Marantz VP-12S2 DLP Video Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors DLP Projectors
Written by Augie Bettencourt   
Friday, 01 August 2003

A large part of the experience of watching a movie at your local theater is derived from viewing film-quality images on a very big screen. Otherwise, nearly everyone would merely wait for the film to be released on video and watch it at home on their trusty 27-inch television sets at home. The audio portions of home theater systems have steadily improved over the last 10 years, and many of us now own audio equipment with the latest Dolby and DTS technology that rival (if not surpass) the sound of many commercial theaters. Yet affordable video projection has lagged somewhat behind until just recently.

CRT (cathode ray tube) projectors have been around for years and can project film-like images with wonderful lush colors and excellent contrast, but can cost upwards of $50,000. Luckily for those of us without a 1/2 share of a NetJet, digital video projectors are making significant inroads into the high-end home theater market, at a significantly lower price. Over the past two years, digital projection technology (DLP, D-ILA and LCD) have made great strides in color accuracy, saturation, and contrast. Today's digital projectors can output brighter images on bigger screens and deliver the excitement of big theater in the home, for prices well below those of high-performance CRTs.

The Marantz VP-12S2 is a single-chip, HDTV-compatible DLP projector that is capable of displaying 1280 x 720 images to screen sizes up to 180. The VP12S2 is waif-like compared to CRT projectors, with the Marantz coming in at 15.94 inches wide by 18.56 inches deep by 6.12 inches high. The VP12S2 has a retail price tag of $12,499.

The Technology
The digital projector category is broken into basic groups, consisting of LCD, DLP and DIL-A, the two highest performers being that of DLP and DIL-A. Somewhat similar in technological approach, they differ greatly in their execution. The digital projector market is filled with acronyms. LCD (liquid crystal display), DILA (Direct Drive Image Light Amplifier) and DLP (digital light processing). With LCD, light is projected through LCD panels. The individual LCD elements are turned off and on to create separate red, green, and blue images that combine to produce the image. DIL-A is included in this category, but LCD is transmissive, while DIL-A uses a reflective surface behind the panel so that light first passes through the elements, then is reflected and passes through the elements again on its way to the lens. In a DLP projector, light from the projector's lamp is directed through a color wheel onto the surface of the DLP chip. The mirrors wobble back and forth, directing light either into the lens path to turn the pixel on, or away from the lens path to turn it off. All this technology is great, having vast advantages (and some disadvantages) when compared to CRT, but the question most consumers are asking is, “Has digital technology matured to acceptable levels for my home theater?”

The Marantz VP-12S2 is one of the latest digital projectors designed from the ground up for home theater. As I unboxed the Marantz VP-12S2, I couldn’t help but admire its heavy-duty look and feel. The finish is a metallic gray color with a sleek appearance and feels solidly built. This projector has the best build quality of any of the new 1,280 x 720 one-chip DLP projectors I've seen or tested to date. The Marantz VP-12S2 offers leading-edge technologies, such as the latest Texas Instruments Mustang/HD2 chip, three Faroudja chipsets that incorporate patented DCDi™ Directional Correlational Deinterlacing technology, high-definition 1280 x 720 pixel panel and Minolta custom optics. Its threaded, adjustable legs make it simple to table-mount and its Minolta lens is easily focused by turning the lens’ outer ring. The Marantz VP-12S2 has a fairly broad throw-distance, leaning towards the short end of digital projector throw-distances. This worked very well in my room. Remember, calculating throw-distance is critical when planning room layout, because the projector’s throw-distance could limit image size if it has to be mounted in a specific spot. With my 120-inch, 16:9 ratio Stewart Firehawk screen, the projector had to be a minimum of 155 inches from the lens to the screen, which works well in my application. Many other digital projectors have to be mounted much further back from the screen, which may or may not work well for everyone.

The remote leaves a lot to be desired. It's very small, all of the buttons are the same size, and it is not backlit. This makes it awkward to use in any environment, especially in the dark. The back panel provides just about every connector type that you could want, including composite, component, S-Video, RGB and even DVI. There’s also a remote control input if you want to have your screen trigger your projector to turn on, and a RS-232C port for remote options. One of the things I enjoyed about this projector’s back panel was that it can be illuminated so that all inputs can be seen in the dark. Somebody at Marantz had the sense to know that projectors can sometimes be mounted in confined areas, where a flashlight isn’t always handy. The Marantz VP-12S2 is designed for custom installation flexibility and offers many operational and convenience features, including a new menu system that facilitates setup and calibration. The projector can be optimized to display both 16:9 widescreen or standard 4:3 aspect ratios with four viewing modes: Theater, Standard, Dynamic and User. The VP-12S2's Lens Shift feature enables the image to be shifted up or down and projected through the upper or lower portion of the lens. This function and its horizontal keystone correction enables the VP-12S2 to achieve correct picture geometry if the projector is not mounted exactly parallel to the screen. The Marantz VP-12S2 is calibrated to three color temperatures, including correct NTSC 6500° color temperature, and it also features selectable black level adjustment to achieve optimum image quality with any video source.

