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Marantz VP-12S2 DLP video front projector Page 3

The SHP projection lamp has several different operating modes. You can run it in High or Low mode, the latter producing 25% less brightness. The Lamp Bright On/Off mode lowers black levels slightly, but it causes the white balance to shift blue by several hundred kelvins. When I used the Low lamp mode with the Theater gamma setting, I got a deep, wide gray scale for viewing DVDs and HD movies, but I sacrificed brightness in the process (see sidebar, "Calibration").

I observed some quirky lamp behavior while testing the VP-12S2: The image would suddenly dim for no reason, then brighten again. The difference between these two levels of brightness was consistently about 20%. Since the AC power used for the projector was load-ballasted on its own breaker, I can only assume there was a problem with the projector's internal lamp ballast and power supply.

The VP-12S2's overall picture quality was best with HD sources from an RGB or DVI-D feed; it was a tad soft with DVDs, though not objectionably so—the incredibly small separations between DMD micromirrors gave that "film grain" look to everything. With an RGB or DVI source, video had just the right amount of detail and good color saturation. Detail was limited by the source—older films played back from HDTV looked softer than more recent offerings. I left the edge-enhancement settings at their factory defaults for DVDs, and turned them off for HDTV.

The color saturation was good, but I kept thinking there was a bit too much green in many of the images—even though my color analyzers indicated otherwise. Reds, oranges, and yellows were rendered closer to the way you'd see them on a CRT, which has been a weakness of color wheels in the past. The projector could be tuned very close to D6500, and primary colors didn't shift into pastels as a result.

I watched both Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gladiator during recent ABC 720p broadcasts. There's no question that Gladiator presented a sharper, more stable image. Watching Raiders closely through the VP-12S2's DVI input, I could actually see the 35mm film print "weave" as it went slightly in and out of focus during the transfer. That's how much detail the VP-12S2 was showing.

Thanks to the Faroudja processor, the Marantz presented DVDs nicely. Images were sharp and detailed, and, once again, if I was willing to sacrifice some brightness, I could get a nice, accurate gray scale out of the VP-12S2. I saw the best image quality with program material having medium to high levels of gray, such as the Toy Story DVDs, HDTV sitcoms, and daytime sports programming.

But dark scenes were also impressive. I was able to pick out subtle color gradations in the outer-space scenes in The Fifth Element, and I could spot detail in the nighttime statuary sequence from Goldeneye. These two discs are plasma-busters when it comes to shadow detail and gray-scale rendering; the VP-12S2 handled them almost as well as a CRT front projector.

Conclusions
The Marantz VP-12S2 does some things well, and other things not so well. For DVD playback, you'll be in fine shape with the projector's internal Faroudja processor or an outboard 480p player. If you have access to a video scaler with a 720p DVI output, hook it up and you'll no doubt see a noticeable improvement in picture quality.

On the other hand, the VP-12S2 needs major help in the bandwidth department when displaying component HDTV. Through the component inputs, the multiburst patterns show that 720p and 1080i signals suffer from significant loss of fine detail. And things just get worse with the superfluous horizontal and vertical edge-enhancement adjustments—HDTV signals don't need any enhancement!

I have a difficult time justifying the cost of this projector because of its sub-par component HDTV performance. After seeing how dramatically the projector's HD frequency response improves through its RGB and DVI inputs, I strongly advise using these connections with a DTV set-top receiver or D-VHS recorder/player. If necessary, I recommend using an outboard scaler with an all-digital connection to get the best image quality out of the VP-12S2.

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