Marantz VP-15S1 DLP Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors DLP Projectors
Written by Brian Kahn   
Friday, 01 February 2008

Introduction
I was a little nervous when I learned that I would be reviewing Marantz’s new VP-15S1 projector. I know this sounds a little odd, especially when you consider that the staff at AVRev.com and I have been overwhelmingly impressed with Marantz’s past front-projection video projectors. I even bought the last Marantz projector I reviewed, the VP-11S1, which retailed for $20,000. While I know that video gear is always getting better and cheaper, I was surprised to learn that, within a single year, Marantz’s VP-15S1 was being introduced at half the price ($9,999) with allegedly 90 percent of the performance. Could this be true?

When I received the VP-15S1, I was not surprised to find that it physically looked very similar to the VP-11S1 and the VP-12 series before that. The biggest external difference I noted between the VP-15S1 and the VP-11S1 is that the 15 lacks the 11’s connection panel light; otherwise, the connection panel appears identical.

When I first saw the reported specifications for the VP-15S1, I initially thought that they were for the VP-11S2, Marantz’s top of the line projector. The lumens were listed at 1000, compared to the VP-11S1’s 600/700, and contrast was up to 10,000:1 from 6,500:1. The VP-15S1 has a three-position, dual iris system, as opposed to the VP-11S1’s dual-position, single iris system. Lastly, the VP-15S1’s HDMI capabilities include 1.3 Deep Color modes, a feature that was implemented in the later VP-11S1s, but not in my unit.

Despite these impressive specifications, the VP-15S1 is positioned below the VP-11 series, which is scheduled to be updated with the VP-11S2 by the time this article runs. The remaining physical specifications – weight, dimensions, throw distance and connections – are the same as the VP-11S1. As with the VP-11S1, the VP-15S1 has two lens options, as well as four anamorphic options for 2:35:1 viewing.

As mentioned above, the VP-15S1 builds upon the VP-11 series chassis, which has proven itself through its lifespan as the VP-12 chassis. In addition to the rigid, noise-dampening chassis from the VP-11 series, the VP-15S1 also uses the same 200-watt DC super high-pressure 2000-hour lamp, custom Konica-Minolta optics and Gennum VXP 9351 video processor, all of which are described in more detail in my prior article on the VP-11S1 in the July 2006 issue of AVRev.com.

The obvious question is, what did Marantz change between the VP-11S1 and the VP-15S1 to enable to the price to be reduced to $9,999? While we are all used to technology improving and costs declining over time, this is too much of a drop for normal evolution. The removal of the connection panel light may be a start, but it is only a small alteration. Where the VP-11S1 has a seven-segment, six-speed color wheel, the VP-15S1 has a six-segment, five-speed color wheel. Both projectors have Marantz’s proprietary color correction system known as “O.R.C.A.” The difference is that the VP-11S1’s color wheel’s seventh segment is a dark green neutral density filter. Marantz further explains the basis of the price difference as being due to the fact that many of the parts are hand-selected for the VP-11S1, whereas the VP-15S1 follows a more traditional manufacturing protocol. In reviewing Marantz’s published specifications, I also found that the VP-15S1 does not have the automatic color temperature calibration that is specified for the VP-11S1.

Set-up
I placed the VP-51S1 in the same place my VP-11S1 (and before it, myVP-12S4) resided, which was on a high stand between my two couches that brought it to the level of the screen bottom and was slightly behind and between the viewing positions. At slightly over 10 feet of throw distance, I was easily able to adjust the zoom to fill a 92-inch 16:9 screen, using the standard throw lens. The VP-11S1 had no noticeable light spill and was no louder – possibly slightly quieter – than the VP-12S4.

The VP51S1 maintains vertical shift ability, which enables the projector to be mounted approximately a third of the screen height above the screen when the projector is mounted upside-down from a pole, or approximately a third of the screen height below the screen when the projector is mounted right-side up as on a table or shelf. As with the VP-11S1, the VP-15S1 has several anamorphic lens options, which give it constant-height 2:35:1 capabilities. The anamorphic lenses enable the projector to use the entire DLP panel’s resolution on the image itself, rather than on the black bars outside the image area.

I did my viewing with two screens. The first is one that Stewart Filmscreen was kind enough to lend me, a 92-inch, 16:9 GreyHawk Reference that has a gain of .95. The second screen is a 77-inch, 16:9 Matte White 1.0 gain screen.

I used Monster Cable’s HT UPS 500 Power Center for both power conditioning and battery back-up. With digital projectors, I would recommend installing a battery back-up unit as well, so that the cooling fans can run if you have a power failure. Video connections were made both directly to sources and through a Halcro SSP-200 audio video processor. Sources included a Marantz DV-9600 DVD player, a Toshiba HD-XA1 HD-DVD player, a Sony PS3 Blu-ray player and a DirecTV HD DVR.

The DV-9600 was set to output 480i via HDMI, the HD-XA1 was set to output a 1080i via HDMI and the PS3 was set to 1080p via HDMI. The Halcro was connected to the VP-15S1 via a Monster Cable Ultra Series M1000 HDMI cable. The sources to Halcro HDMI cables were a mix of Monster Cable’s 1000 and M1000 series cables. I briefly connected the sources via component cables as well, but preferred the picture with the HDMI connection. I had my first, and thankfully only, problem with the VP-15S1 shortly after I connected everything. I kept losing the signal; even the picture would go black. I called Marantz’s customer service and we quickly tracked down the culprit, an HDMI cable. Even though I had initially used the exact same HDMI cables with the VP-11S1, the VP-15S1’s HDMI 1.3 compliant inputs were more sensitive. I removed the longer HDMI cable from the processor to the projector. Out of respect to that company, I will not mention the brand, other than to say I have never had any problems with other cables from that company, and that particular cable worked fine when I tried it between my DVD player and Panasonic plasma. I replaced the cable with one of Monster’s M series HDMI cables and the problem was gone. The point is that not all digital cables are equal, and even though components should theoretically work with one another, this does not mean that they will. Before committing to a certain cable by burying it in your wall, please check it with the actual components you’ll be using to make sure that there are no strange incompatibilities. I hear that Accell Cables, Dtrovision and Kimber also make very good, compliant cables. Additionally, Ultralink has some long-run HDMI 1.3 cables that are reportedly very stable.

