Secrets Product Review

Marantz VP12S4MBL Single-Chip DLP Digital Projector

Part II

August, 2006

Kris Deering



Installation was easy with the S4, but not a breeze. Every digital projector I've used to date in my theater room except one other has had horizontal lens shift, so finding the perfect center of my display in relation to where the projector was mounted ended up being a bit of a pain. But after a few trial and errors we got the projector ceiling mounted using the Marantz mount for the VP line, and things were good to go.

For this review I used a Stewart Filmscreen Deluxe Velux Studiotek 130 Screenwall. My room is not very big, plus I use matched front loudspeakers, so I am limited in my overall screen size because of the height of my speakers. My screen is 78" diagonal and my main seat is approximately 1.9 screen widths back from the image. At this distance I did not detect even the slightest amount of pixel structure or chromatic aberration.

Marantz offers a wide array of different throw lengths thanks to its interchangeable lenses. I used the standard lens since my room isn't very long. The projector also has a very convenient test pattern that can be accessed via the remote control. It is perfect for leveling, centering, and adjusting zoom and focus. In fact the pattern actually changes color during adjustment if the range is set poorly. The pattern is white when the zoom and lens shift is within a reasonable range, and green when you are using the outer range that may affect visual quality. The grid is also excellent for focusing the projector with single pixel accuracy. 


As the model number suggests, the S4 is the fourth projector in the VP12 line. I've had experience with the S3 as well, and I can easily say this is a big step up. The S4 uses the Texas Instruments HD-2 Dark Chip 3 DMD. Marantz has coupled this with a 7-segment color wheel that has an ND filter to eliminate some of the dithering affects common with DLP. In the lower grayscale range near black I saw very little noise, which is rare for DLP, even when standing right up by the screen. This helped tremendously with shadow detail, which was outstanding with this projector.

The S4 uses a Super High pressure 200W DC lamp. This lamp is modulated when the red part of the color wheel is in line with the lamp to help with color accuracy. I never noticed any issue with this and the colorimetry measurements of the projector were quiet good even with little to no calibrating. The bulb is rated to deliver about 700 ANSI lumens in the brightest settings, so consideration should be taken if you are planning on installing this projector in a room with a considerable amount of ambient light. This projector is optimized more for a light controlled room like mine with little to no ambient light.

Once the projector was calibrated, we measured about 260 ANSI lumens in the theater gamma mode with the bulb in low output and the iris closed all the way down. Going full tilt with the iris open, we measured about 381 ANSI lumens. In my room with the iris closed and bulb in low we measured 11 ft lamberts in the main seating position, which provided plenty of punch and was still easy on the eyes. Of course this is with an almost new bulb, so as the bulb ages this projector will get a lot dimmer.

Like the VP12S3, the S4 features a snap-on color meter for calibrating the grayscale of the projector. This is a very cool feature and I found the results using the lens cap meter to be very close to what we saw with our own meter. The cap simply snaps on to the front of the lens, just like a lens cap, and a serial cable is connected to the back of the projector. Then a simple keystroke with the remote starts the process and the indicators on the top of the projector tell you when it is finished. This is also how Marantz calibrates the projector's grayscale before it's shipped out. I found the grayscale out of the box to be exceptionally good. This projector needed the least amount of calibrating of any projector I've used to date.

Without a doubt, the most exciting new feature of the VP12S4 is the inclusion of the new Gennum VXP video processing solution. This sets the VP12S4 apart from the previous Marantz offerings and just about every other projector on the market to date. The Gennum VXP is a single chip video processing solution that provides capabilities few video processors have offered before, including noise reduction, 10 bit video processing, diagonal line processing for both standard and high definition sources, and most importantly true inverse telecine de-interlacing of 1080i material and true motion adaptive de-interlacing of video-based 1080i material.

As many of our readers know, you normally find me doing reviews of DVD players or stand-alone video processors. But a recent trend had been happening: convergence. We are now seeing projectors, A/V processors, and A/V receivers incorporating high quality video processing chips, allowing flexibility that was almost unthought-of just a few short years ago. Not only does this improve the overall performance of the products, but it also reduces the amount of equipment sitting on your shelf (which means you probably are spending less money overall!) 

