Marantz VP-15S1 DLP Video Projector Page 3

There is an Overscan feature that eliminates displaying of the borders of incoming images. HD broadcasts still have some artifacts at the extreme edges that people don't like to look at. But don't just reach for the Overscan, which can also drop resolution. The 15S1 has memory settings for Blanking settings, which can be set to eliminate the top or bottom or left or right edge(s) of the screen, and avoids the artifacts Overscan adjustments often cause.

The lamp's life span is rated to 2,000 hours, but Marantz recommends swapping it out after 1,000 hours for the best performance. This is significant. The replacement cost is $500 and that's an ongoing expense, dependent on the hours you put on the set. Might not want to fire up your PJ to check the local traffic in the morning.

Performance- The Good Stuff
I used HMDI connections to a variety of HD source components, including Sony's PlayStation3 and Pioneer Elite's BDP-HD94 for Blu-ray, and Toshiba's HD-A30 and HD-XA2 for HD DVD and DVD. My HD broadcast source is a Comcast DCT3416 HD DVR.

The first thing that is most apparent with the 15S1 is the contrast. The blacks look black and overall the contrast excellent in spite of the fact that, like past Marantz PJs, it's no light cannon (again, I used iris setting 2 for the bulk of my critical viewing). But the foundation in black is excellent and the 15S1 not only looked rich and cinema-like but even punchy when called for across virtually all material.

While Marantz does spec better contrast ratio, this is more than mere numbers can convey. This improved foundation in black always gave the 15S1 a deep, dimensional looking image at all times. The depth was reach out and touch it palpable, and very film-like, especially with the best Blu-ray and HD DVD discs. So, odd as this sounds, while the 11S1 looked just a bit sharper and more refined, the 15S1 often looked richer and more three-dimensional in spite of smaller details being more clearly resolved on the flagship.

Nevertheless, the 15S1 is adept not only at delivering satisfyingly deep absolute black, but also at drawing subtle details within shadows and other dark areas within the image. Christopher Nolan's superb film The Prestige (Blu-ray) opens up with some black top hats lying on leaf covered ground. You can actually resolve some patterns in the felt on the hats, they're not just uniform black. This film is the kind what would have killed a number of digital PJs of years past, but the 15S1 didn't break a sweat wringing out all the details. Chapter 10 of Sony's Memoirs of a Geisha features an exotic dance performance in a dark club at a critical juncture in the story. It boasts dark blacks and striking colors, but the dramatic tension of the scene is in seeing the emotional reactions of the audience in the dark. You don't need any dialog to get the reaction on the 15S1.

Another different but no less striking example of the 15S1's prowess with blacks and contrast is a German import HD DVD I picked up of a fine and underrated animated film from 2006 called Renaissance (it's available here on DVD, but the German HD DVD is easy to navigate and is amazing- worth the premium price). This futuristic movie does perhaps the best job I've seen of recreating the graphic novel experience in full motion animation, and its visuals are stark and extreme black with full white (with an explosive soundtrack to match). This is very challenging material for a digital display, requiring it to maintain convincing contrast and simultaneously reveal the subtlest shadings within the darkest grays and black. The 15S1 sailed through it.

In spite of my perception that the 11S1 is a bit sharper, static test patterns did not reveal these subtleties (see Measurements) so much as full motion viewing. And indeed, this is extremely subtle, for as noted I could make out the dimples on each micromirror/pixel here, so the image is very sharp and detailed. You'd never find yourself wanting for detail just watching this PJ by itself. And indeed, while I watched it I didn't feel the now familiar pull to return to my reference- although when I returned to it out of professional curiosity I was always appreciative of that extra dollop of clarity (even if I missed the 15S1's richer blacks).

I'd also note that while the image is highly detailed, it's never unnatural or enhanced looking (test patterns didn't reveal any artificial sharpening of any kind). DLPs have gotten more natural and refined looking over the years, especially with motion, and this PJ is exemplary of that.

DLPs are excellent at maintaining punch with brighter scenes, and indeed the most brightly detailed discs jump off the screen with the 15S1. This holiday season has seen some sensational releases on both HD formats, but recent animated titles from Disney and Pixar on Blu-ray are real eye candy. While the releases of Cars and Ratatouille are must-haves for anyone with a BD player (and if you don't have one you should get one just to play these), Disney's less appreciated release of Meet the Robinsons is not far off the mark. This transfer has a level of pop that's unbelievable. I don't know if it was rendered for more dramatic effect for its theatrical 3D release, but the level of vivid, eye-popping detail here is just mind-boggling (and it arrived before the Pixar flicks and got my son off of Chicken Little, kinda like methadone, which makes it the release of the year in my book!). DLP has still got something over the LCoS projectors when it comes to maintaining high contrast and pop in brighter scenes.

