Marantz VP-12S3 DLP Video Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors DLP Projectors
Written by Thomas Garcia   
Thursday, 01 July 2004

It has been a little over a half-century since Saul Marantz started a small company, aptly named Marantz, dedicated to producing the highest performance vacuum-tube audio electronics of the era. Revered by many, these products defined state-of-the-art audio during that early period, helping usher in the age of high-fidelity sound. Since then, the company has gone through many transitions, expanding into a global leader in both high-performance audio and video products, continuing to be recognized for their engineering and manufacturing innovations. The Marantz company has entered the 21st-century dawn of digital video with an aggressive assault on the hotly contested and rapidly advancing DLP projector arena. Their latest single-chip high-definition DLP projector, the VP-12S3, which is now in its third generation, incorporates the strengths of its predecessors, culminating with the most recent technological advancements. The VP-12S3 supports a host of new innovative features, including the latest Texas Instruments HD2+ DMD chip, new sophisticated video processing technologies and an extremely impressive custom-designed lens assembly from Minolta. Aimed squarely at the high-end home theater market, Marantz offers the projector in two configurations, the standard VP-12S3 short-throw model, retailing at a suggested price of $12,999, and the VP-12S3L long-throw version offered at a suggested $15,999.

Aesthetically, the VP-12S3 is extremely attractive. Its high-quality fit and finish inspired an initial sense of confidence. Infused with graceful lines and balanced proportions, the design team at Marantz is to be commended for effectively blending the VP-12S3’s classy, elegant form with the projector’s vital mechanical functions. The projector’s double-sealed, diecast metal enclosure is sub
stantial in its construction and medium titanium gray in color, with a fine, slightly sparkly sand-cast finish. Overall, the VP-12S3 is larger than most DLP projectors I have recently used, measuring in at 15-and-15/16ths inches wide, by 18-and-9/16ths inches deep, by six-and-one-eighth inches high, excluding feet. Heavier than the average DLP, net weight for the VP-12S3 is a relatively hefty 26.1 pounds.

This latest generation projector incorporates several technical advancements and mechanical improvements over its predecessors, the VP-12S1 and VP-12S2. Utilizing the highly touted Texas Instruments 16:9 high-definition HD2+ DMD chip, which has a native resolution of 1280 by 720 pixels, Marantz realized significant enhancements in both sharpness and color accuracy. Supported video formats include PAL, SECAM, NTSC/NTSC 4.43DTV (Digital TV): 480i, 480p, 576i, 576p, 720p, 1080i. The VP-12S3 also features progressive scan output with true 3:2 pull-down detection, 10-bit digital gamma processing, and Faroudja’s three-chip Directional Correlational Deinterlacing (DCDi) technology. Standard picture modes include Theater, Standard, Dynamic, and Cinema, with three additional user modes that are highly adjustable. Furthermore, there are five preset user Gamma curves, 18 picture memories, along with four aspect modes that include full (4:3), normal (16:9 anamorphic), zoom (16:9 letterbox) and through (pixel for pixel).

With a reported contrast ratio of 3800:1, Marantz has made a substantial improvement in black levels over the VP-12S1 (1200:1) and VP-12S2 (2600:1). The overall brightness rating for the VP-12S3 is greater than 700 ANSI lumens. To enhance brightness levels and light uniformity, the VP-12S3 utilizes a new super high-pressure 200-watt DC lamp, with an average 2,000 hours lamp life. The DC lamp offers benefits over conventional AC-type lamps due to the reduction of potential “flicker.” From the high output lamp, the light of the projector then passes through Marantz’s proprietary ORCA (Optically Reproducing Color Accurately) filter, which is designed to improve light purity. Images are sent through the projector’s newly developed 5x, seven-segment color wheel, incorporating an additional dark green ND (neutral density) filter segment to the wheel’s three primary colors in order to reduce green video noise in dark scenes. To ensure optimal performance and image quality, Marantz employed world-renowned optics manufacturer Minolta to create a custom optical system for the VP-12S3. The assembly features a 13-section, 14-lens system that uses anomalous dispersion glass to minimize color aberrations. Additional features include double-sealed optics, and improved mechanisms to eliminate light leakage. Lens throw distance for the short throw VP-12S3 is two-and-six-tenths to three times the picture height, a long-throw version equating at four to five-and-a-half times the picture, with an overall picture size that ranges from 40 to 250 inches.