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; the biggest change was reducing the color setting by seven increments. I kept the standard gamma setting; the other adjustments were minor.

As with Marantz’s other projectors, there are a whole slew of picture profiles to choose from. Each profile has five gamma presets, plus Theater, Dynamic and Dynamic modes for eight configurations total. In addition, there are many fine adjustment menus, including color temperature, aspect ratio, black level adjustment, gamma, and more. Marantz says that it will be offering software on its website to create custom gamma curves as well. The professional calibrator will have many adjustment options available to obtain the best picture quality for any situation.

Television And Movies
I chose to start with a Blu-ray disc, the format that is taking the lead in the battle with HD DVD. I recently acquired Casino Royale (Sony Home Entertainment), the latest James Bond film. The opening scene, in black and white, takes place at night in front of a modern, angular building. While watching the section chief get out of his car in front of the building, I noticed that the grays were not color-shifted and that the picture was extremely clear. The lines of the angular building were razor sharp and the picture had excellent depth. However, in comparison to the twice as expensive VP-11S1, there was slightly more dithering in the darker areas, which led to visible noise. The foot chase scene provided a multitude of colorful backdrops, which I found to be slightly oversaturated with the Marantz’s out-of-the-box setting. With the color level turned down slightly, I found the picture to be much more color accurate, but still not quite as accurate as the VP-11S1. The most noticeable difference was with green foliage. The simplest way to describe the difference is that the VP-15S1 looked like a good plasma and the VP-11S1 more like a good CRT. As with the opening scene, the foot chase scene was portrayed with extremely good detail on a razor-sharp image, with virtually no video processing artifacts.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Blu-ray) is a well-recorded disc that let the VP-15S1 show off its capabilities. The opening scenes in Columbia featured a rich and artistic use of coloring. The video quality was quite good throughout the film and I was easily able to discern the director’s use of grain in the desert scenes; the rest of the film was sharp and clear.

While watching X-Men: The Last Stand (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Blu-ray), specifically the confrontation scene at Jean’s house, I again noticed the VP-15S1’s the ability to portray fine detail with motion. The dust that was generated during the fighting did not suffer from any blocking or other artifacts.

While watching football on ESPN HD via DirecTV, I let the Gennum processor in the VP-15S1 do all of the scaling. The goal lines in the turf remained free from jagged edges without any loss of detail on the playing field. As before, I found the green of the field to be a bit yellow in color when compared to the VP-11S1. The picture was vibrant, with a good range of contrast and color between the players on the field and the crowds in the background.

High-definition news feeds varied widely in quality and the Marantz made it quite easy to see the differences between the various feeds. The projector maintained the integrity of the feed; whether it was good or bad, the video was accurately reproduced. Having CNN in HD is a major plus with the new DirecTV HD receiver/dish combos.

Standard-definition video sources varied even more in quality, as they do with most projectors. The better feeds looked similar to high definition, but just a bit softer, as though the image was slightly de-focused. Standard DVDs were scaled, well with minimal artifacts. When I played The Incredibles (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), this animated feature provided relatively large fields of uniform color, which were reproduced by the Marantz with no visible variation in uniformity. The images were clear and sharp throughout the disc. Live action DVDs, such as Shakespeare in Love (Miramax Home Entertainment) were reproduced with sufficient detail to provide an enjoyable picture. During one of the Shakespeare’s play scenes, the Marantz reproduced the image with enough detail to make out the various textures of the costumes and rendered a good sense of depth. The detail lacked in comparison to high-definition offerings, but had I not experienced high definition, the Marantz’s images from standard-definition DVDs would have been all I could ask for.

The Downside
There is very little to complain about with the VP-15S1. The fan could be a bit quieter, although I personally never found it to be intrusive, despite being only two feet from my viewing position.

Video performance is excellent, with only two areas that I would like to see improved upon: color accuracy and noise in very dark scenes. I believe that both of these are related, at least in part, to the use of a six- rather than seven-segment color wheel. These are part of the trade-offs that had to be made at this performance and price point and people must know that I am splitting hairs by comparing this projector at half the price to its bigger, more expensive brother.

Conclusion
The performance of this projector is very strong at any price point and surprisingly good at under $10,000. The VP-15S1 delivers more than 90 percent of the VP-11S1’s performance for half the retail price. The VP-15S1 has more light output and a higher contrast ratio than its bigger brother, so it will allow those with extremely large screens and/or rooms with moderate light control to use this projector. The high contrast ratio gives the image pop or punch similar to that of a good plasma television. Many of my guests who had the opportunity to view the projector with me had the same comment: it looked like a giant plasma. When I asked them what they meant by that, the general consensus was that the image was alive and vibrant, without sacrificing sharpness or detail. In short, this is a projector that is capable of producing a large, sharp, vibrant image, with very believable colors, good detail and minimal artifacts at a very competitive price.
Manufacturer
Model VP-15S1 DLP Projector
Reviewer Brian Kahn
Chipset 1-Chip





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