But the biggest benefit of this new feature is what it does for the picture. After all, that is the whole point of a projector. The S4 allows for input signals of 480i, 480P, 720p, 1080i, and 1080P. Any interlaced signals are de-interlaced and scaled to the projectors native resolution of 1280x720. Any progressive signal is simply scaled to the projector's resolution. The Gennum VXP offers de-interlacing and scaling that is some of the best on the market, alleviating the need for a high-end stand-alone video processor. It also cuts out the need to buy a real high-end DVD player simply because it has a great de-interlacer/scaler onboard. That alone will save you a lot of money. And make no mistake about it: the Gennum is right up there with the best out there when it comes to de-interlacing prowess, and it is one of only a few that does this with high definition content. This is probably the most important facet of the chip.

With high definition programming become more and more the norm, the ability to display it properly becomes more and more important. Most video processors simply "bob" the incoming 1080i signal affectively making the image 540p and then scaling up to 720p. That means you've lost a decent amount of resolution of the intended image. With true inverse telecine de-interlacing, you are de-interlacing the 1080i signal to 1080p and then scaling down. This results in a crisper image with far less artifacts. Right now I know of only one other DLP projector that can make this claim, and only a small handful of stand-alone video processors that can.  You are essentially future proofing your investment with this type of processing.

The Gennum also provides some other features, including frame rate conversion, noise reduction, and detail enhancement. I evaluated these features using several different test discs such as the popular HQV Benchmark DVD. This DVD was developed by Silicon Optix to market their HQV based video processing features, including many of the same features as the VXP. The VXP does a solid job with these tests but isn't quite up to par with the HQV solution in some areas. The HQV chip still does the best noise reduction I've seen to date, but it also has drawbacks when using that feature, namely fine line artifacts. Gennum seems to have balanced these issues by not overdoing it. At the end of the day it is impossible to overcome a bad source broadcast or recording, but the VXP does a good job at cleaning it up.

Using real world test material, the benefits were even clearer. For noise reduction I used the new HD DVD release of Full Metal Jacket. This transfer is chock full of grain and noise, and I was curious to see just how much improvement the noise reduction filter would deliver.

The difference was impressive. While film grain was preserved, a lot of the noise was cleared up, giving the image a cleaner, sharper overall look. I didn't see any issues with fine lines either, a problem I've had with HQV processors.

For de-interlacing tests I used both the Oppo 970HD at 480i via HDMI and the new Toshiba HD-A1 at 1080i via HDMI. The Gennum performed the same with both inputs. The VXP has no issues at all with normal film based material. Even with bad edits, the processor stayed locked on, with only slight drops in difficult scenes. 1080i to 1080p performance was the same. The projector recovered cadence almost immediately and rarely if ever dropped out of lock with the custom test material I had on hand.

I compared the VXP's performance to the internal video processing in Sony's newest 1080p projector, the VPL-VW100 (Ruby). While the Ruby does handle a simple 3-2 cadence properly with 1080i material, it could not handle even the slightest hiccup in the cadence or flags. The VXP retained the full resolution and stayed in film mode for all of the loops, preserving the full detail of the image.

This brings up some other benefits. Currently, most projectors do not offer this level of video processing. As HDMI becomes more dominant in the market, new complications become apparent, e.g., with HD DVD. To take full advantage of HD DVD's picture and sound you have to either use HDMI or a combination of HDMI and multi-channel analog outputs for the audio. If you use only HDMI, you have to feed the audio to a receiver or processor and then the video is passed along to the display. If you decide to use an outboard video processor, that audio stream either gets truncated, or you have to figure out a way to work around the issue with multiple connections. The processing in the S4 circumvents this issue. Now you can run the HDMI output of the player right into your receiver or processor and it will decode the audio and simply pass on the video portion to the projector, which can do all of the video processing. Unless you've had the dilemma of trying to sort this out, you really can't truly appreciate the flexibility and ease this provides!

Click Here to Go to Part III.

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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