The VP-12S3’s connectivity is very accommodating, allowing it to interface with a wide variety of digital and analog video hardware devices. Located on the back panel are two sets of high-definition component video inputs, as well as a DVI digital video input with HDCP (High-Definition Content Protection). A substantial benefit of the DVI output is to maintain an unadulterated direct digital signal path between the source device and the projector. In addition, the VP-12S3 provides S-video, composite video and analog RGB connections for other video and computer devices. To support custom installation, the VP-12S3 includes a remote input and output connection for integrating other Marantz electronics, an RS-232C control port and two DC trigger connections for initiating different operations. As an example, this can be used to reconfigure a dual-aspect ratio projection screen whenever the aspect ratio of the program source changes from 16:9 to 4:3. The VP-12S3 features an expanded range of installer and user adjustments, including an additional iris setting for greater control of brightness and contrast and a wide range of color temperature and gamma settings. The remote control is fairly minimal but intuitive. It was easy to navigate through its wealth of functions, including a variety of direct access buttons specifically for source inputs, picture modes and aspect ratios. Only parts of the remote functions are backlit, limiting easy negotiation in a darkened room. As a standout accessory, Marantz included an automatic color temperature adjustment system, which uses a removable sensor to accurately calibrate the unit to the standard 6500 degrees Kelvin color temperature. These design advancements and improvements help the VP-12S3 facilitate seamless integration into a multitude of viewing environments.

Physical set-up of the projector is easy and was completed in less than 30 minutes. I installed the VP-12S3 inside my existing hush box, located slightly behind my main viewing area, and approximately 78 inches from the floor to the center of the projector’s lens. This worked well with my 103-inch diagonal, 16:9 Stewart Studiotech 130, positioning the projector slightly below the top of the screen. The VP-12S3 image can be moved up or down via the manual lens shift knob located on the top panel. If the manual shift is not sufficient to center the image on your screen, the projector can be tilted and the resulting non-rectangular picture corrected by the vertical keystone adjustment in the set-up menu. Equally helpful is the electronic horizontal keystone correction, which is extremely useful when dealing with installations that require off-center projector placement. Although the electronic corrections can be very helpful, I recommend using proper placement and manual adjustments as much as possible to minimize any potential distortion of the image that can be a byproduct of electronic keystone processing. The standard VP-12S3 comes with a relatively short throw lens and a somewhat limited 1.2 times zoom, so prospective buyers should account for this when considering the placement of this projector. In some rooms, this can be challenging, resulting in an optimal projector position that is in the middle of the room. Fortunately, there is a long-throw version of the VP-12S3; unfortunately, it costs a considerable amount more. Focus and zoom on the Minolta lens can only be adjusted manually, so it required two persons to fine-tune these functions in my set-up.

A variety of video sources were used throughout my assessment of the Marantz VP-12S3, each chosen to evaluate specific projector attributes. Expressly for this review, I viewed DVDs through the V Inc. Bravo D1, utilizing its DVI output, and the Underwood Hi-Fi modified Denon 2900 using its component outputs. For high-definition material, I auditioned a variety of pre-recorded D-Theater and D-VHS tapes that were played through a JVC HM-DH30000U high-definition D-VHS player. I used both the JVC’s component output and its FireWire output fed into a Samsung SIR-T165 high-definition tuner, with the tuner’s DVI output sending a digital signal to the projector. This maintained a direct digital signal from JVC to the VP-12S3.

My first selection, “Winged Migration” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment), was a stunningly gorgeous work of art. This documentary chronicles the migratory cycles of a multitude of birds around the globe. Although the concept may seem rather mundane, viewing this DVD was truly fascinating. Filled with spectacular cinematography, much of it shot from a variety of small ultra-light planes, director Jacques Perrin takes us on a fascinating worldwide documentary which took over four years to complete. Many aerial shots of the flying birds are so unbelievable that they often seemed surreal. The projector did an excellent job recreating numerous panoramic shots, displaying an admirable ability to display a convincing depth of field. This was especially evident when viewing sequences such as a flock of trumpeter swans flying over a river in a Southeast Asian rainforest, and majestic aerial shots of the Great Wall of China on a foggy day. Small facets, such as close-ups of delicate feathers, tall grass rustling in the wind and small insects soon to become prey were impeccably presented in the minutest detail by the VP-12S3. Color saturation and accuracy were brilliant, especially when viewing an insightful scene displaying brightly colored parrots along the Amazon River, with a broad, saturated mix of blue, red and green content without any trace of red push or color exaggeration. Another good example of the projector’s ability to faithfully reproduce colors was experienced while watching the gripping epic “Gettysburg” (Warner Home Video). Various landscape scenes depicting sprawling green pastures, heavily wooded forest and the surrounding rocky terrain were convincingly recreated. Black levels were excellent and the uniforms were accurately displayed, showing the varying gradations of light to dark gray with excellent shadow detail. The long-shot battle scenes, especially Pickett's charge, give you the feeling you are actually there; the cinematography and direction captures the moment perfectly. Overall, the video transfer looked excellent, though some low-light scenes looked slightly grainy.

