Marantz VP-12S2 DLP video front projector Thomas J. Norton Comments
Peter Putman had reservations about the Marantz VP-12S2 because of its limited resolution on HD sources through its component input. I also observed the HD resolution problem, but, as PP notes, you can get around it by using an RGB or DVI connection. We expect DVI outputs to become increasingly common on various video source devices over the next year or two.
What shifted the balance for me was the quality of the Marantz's blacks and its incredibly high contrast. This is the first DLP I've had in my home theater that never distracted me by turning dark scenes into a milky fog or crushing the blacks into an undifferentiated, inky nothingness. Were the black details as good as the best CRTs? No. Was the picture from the VP-12S2 on the best program material, including the blacks, better than all but the very best theatrical film presentations? Yes. Even this CRT die-hard found it hard to fault.
My peak contrast measurements differ from those obtained by PP. Our measurements techniques were different. I used full-on (a 100IRE full field) to full-off (the black field produced by an open input). Peter used the maximum/minimum readings from black/white squares in an ANSI checkerboard pattern. I also used a Stewart FireHawk screen. In any event, my method produced an amazing 2587 peak, with a black level in the middle of the screen of 0.004 foot-lamberts, an excellent result.
It's important to note that even though my Minolta meter can read down to an extremely low 0.001 ft-L (specified), it's not at its most accurate at such minuscule light levels, and an error of 0.001 ft-L can have a large effect on the result. But even if the low light reading was off by an unlikely 100%, the contrast measurement would still be well over 1000. And keep in mind that while the measurement room was completely dark, it's not a black hole—reflections from the walls and other adjoining surfaces back onto the screen will have some effect on the result. And in a true black environment, the resulting contrast number would be even higher, not lower.
With the VP-12S2 set up for the best picture on my FireHawk screen (High Brightness mode off, linear gray scale, Brightness and Contrast correctly adjusted), I obtained a peak-white reading of 11.2 ft-L. The High Brightness mode is clearly intended for applications other than home theater; when it's engaged, you can't adjust the color temperature. I also found that, as with the earlier VP-12S1, the newer model would not process an interlaced input from the Kenwood DV-5700 DVD player (though several other interlaced DVD players I tried worked fine).
The Marantz's red, green, and blue color points, as measured with our Photo Research PR-650 spectroradiometer, indicated a slight red shift to reddish-orange, and a distinct green shift—not to deeper green, but to yellow-green. When I viewed the Marantz by itself, none of these deviations bothered me, but I did notice the slight yellow-orange shifts when I compared it directly with the SIM2 HT-300 Plus (also reviewed in this issue). Neither projector had technically accurate colors, though I did find the SIM2's warmer look, with its deeper reds, subjectively more pleasing. On the other hand, while the SIM2's blacks were very good, the Marantz's were closer to what I see from a good CRT.
I have more to say about the Marantz vs. the SIM2 in the review of the latter. As noted there, I was troubled by the light-output fluctuations of the Marantz's bulb (I first used the sample reviewed by PP). Toward the end of my four weeks or so with the unit, the fluctuations actually stopped, though there was still a slight trace of flicker that I could see only by looking closely at a stationary full-white image. (I could also see heat ripples on the screen from the projector's exhaust, which is very close to the lens, but also only on stationary test patterns. I never saw heat distortion from my viewing seat with ordinary program material.)
So that we could further investigate the light-fluctuation issue, Marantz sent us a second sample. It arrived only a short time before we had to go to press, but with approximately 20 hours of use to date, plus the 37 hours on the projector when it arrived, we haven't yet seen any flickering. Testing will continue a little longer—we'd like to get over 100 hours on it to confirm this initial positive report, but so far, so good.
The second sample, by the way, looked and measured every bit as good as the first in other respects. Its color temperature in the Medium setting also measured very close to D6500 across most of the brightness range, so I felt no need to tweak the gray-scale adjustments. The first sample had required small adjustments to get the measured result spot-on, though it looked fine to the eye in the Medium factory setting.—Thomas J. Norton