DLPs are digital displays, but the way they create color is still very much analog. The spectrum of the bulb and the filter segments in the color wheel determine in large part how accurate the colors are. Football season is fantastic for evaluation in that green is a typical bug-a-boo color, and it's easy to see if a projector is imposing its own interpretation on the varying shades of green on each different field. But I never got that impression here, and certainly never saw the yellowy, nuclear lime greens that afflicts so many digital displays. Even if they don't measure textbook accurate, this projector's colors always looked natural and saturated without standing out in a negative way.

The video processing by Gennum is first-rate as we've come to expect. Good enough even to overcome shortcomings sources. It will detect and properly compensate for 3/2 pulldown in 1080i film-based sources, and can even produce a superior picture with a 1080i signal than some next-gen disc players can produce sending out 1080p/60. It's not quite as adept with some standard def video-based material as the Silicon Optix solutions, but is a strength of this projector nevertheless.

Comparisons with Another Newcomer: JVC's DLA-HD100
JVC's $7,999 DLA-HD100 arrived for review at the end of the review period. To be fair I haven't spent much time with it yet, but I do have some initial impressions. The JVC's strengths are formidable right out of the box, and it also uses a Gennum VXP processing solution. It's tack-sharp, has better light output and yet does not sacrifice deep blacks to get them. The (far) more expensive D-ILA projectors of the past looked as natural and seamless, but just weren't in this league in terms of crisp resolution, which is awesome for any PJ, not just a three-chipper.

In fact, so far the combination of punch in light output and resolving power has me believing the JVC is a bit more detailed than the 15S1. HD broadcasts of NBC's Heroes, which looked outstanding in every way on the 15S1, were all of sudden in the elbowing Mrs. Editor and saying, "wow, look at that honey" category. With certain material that extra light output and detail will get you sitting up in your chair. While the image doesn't seem to flatten out in brighter scenes as much as LCoS designs of the past, the Marantz often looks punchier in brighter scenes in spite of having lower light output.

I initially felt that the JVC's color palette isn't as natural or compelling but this perception has softened somewhat. Don't know if it's the bulb's break-in, or if it's taken me some time to adjust to the JVC's higher light output. I do prefer the Marantz' colors, but the JVC really can't be criticized for much there.

I'd also mention that the JVC's user menus are more awkward, and the user accessible grayscale adjustments aren't as fine (therefore neither is the calibration itself) as with most PJs since it lacks high and low adjustments for red, green and blue.

The cheaper JVC looks more detailed, and has more light output. The Marantz will be confined to smaller screens (still large by any reasonable standards), but looks richer, with slightly more natural colors, and it's easier to interact with and adjust. I marginally prefer the Marantz' balance of strengths, but the JVC is really strong at its price point, or any other for that matter. These projectors are getting to be so good that attempts to choose between them say more about my own preferences than the quality of the components.

The Marantz VP-11S1 was our projector of the year in 2006, and impressed me enough to buy it to use as a reference. The VP-15S1 adds some impressive new wrinkles that improve on the 11S1's performance in some key respects, and does so at half the price. That's a big win any way you slice it, and this projector that should be on the shortest of lists for anyone who can shop in this price range.

Of course the rub is that in this ever changing front projector market, the 15S1's pricing might be less expensive than Marantz' flagship, but it has to be acknowledged that it's still pricier than formidable competition from JVC, Sony, and others. And if you read our reviews you know that your choice might not be one of absolute conquest, but of paying more for incrementally better performance in a few, but probably not all respects.

Nevertheless, the all around performance here cannot be disputed. Like its predecessors it offers performance both objectively and subjectively that is clearly top tier. Even in this market it's worthy of its price, and another Marantz projector that I know I could live happily ever after with, and will recommend heartily and confidently to others. A big thumbs up.

Superb resolution
Terrific blacks and contrast
First rate video processing
Natural colors
Outstanding user interface

Price (a little, not a lot)
Light output still not as strong as competing PJs