As good as standard 480p material appeared, the results with high-definition sources were nothing short of spectacular. The differences in image detail and resolution were staggering, with absolutely none of the edge enhancement seen in DVDs. Color saturation and purity were vastly improved, while blacks seemed much richer and more natural when using the VP-12S3 for high definition.

The first high-definition test of the VP-12S3 was a 1080i D-VHS tape of the modern day classic “Pulp Fiction” (Miramax Entertainment). Various close-up shots of skin and hair revealed a wealth of detail, allowing for very realistic and believable image. Small nuances that would be lost in lower-definition video formats and projectors were clearly discernable, such as threads and minor flaws in clothing, an assortment of grass and landscape details, and the subtle yet varying grain of a wood fence. One particular scene that demonstrated the color accuracy of the 12S3 involved Vincent Vega’s (John Travolta) parked car resting on the lawn. The lifelike green grass contrasted with the vibrant yet not overly saturated red convertible. Typical MPEG-2 compression artifacts were virtually nonexistent. Even in the darkest scenes, the Marantz had an impressive sense of depth and a three-dimensional quality which was readily apparent throughout this high-definition feature.

Though low in theatrical content, the D-Theater issue of “U-571” (Universal Studios) provided a spectacular high-definition, letterboxed widescreen source for assessing the VP-12S3. The movie is a fictional interpretation of the capture of the German Navy Enigma coding device that allowed communication with their U-boat fleet during World War II. The video quality of D-Theater material is quite astonishing, displaying images that have an appreciably higher resolution than DVD, and approaches the quality of the original film. As with “Pulp Fiction,” colors were vivid and blacks were deep, creating a superior sense of depth and space. Detail was razor sharp, again devoid of any compression artifacts. Bright fireballs during the spectacular explosion scenes were realistic, providing a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors. I had a chance to compare D-Theater version to a DVD counterpart, which was noticeably softer in terms of overall image quality. In addition, colors also appeared less saturated, lacking in depth, with a reduction in purity and fidelity on the DVD. This comparison clearly illustrated the qualitative and quantifiable differences between DVD and high-definition sources.

The Downside
Currently, there is a plethora of projector units capable of providing great satisfaction when viewing DVDs or other standard definition sources. Commensurate with its premium performance, the cost of the VP-12S3 places it at the upper end of the best single-chip DLPs currently available. If your access or availability to high-definition sources is limited, and you are not ready for primetime playing yet, you might be better served finding a more affordable option.

Another minor annoyance is that menu button is positioned slightly below the standby button, causing me to accidentally turn off the projector several times while attempting to make display adjustments. There is no confirmation if you do want to turn off the projector, so this easy mistake is not capable of being overridden without waiting for it to cycle and turn on again. In addition, if the VP-12S3 is intended to be placed in a small viewing room, adequate ventilation or cooling of the environment is suggested. This projector produces a bit of heat, and can cause a room to warm up fairly quickly. Lastly, though not necessarily a downside, the Marantz projector will only realize its true potential when the multitude of adjustments and image controls are set up properly. Unless you are a true videophile with extensive experience, I would recommend that you acquire the services of a competent, experienced technician, who uses appropriate calibration equipment, to get the most out of this projector.

The Marantz VP-12S3 High-Definition DLP Projector is an outstanding performer in every respect. Its use of the highly sophisticated Texas Instruments HD2+ DMD chip, on-board Faroudja DCDi video processing, and inclusion of the outstanding Minolta optical system places this contender at the pinnacle of single-chip DLP projectors. Aesthetically, the VP-12S3 is quite attractive and Marantz’s attention to finish detail and construction quality make for an exceptionally impressive-looking package. Via its incredibly powerful and flexible calibration capabilities, the projector can be adjusted to integrate into virtually any viewing environment. While doing an outstanding job of displaying standard DVDs, its high-definition performance kept me mesmerized. The VP-12S3 created a true cinematic experience, with an abundance of stunning detail and rich, accurate colors. Incorporating the VP-12S3 into my home theater system elevated its performance to an all-time high, providing immeasurable pleasure and enjoyment. Friends, family and acquaintances were all astounded by the sheer picture quality and overall affect this projector produced. The proverbial “wow” factor was off the charts with the VP-12S3, leaving every individual who viewed it unable to leave while it was playing. The projector is definitely a worthy candidate for any reference home theater video system, and is capable of achieving some of the highest image quality possible. Though it commands a premium price, I consider it a relative bargain for the boundless entertainment and enjoyment the Marantz VP-12S3 High-Definition DLP projector provides.
Manufacturer Marantz
Model VP-12S3 DLP Video Projector
Reviewer Tom Garcia

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