Marantz VP-12S4 review

February 27, 2005

Marantz VP-12S4I assume every custom installation business has a ‘bag of tricks’ they go to for discriminating customers who want and appreciate the best. I know our firm has that area covered, specifically in the video department. All throughout 2004 our go-to high performance single DMD, DLP projector was the Marantz VP-12S3, it never let us down. So now with our first 12S4’s trickling in, I wanted to pull one aside and see what’s new.

One of the biggest differences with the 12S4, over its predecessor, is the inclusion of Texas Instruments DarkChip 3. To get a rough idea of the black levels attainable from the DC3 one would only need to look at the InFocus 4805 (Dark Chip 2 – Lower Resolution), which at nearly one tenth the price of the 12S4 still has very respectable black levels. Now boost the resolution up to 1280×720 and you’re just starting to get an idea of the video performance from TI’s DC3.

Ok, obviously a SP4805 comparison is ridiculously unfair here, as the Marantz offers features and specifications the little screen play could only dream of. I only brought this up to illustrate that Dark Chip’s from TI are relatively new and have only shown up in a handful of projectors to date. So what’s the DC3 all about? Black level and resolution my friend, and in spades. I’ll get to the specifics later but suffice to say, if one of the reasons you’ve held out on buying a LCD projector (or older DLP’s for that matter) was their poor black level performance, rest assured DLP’s are worth another look.


Specifications:
The specifications of the Marantz VP-12S4 read like a parts in the pocket of a rouge DLP technician out to build the world’s best single DMD DLP projector. I won’t even try to list them all but some of the more impressive features are:

• Texas Instruments DLP Technology
• High Definition 720p DarkChip 3
DMD Chipset
• New High-Fidelity Video Processing
Engine by GENNUM
• GENNUM GF9350 VXP Technology is
Composed by 4 Major Functions,
– TruMotionHD: Deinterlacing
Technology for Full HD Signal
– FineEdge: Adaptive Edge
Correction / Enhancement Technology
– Reality Expansion: Advanced
Color & Resolution Reproduction
Technology by Full 10-Bit Processing
and 4:4:4 Sampling
– FidelityEngine: Noise Reduction
& Image Enhancement
Technology
• Newly Engineered Custom Optics by
Konica-Minolta with Three Throw
Ratios
• Larger Vertical Lens Shift to a Max of
80% of Screen Height Above the Screen
• Exclusive O.R.C.A. Color Corrected
Light Source
• 4500:1 Contrast Ratio
• 1000 / 700 (Eco-Mode) ANSI Lumens
Brightness
• Brightness Consistency: 90%• 2 HDMI Inputs
• Adjustable Iris
• Sealed Optical Path
• No Light Leakage (Double Sealed
Cabinet Structure)
• Extremely Quiet (Noise Canceling
Construction, Sealed Color Wheel
Motor)
• Vertical Keystone Correction
• NTSC, PAL, SECAM, and ATSC
Compatible
• VGA to SXGA PC Signal Compatible
• 5 Gamma Selections
• Auto Color Temperature Calibration
System
• 18 Picture Memories
• Black Level Selection
• 2 Multi-scan Component Inputs
• RS232C Terminal for System Control
• 2 DC Triggers Outputs
• D-BUS Remote Connection (3.5mm
Mini-jack)
• Backlit I/O Terminal Panel

What, no automatic lens cleaner? The horror! Impressive, but as you’ll read, this ‘pick list’ was put to good use.

Un-boxing & Fit and Finish:
If weight equates quality to you, then there is plenty to be impressed with in the VP-12S4. I nearly threw out my back lugging the box up my stairs. Un-boxing the projector reminded me of Christmas as a child, except this ‘toy’ wasn’t mine and it cost more than my first three cars combined. Anyway back to un-packing. Cosmetically the 12S4 is a real show-stopper. It is almost reminiscent of recent Apple products with just the right amount of metal trim, and clear raised buttons to look sleek without feeling too showy.

One word about mounting, if you’re planning on ceiling mounting the 12S4, it’s a good bit heavier than the run of the mill DLP’s out and about these days, so take that into consideration when deciding on its final resting place. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable mounting mine on my ¾” threaded rob assembly that holds most of the projectors I review. It’s not that my mount couldn’t have held the weight, its just that I wouldn’t have ever relaxed knowing a 15K retail, piece of gear was hanging over my head (literally) with my makeshift mount, so for this review the projector was setup in a table-top configuration.