One of the truly great things about a digital projector is how easy it is to set up. Literally, within minutes of unboxing it, I had the Marantz VP-12S2 up and running. I connected the projector via its component, interlaced inputs to the Sony DVP-ES999 DVD player (then later to the Krell DVD-Video Standard), turned it on, calibrated it with the Video Essentials DVD and began movie-watching. How much easier could it be?

The Movies
This projector can operate in either native progressive scan mode or can up-convert video sources, depending on the signal source. The VP-12S2 can display a native 720p progressive scan image, HDTV set-top box or computer up to XGA resolution, or an upconverted image from any NTSC source, as well as 480i and 1080i images. It also has the ability to display a high definition image. However, with my HD receiver on the blink, I was limited to DVD viewing.

First I tried the “Moulin Rouge” DVD (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), which I have always found visually astounding. Although there are certainly lots of scenes you could pick in this film, Chapter 4 is my favorite. This chapter epitomizes the film’s dizzying, psychedelic rollercoaster ride with richly colored sets and costumes that seem to pop off the screen. The Marantz VP-12S2 never missed a beat as I was treated to some of the most lush, saturated colors I have ever seen through a digital projector. Images were smooth and filmlike, but also had adequate detail without having a digital appearance, surely a testament to its excellent scaling and Faroudja DCDi processing circuit, which eliminates motion artifacts, such as jagged edges seen on moving angled lines. One of the benefits of a 16:9 DLP projector is that there is no light spray above and below the image when watching widescreen movies. Light spray can be very distracting when viewing movies and in my opinion is extremely annoying. There are some LCD projectors that also use 16:9 panels, but no DILA projectors do so at this time. Chapter 8 is a great scene to check the Marantz VP-12S2’s ability to display black levels. I viewed the different shades of black in the lapels of Christian’s tuxedo and was amazed at how you can differentiate between his lapel and the tuxedo itself. This level of black detail was once reserved for CRT projectors, further proving how much digital projectors have really improved over the years. It wasn’t quite CRT-quality black detail, but it was substantially better than any LCD or DIL-A projector I have seen and should satisfy all but the most die-hard CRT fans.

I then moved on to “Spider-Man” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment) and cued up Chapter 7. In this slow motion look at Peter Parker’s heightened spider senses, we see a paper airplane zip by, a hovering fly and a spitball, frozen in mid-air. The image was clear, sharp and detailed, with excellent depth and contrast level. In the past, I have seen some DIL-A and LCD projectors that offer a higher level of brightness and detail than the Marantz VP-12S2, but their images appeared flatter and less three-dimensional, with grayer black levels.

“Shrek” (DreamWorks) is an amazing direct-digital transfer. In Chapter 6, as Shrek and Donkey trudge through a field of sunflowers, lesser projectors will have the field crawling with noise and motion artifacts. I watched for character outlines against the blue-sky background and saw no jagged lines on the characters’ outlines. I saw an incredibly clean, crisp and clear image that was not marred by grain or any other imperfections. Colors were vivid and perfectly saturated, with no noticeable noise or motion artifacts. Blacks were also rock solid, with excellent contrast across the entire gray scale, and the level of detail was stunning without an edgy appearance.

“Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (New Line Home Entertainment) is a wonderful cinematic experience. Take a look at Chapter 21, the exciting scene where Liv Tyler’s Arwen is being chased on horseback with the near-dead Frodo (Elijah Wood) on board for the ride. This edge-of-your-seat scene offers majestic camera sweeps through fields, then forests and then through fields again with trees whipping by. The Marantz VP-12S2 handled this fast motion scene without any obvious motion artifacts, a testament to the scaling quality and deinterlacing circuitry. Color reproduction was rich and vivid, with near-perfect flesh tones and wonderful and lush greens.

