scene. The color rendition of the projector almost scared me at times, as it seemed that I was in the middle of a 1960s living room with those horrible colors that were (this time, unfortunately) accurately reproduced by the VP-11S1.

The difference between DVD and HD DVD is not subtle. Pans on all of the HD DVDs and 1080i DirecTV feeds were extremely smooth and with noticeably more detail than previously available. The improvement in detail is like removing the proverbial veil, or making that final focus adjustment that brings the level of detail from good to excellent.

Traditional DVDs
I watched DVDs through both 480i HDMI and component inputs and generally preferred the HDMI input upon which my observations are based. I played The Fifth Element (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment), a movie that I used in reviewing the VP-12S4, and had seen in more video demonstrations than I could possibly count. The opening scene shows good detail in the desert pans and the pyramid’s interior. The reconstruction of the Leeloo scene is usually good for demonstrating detail and color. While impressive, after having watched everything I could in 1080i (couldn’t get my hands on a 1080p source), 480i DVDs look slightly soft and muted. As I expected, I could easily see the detail of room’s gold foil walls. The colors were as good as I seen on a DVD sourced image, with the vibrant hair and gold walls on the one hand and the muted but neutral grays from the hallways Leeloo runs though during her escape on the other. The often-used segment where Leeloo is standing on the building ledge, looking down through layers of traffic, was reproduced with great detail. Leeloo’s face was extremely clear and the sense of depth, while not equal to that available on HD DVD, was still very impressive. The VP-11S1’s performance with standard DVD’s was substantially improved from its predecessor. The processor did a great job with upconverting and deinterlacing the 480i to 1080p, with very few artifacts. The projector was able to extract more color and picture detail from DVDs than any other projector I have watched DVDs through. If I hadn’t already seen the amount of color and picture detail that the VP-11S1 was capable of with HD-DVD, I would have been impressed. Knowing that the projector was capable of doing more color and picture detail but would not artificially impose it was even more impressive.

Test Discs
I played the Silicon Optix test DVD through my Marantz DV-9600 hooked up directly to the projector, bypassing my system to provide the cleanest signal path. The DVD player is one of the few that can output 480i via HDMI. This is the setting I utilized so that all processing would be done by the VP-11S1. The projector, not surprisingly, 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. Given its good performance with deinterlacing real video signals I was somewhat surprised that the VP-11S1 did only okay to good on the “jaggies” tests, doing slightly better than its predecessor, but the flag test looked extremely good. We note that this was a specific decision on behalf of Marantz in that a further reduction of “jaggies” would sacrifice detail. I can’t argue with this as “jaggies” weren’t noticeable in real world viewing but the high level of detail was appreciated. Despite the large difference between the 480i source and the 1080p image, the projector’s VXP 9351 did a fairly good job retaining detail while scaling, passing the detail tests. The noise reduction tests indicate good performance, but there is nothing that can get rid of all the noise from a mediocre source. Like its predecessor, the VP-11S1 did well with the 3:2 pulldown and cadence tests. While I did not have a HQV-equipped processor to compare to the Gennum, I found the Gennum processing to be at least the equal of HQV-equipped projectors and Rubys I have recently had the opportunity to view in local stores.

The Downside
Standard-definition television is revealed as being incredibly mediocre after watching good high-definition video through the VP-11S1. In order to obtain the full benefits available from this or any other 1920 by 1080 projector, you need sufficient well-mastered high-definition material to feed it and, right now, there simply isn’t very much available on any pre-recorded medium.

Marantz’s lack of a dead pixel warranty causes me slight concern. Anyone spending this amount of money expects and deserves a projector with a perfect DLP panel. While Marantz doesn’t have the zero dead pixel warranty that some other manufacturers offer, I have yet to hear of anyone who has had a dead pixel that Marantz refused to take care of under warranty. I would just like to have it in writing.

Conclusion
This is simply one of the best consumer projectors on the market at this time. Purchasing a projector is a major decision and I would recommend taking a close look at several projectors before making your decision. Before I saw the VP-11S1, I was a bit skeptical of the first generation of 1920 by 1080 DLP projectors, but I must admit the picture is excellent and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy this projector. Without question, it hangs with, if not on some levels out-performs, the likes of the Sony “Ruby” and the JVC HD10k. Quite simply, as a reviewer I have had the opportunity to see many projectors at many demonstrations but I have yet to see any projector, at any price, consistently perform as well as the VP-11S1. Sure, the next generation will likely be better, as is always the case, but this projector is a revolutionary rather than evolutionary improvement from the prior generation and I would want to enjoy its amazing images now rather than wait to see what next year will bring. Personally, I am going to put my money where my mouth is and buy the review unit.
Manufacturer Marantz
Model VP-11S1 DLP Video Projector
Reviewer Brian Kahn





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