Set-up:
Set up was remarkably easy. It was really nice to have a built in pattern generator at my disposal, which made squaring up the projector to my screen a snap. The last projector I had with one was a CRT, and man I am glad the days of aligning 3 tubes to one another are long over. I for one am not the least bit nostalgic for heavy, cumbersome maintenance prone CRT projectors, Viva la DLP!

The VP-12S4 uses HDMI inputs whereas my equipment delivers video via DVI but no worries; I grabbed my HDMI-to-DVI adaptor and was on my way. Associated source equipment for this review included, my new found love (Mac mini), a Denon DVD-1910, and Voom satellite. With the latter providing the majority of my actual viewing time, as the 12S4 just begs for high quality, hi-def material to show off its capabilities. That’s not to say however that DVD’s didn’t look great. Oh boy did they look great.

The 12S4 includes what looks like a lens cap with a RS-232 connection on the end of it, which is actually a color temperature sensor. The logic being if you can measure ‘black’ then you have a reference point for the other colors/shades. I used it and was saddened to learn my unit was already calibrated. Drats! I kid, but it does feel weird to go through a calibration processes only to find out you were already there.

vp12s4_front.jpg

vp12s4_back.jpg


Video Performance:

One of my favorite things about the 12S4 is what it doesn’t project as much as what it does, the 12S4 has zero perceptible light spill. Light spill is one of those things that you might not be able to appreciate, until you’ve seen its absence, i.e. you may not realize how annoying it is until you get rid of it. The area around my screen and to the immediate left always has this light haze when viewing movies on my SP4805. With the Marantz VP-12S4 only the screen was illuminated and the surrounding areas were pitch black. Again this is an unfair comparison but I mention it only as my most immediate comparison in my viewing room.

So with the projector lightly calibrated and the room settled I started viewing video. I wanted to get a feel for HDTV, so first off was a documentary on ‘The Discovery Channel HD’ about the coral reef of Okinawa Japan. Unreal, I was already hooked. You know that’s one of the marks of a great product, if you don’t have to convince yourself it’s worth the upgrade. Gone was any trace of haze or artifacts, just beautiful underwater shots and bright vivid colors with silky smooth, defined images.

There was no arguing this was a gorgeous projected image. Moving on to ‘Equator’ (Voom exclusive) we caught a program entitled ‘Passage to Vietnam’. In this particular show one reoccurring image was rice shoots in fields. The rice plants had a color I’d never really seen on my screen before; it was a light green, but not just a light green. The 12S4 fully conveyed the subtle shades and iridescence of a living plant.

The high definition images from the 12S4 were breathtaking but I had no reference for what I was seeing, so I switched over to DVD playback for the rest of the review. Going to an old stand-by, and one heck of a fine film, I started off with ‘Kill Bill Vol.1’. I moved forward to the scene where Beatrix Kiddo paid Copperhead a visit and I noticed detail I’d never seen. I’ve been around the block quite a few times with this title, so seeing new things was really a treat. Most notably in the TV set on the table by the front window, as Nikki is coming home, I could now see a reflection in the screen with great detail. Moving forward again to the House of Blue Leaves scene, the detail in the masks of the crazy 88’s were stunningly dark yet detailed at the same time. Later I noticed a painting on the wall below O-Ren that I’d never really noticed before. Seeing it on the 12S4 made me wonder how I’d missed it in previous viewings. The detail was so good I could see Uma’s face powder. Yikes, this was detail.

Moving onto a little animation, I cued up ‘Shark Tale’ and immediately noticed awesome red reproduction (something the 12S4 really excels at), without the slightest tinge of orange. If you don’t own ‘Sharks Tale’ I really recommend it, not only was it reference quality animation, but it’s a fun film to boot. As enjoyable as this was, the 12S4 made me want to get back to live action video, to see what I’d been missing.

Moving on to ‘Ray’ we skipped forward to chapter 7 “No tears”. The young Ray’s flesh tones made him feel as if he could have stepped off the screen into our living room. I honestly don’t remember seeing this subtle scale of shades and translucence’s in video before. Skipping forward to chapter 27 “State of the art”, this chapter showed off the VP-12S4’s tight pixel structure. The pool scene was one of the best representations of water I’ve witnessed from a standard definition DVD, in my theater.

