Marantz VP-12S1 High-Defintition DLP projector

Imagine that General Motors or Ford or DaimlerChrysler held a patent on the internal-combustion engine, of which only one model was available to vehicle manufacturers worldwide. That's similar to the situation faced by projector manufacturers who wish to use that most wondrous of Texas Instruments technologies, Digital Light Processing (DLP), which packs more than a million micromirrors onto a Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) chip approximately the size of a 35mm slide. (If you're unfamiliar with DMD, be sure to read "From Cathode Ray to Digital Micromirror: A History of Electronic Projection Display," at www.dlp.com/dlp/resources/whitepapers/pdf/titj03.pdf.)

TI is more than eager to provide manufacturers with the DLP chip, and I gather that the company is not squeezing licensees unreasonably. But given that the all-critical engine driving every HD projector is the same—currently, a 16:9, 1280x720p chip—it somewhat limits what a manufacturer can do to distinguish its version from the competition. Then again, give the same GM V6 engine to Saab (now owned by GM) and BMW and you'll get very different automobiles.

SharpVision was the first manufacturer to market a projector with the new Texas Instruments chip, but now SIM2 Séleco, Dwin, and Marantz have followed, as will others, I'm sure. Meanwhile, a second-generation chip is in the works that, TI claims, will improve black levels by changing the degree of the micromirrors' rotation. As with computers and digital cameras, if you wait for the next, improved generation to come to market, you could find yourself doing without forever, so fast does the technology move. If you want to swim these high-tech waters, you're going to have to jump.

Marantz Weighs In
Having reviewed SharpVision's $10,996 XV-Z9000U for the February 2002 issue, I was eager to see what performance and features Marantz could offer to justify charging $1500 more for the VP-12S1. Lifting it out of the box gave an immediate indication: at about 30 lbs, the Marantz weighs about 10 lbs more than the SharpVision. Part of the difference in weight is accounted for by the VP-12S1's double-sealed cabinet, which limits light leakage, noise, and the intrusion of dust—a big problem in some locations. While the SharpVision requires you to regularly change a dust filter, the Marantz does not.

But Marantz isn't touting the VP-12S1 on the basis of its weight, quietness, or light-tight design—not when it sports a sophisticated lens by Minolta and Faroudja's Directional Correlational De-interlacing (DCDi) processing. In fact, there are three Faroudja chips inside: for color decoding, deinterlacing, and Faroudja's proprietary enhancement circuitry.

So while the Marantz and the SharpVision are built around the same engine, they've got different trannies. But I'm not as impressed by name brands as I am by performance. That comes from years of reviewing audio products from obscure high-end brands that frequently outperform those with big names. The bottom line: Show me the picture.

The Physical Plant
Physically handsome, with a sparkly, almost effervescent finish, the Marantz VP-12S1 is eye candy—not that that will matter when it's suspended from your ceiling and the lights go down. While most users will put the projector through its paces by punching buttons on the remote control, Marantz has put some controls—Power, Menu, Cursor, Focus, and Input—on the chassis top; an inconvenient location, at least from where I'd positioned my review sample, on top of an approximately 5-foot-tall steel record rack. And the VP-12S1's remote is tiny and unlit, with even tinier buttons. The buttons do sort of glow in the dark; their labels don't.

For a high-priced product from a brand I consider in the upper echelon of consumer electronics, the Marantz's 25-page manual is woefully inadequate. (It's thick because it includes French, Spanish, and Portuguese translations.) The writing is poor, and there's some misinformation—for instance, that the 3-position color-temperature control is closest to 6500 kelvins at its middle position. "Not so," said a Marantz representative, who advised me that the Warm setting was the one closest to 6500K. [As it turns out, the manual is correct.—TJN]

Under the header "Memory," the instructions tell you to "Recall the stored memory for preference. The unit has three picture modes: Theater, Standard, and Dynamic. Each picture mode has three picture memories." What these three modes do it doesn't say. The three picture memories in each mode, which you can preset for particular viewing conditions, are a handy feature—but wouldn't it be nice to know what Theater, Standard, and Dynamic do, and when each would be most appropriate to use?

While it might be argued that Marantz's high-quality dealership distribution means that most buyers will have assistance in setup and use from a salesperson, that argument doesn't cut it. For one thing, not all salespeople are well-informed. At a Marantz dealer near me, I overheard one insist to a customer that the local CBS affiliate's digital channel was available via DirecTV. When I gently tried to correct him, he brushed me off and blathered on. I can only imagine what customers are told at a Best Buy.

You should know upfront that ISF calibration of the color temperature and gray scale are not possible—Marantz won't give out the service codes, supposedly because one can access from the service menu proprietary information about the Faroudja chips that neither company wants made public. I'm told some dealers and ISF calibrators have lobbied to isolate this information from the service menu so the VP-12S1 can be tweaked in the field, but for now buyers are stuck with the three color-temperature choices. We'll see what the measurements show.

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