Regardless of what you think of the movie, Chapter 22 in “Pearl Harbor” (Touchtone Home Video) is visually tantalizing, with plenty of whizzing planes, dropping torpedoes and explosions. I’ve never seen such smooth, filmlike images in my viewing room before. This DVD is a sparkling print that is clean as a whistle, with terrific blacks and excellent contrast. Colors were vivid and the film has a shiny, glossy quality that is rich with detail, especially the outdoor scenes, which are wonderfully lifelike. Once again, the Marantz shone, with some of the smoothest, most filmlike images I have seen so far in my home theater. With the Marantz VP-12S2, you are essentially getting a state-of-the-art, HD2/Mustang, 1280 x 720 DLP projector with many of the best features of a $5,000 Faroudja Native Rate Scaler thrown in. The beauty of this is, it’s an all-in-one, easy to use package.

I was impressed by the fact that I could see differences in DVD players when viewed through the Marantz VP-12S2. The Krell DVD Standard offers wonderfully vivid, lushly saturated colors with a smooth, filmlike quality. On the other hand, I was also impressed with the picture quality when viewing it through the Sony DVP-ES999 player, but for different reasons. Its picture quality has nice contrast and punchy colors with sharp detail, but the added sharpness can look slightly edgy on occasion. Overall, I found the Krell DVD Standard to have the best picture quality when matched with the Marantz VP-12S2, adding up to the best-looking combination my home theater has ever seen.

The Marantz VP-12S2 replaced the Marantz VP-12S1, which was available just one year ago. DLP technology is changing so rapidly that technological improvements are happening virtually every year. In comparing the two projectors, the improvement in contrast and black levels was instantly apparent. The first thing I noticed in comparing the two projectors was increased depth in images, as well as improved detail, sharpness and better saturated, lusher colors. Surprisingly, although these two projectors use the same bulb and have the same brightness rating, the newer Marantz VP-12S2 also appeared slightly brighter. Unless you compare both models side by side, you may not notice the difference, but I was impressed by the improvements made in just one year.

The Downside
At $12,499, the Marantz VP-12S2 is definitely not the cheapest DLP projector on the market, but it is still a good value, considering its excellent picture quality. I would like to see a projector at this price-point provide the user with a better, backlit remote control. It makes little sense that a product at this level wouldn’t have such features. To top that, Marantz makes plenty of nice ones on other products.

Although I am not sensitive to something known as “rainbow effect,” anyone considering purchasing any single-chip DLP should preview the projector for this phenomenon before actually purchasing it. The rainbow effect is flashes of color caused by the rotation of the color wheel strobing with eye movement. I am not particularly sensitive to rainbows, but I have seen them in other older DLP projectors, though I personally never saw this effect with the Marantz VP-12S2.

As far as digital projectors go, this is a very quiet one, yet if someone plans on mounting it directly above their seating area, any noise a projector produces should be considered. This projector also has a slightly shorter throw-distance than many others. Throw-distance should be calculated before considering ant projector installation, as this may limit you from being able to mount it in your application.

With any digital projector, the bulb eventually needs to be replaced. Marantz claims will the VP12S2’s bulb will last up to 2000 hours. A new bulb costs $700, which breaks down to $0.35/hr. This is much lower than the 1000 hours a D-ILA bulb lasts at an even higher cost of $900 per bulb. It is important to know that digital projectors will not function on a bulb past its lifespan, because the bulbs fail catastrophically and bulb failure can damage the projector badly. The cost of the bulb is a factor to consider, but it is far less than the cost of having a professional video guru converge and tweak your CRT projector every three to six months.

Until recently, CRT projectors have ruled the video projector market, with filmlike images that have wonderful lush colors and excellent contrast ratios, but are still quite expensive and difficult to both calibrate and maintain. In contrast (no pun intended), lower-cost digital projectors are steadily gaining in popularity with home theater enthusiasts, because the prices of digital projectors keep falling while their quality keeps improving. Although some videophiles still prefer the CRT as their projector of choice, many predict their eventual extinction with the digital projector being the heir apparent. As one of the most recent HD2/Mustang DLP projectors, the Marantz VP-12S2 offers leading-edge technologies, such as the latest Texas Instruments Mustang/HD2 chip, three Faroudja chipsets that incorporate patented DCDi™ Directional Correlational Deinterlacing technology, a high-definition 1280 x 720 pixel panel and Minolta custom optics, all in one user-friendly package. Although the Marantz VP-12S2 falls just short of producing the level of colors and black detail of the best CRTs or the resolution and brightness of some DIL-A and LCD projectors, its stunning image quality, cutting-edge technology and user friendly quality make it a great buy. The Marantz VP-12S2 is easily the best looking projector I have seen if my home theater and the best looking, all-in-one, single solution digital projector I have seen under $13,000. The VP12S2 shines like no other in its class.
Manufacturer Marantz
Model VP-12S2 DLP Video Projector
Reviewer Auggie Bettencourt

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