HD2+DLP: The Next Wave The New Projectors

The New Projectors
I gathered up three of the latest HD2+ chip projectors from InFocus, Sharp, and Marantz to see what kind of difference the new chip makes. In many ways, these projectors are similar to their predecessors, all of which we've reviewed in past issues. You may want to check out the original reviews for the nitty-gritty details, as I'm going to focus on performance here.

InFocus 7205 ($9,000)
I reviewed this projector's predecessor in the August 2003 issue. Until now, it was the brightest projector we'd ever reviewed. Well, no longer. The 7205 uses the HD2+ chip to give off about 10 percent more light than the 7200. It's also a little more than 10 percent brighter than the Sharp XV-Z12000 at its brightest setting.

New to the 7205 is a lens that can accept filters. So, if you don't need blazing light output and want a better black level or have a smallish screen, you can put in a neutral-density filter to calm the light down a bit. The black level does need calming down, as it's noticeably higher than that of the Sharp or Marantz VP-12S3. The 7205 is just made for bigger screens. There's plenty of brightness to sacrifice if you want a screen bigger than ours (87 inches wide). A much better black level would be a happy consequence, as well.

The 7205 scales the image well, handling incorrect 3:2 sequences better than either of the other projectors. Its gradations from light to dark weren't as smooth as those of the Sharp and Marantz; they were also somewhat noisier. What the InFocus has over the others is value, as it's $3,000 to $4,000 less expensive. If you want the biggest screen you can get, this is the projector for you.

Sharp XV-Z12000 ($12,000)
We reviewed the XV-Z10000 in the May 2003 issue. The new projector's remote, menus, and looks are the same. In addition to the new chip, Sharp added a three-stage iris (instead of two) that you can control with the remote.

No matter what the Sharp does to a DVD, it does it well—from expanding nonanamorphic discs to dealing with incorrect 3:2 sequences to just plain picking up a correct 3:2 sequence almost instantly. It also has incredibly smooth gradations from light to dark, with both test patterns and actual video material.

HD looked as lifelike and detailed as it should, but you knew that from the XV-Z10000. The XV-Z12000 goes one better on two fronts: black level and adjustability. The iris has three settings: high contrast, for the best black level; high brightness, for the highest brightness; and medium, which gives you a little of both. In the high-contrast mode, the XV-Z12000 delivered exceptional black levels, but the image lacked punch. The high-brightness mode had a lot more punch—in the way Evander Holyfield has more punch than, say, me. The 20-or-so foot-lamberts that this projector can put out is slightly less than the InFocus. The medium mode trades a lot of the punch and some of the black level; however, in most rooms and with most movies, this is the best choice.

Marantz VP-12S3 ($13,000)
Definitely the looker of the bunch, the VP-12S3 shares its sexy case (but thankfully not its remote) with the VP-12S2 we reviewed in the July 2003 issue. Marantz improved the color wheel: While still off, the colors are the closest to the SMPTE spec of any of these projectors.

Also included is a lens-cap auto calibrator. It's easy to use; however, because it doesn't factor in the slight color shift your screen will cause, it shouldn't replace a real ISF calibration. The VP-12S3 has an iris similar to the one in the Sharp, but the iris doesn't have as significant an effect.

Although its contrast ratio is slightly less than that of the Sharp, in its best black-level mode, the VP-12S3 puts out more light, so the image seems to have more contrast. Its brightest image is nowhere near the maximum output of either of the other projectors, though.

The VP-12S3 scales the image well, slightly better than the Sharp and about on par with the InFocus. It also doesn't belch out the heat that the Sharp and InFocus do. Unfortunately, if you want to input anything above DVD resolution, the VP-12S3 essentially has no HD component inputs: Although they aren't labeled as standard-def only, the component inputs massacre HD signals. If you want HD, this projector is RGB- or DVI-only, and it looks quite good through those connections.

So Many Choices
So which one would I pick? Well that's easy. I'll take the Marantz's optics, case, and color points; the Sharp's black level and adjustable iris; and the InFocus' overall light output and price. That's not too much to ask, right?

In all, each of these companies has made excellent use of Texas Instrument's newest chip, and each fits a certain niche within the projector market. No matter which one best suits your installation, you're bound to get one of the best images in the home theater world.

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