Ok this was really enjoyable, and keeping in that vein, we moved onto ‘The Village’ a flick my girlfriend and I enjoyed immensely (I could shoot myself for not seeing it in the theater). We skipped forward to chapter 7, where Lucious enters the woods. It was very easy to pick out the different shades in the fallen leaves, the orange’s and yellow’s neither added nor detracted to the scene. They just sat there in their ‘rightness’. But when Lucious walked toward the red err, “Color we don’t speak of”, flowers it was as if the VP-12S4 was boasting, “Haha, lowly DLP’s try and match my red reproduction!” This was without a doubt the best red rendering I’ve seen on any DLP or LCD video projector to date. It wasn’t that orangey milky red, no this was (forgive the cliché) blood red, deep rich and accurate.

Summary:
It feels weird mentioning $14,499 in the same sentence as the word value, but if you take a look at other high-end DLP projectors and what they are likely to retail for, then the VP-12S4 suddenly appears to be just that, a value. Is it cheap? Obviously not. Is it overpriced? Not in my estimation as it proved itself several times over in my viewing room. But its value is a little harder to estimate. It is significantly better than the VP-12S3, but that projector wasn’t inexpensive either.

What we’re really looking at here is a product that falls nicely in-between the higher end of the current mid-range DLP’s (6-8K) and below the 3 DMD (Super DLP’s) such as the InFocus 777(18-20K). And judged in that scope, the Marantz VP-12S4 is an obvious winner in my book.

If you’re looking for something beyond the pale of the average crop of DLP video projectors but somewhere short of the triple DMD over-achievers, the VP-12S4 is very likely what you’ve been waiting for. Highly recommended.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Projector Reviews, Reviews


Comments

  • Tony

    I am in the process of completing a dedicated bat cave HT room with 100″ fixed screen (or perhaps 120″ motorized) and am faced with a difficult decision – go to 1080p or not to go.

    I have found a deal on a refurbished Marantz vp12s4 720p projector (of which I’m sure you’re familiar with) for $2700, and am currently contemplating whether to purchase that or the Panasonic PT-AE2000 for also $2700.

    What do you suggest, Mr.Feierman
    Are the blacks on the Marantz marginally better? What about clarity? If you were obligated to choose, which would it be?

  • Tony

    I am in the process of completing a dedicated bat cave HT room with 100″ fixed screen (or perhaps 120″ motorized) and am faced with a difficult decision – go to 1080p or not to go.

    I have found a deal on a refurbished Marantz vp12s4 720p projector (of which I’m sure you’re familiar with) for $2700, and am currently contemplating whether to purchase that or the Panasonic PT-AE2000 for also $2700.

    What do you suggest, Mr.Feierman
    Are the blacks on the Marantz marginally better? What about clarity? If you were obligated to choose, which would it be?

  • B.Greenway

    An 8′ screen is no problem, especially rear mounted, and yes you’d most likely need the short throw lens. Two-piece rear projection isn’t my specialty, but I know the lens is available and the setup functions are available on the remote, so I see no reason why this wouldn’t work.

    One thing you said confused me however “and have allowed 8 feet from the projector (located above the screen) to a wall-mounted mirror”

    Nearly all of the two piece rear projection setups I’ve seen have the projector placed on the floor in such a setup, maybe I’m just not visualizing what you described correctly.

  • B.Greenway

    An 8′ screen is no problem, especially rear mounted, and yes you’d most likely need the short throw lens. Two-piece rear projection isn’t my specialty, but I know the lens is available and the setup functions are available on the remote, so I see no reason why this wouldn’t work.

    One thing you said confused me however “and have allowed 8 feet from the projector (located above the screen) to a wall-mounted mirror”

    Nearly all of the two piece rear projection setups I’ve seen have the projector placed on the floor in such a setup, maybe I’m just not visualizing what you described correctly.

  • Stephen

    would this be a projector to consider for a home theater/rear projection setup? We’re contemplating an 8′ screen, and have allowed 8 feet from the projector (located above the screen) to a wall-mounted mirror. If this projector would work out, would i need a short-throw lens? Thanks!

  • Stephen

    would this be a projector to consider for a home theater/rear projection setup? We’re contemplating an 8′ screen, and have allowed 8 feet from the projector (located above the screen) to a wall-mounted mirror. If this projector would work out, would i need a short-throw lens? Thanks!