Given how chaotic the everchanging world of AV is these days, there's something strangely comforting about Marantz's VP-12 projectors. Updated versions trot along every few months, all looking identical, all boasting the very latest incarnation of Texas Instruments' DLP chipset and all costing a substantial amount.
Today we're up to the third generation of the VP-12 design. Cunningly dubbed the VP-12S3, it wears exactly the same design as its predecessors. Its robust, rough-finished, die-cast whitish exterior; huge custom-built Minolta lens; large, square proportions and minimalist buttonry along a subtly raised lozenge on the top of the projector make for a no-nonsense approach that might not be to everyone's taste. Personally, though, I love it - especially as the heavy duty finish hints at some potentially top-level innards as well.
Connectivity is fair for a projector at such a lofty price. Highlights include two sets of progressive scan and high-definition compatible component video inputs, a standard PC jack, two 12V trigger jacks for, say, kick-starting a hydraulic screen, and a DVI socket able to handle the HDCP protocols required for problem-free all-digital movie viewing. I also liked the socket-panel backlight - a huge help for setup in a darkened room.
Up and running
Some projectors of the VP-12S3's calibre need a degree of technical know-how if you want to get the best out of them, but even a novice could get this one up and running in about five minutes.
Assisting you are manual horizontal image shifting, vertical and horizontal keystone correction (so you can place the projector to the side of the screen's centre as well as above or below it), and an impressively flexible zoom/focus ring arrangement. This offers a throw ratio range of 1.75:1 to 2.25:1, which gives, for instance, a 100in image from a throw distance of as little as 3.27m or as much as 3.8m.
If, however, you have a long cinema room, a long-throw lens arrangement is available separately. All very nice.
If you want to go deeper into perfecting your pictures there are plenty of more advanced features tucked away in the tidy onscreen menus. Highlights of this impressive features set include low and high lamp modes, an optional brightness booster, black level adjustment, an iris aperture adjustment, cross colour suppression for non-progressive sources, the option to turn the built-in Faroudja DCDi deinterlacing on or off, a sharpness filter for DVI and RGB images, noise reduction, bags of minute adjustments for the chrominance and luminance picture elements... and so the list goes on. The VP-12S3 covers every picture option base I could think of, plus a few more I couldn't.
Several of the 12S3's inner specs warrant a mention too. It uses the latest generation DLP chipset - the high contrast HD2 . The 12S3 also uses a large colour wheel which features some new internal masking technology to increase the stability and impact of dark scenes. And finally there's ORCA (Optical Reproduction of Colour Accurately), a filter which removes excess yellow from the light path to give a truer peak white.
The tech spec is interesting, but other projectors in the past have made grand claims before falling flat on their faces at the testing stage. Thankfully this doesn't apply to the 12S3. Its picture performance is truly outstanding. The projector dishes up a superb black level.
Even the darkest of scenes look believable, retaining all the critical subtlety of colour tone and greyscale you'd expect to see in a proper cinema. The picture looks cohesive and possesses a tremendous depth.
The contrast doesn't exactly harm the 12S3's colour rendition either; hues across the spectrum look both well saturated and 100 per cent natural. It's this naturalism that sets the 12S3 apart; not once, even during the most low-lit scenes, did we spot so much as a single fleshtone out of place.
We also found that the projector almost entirely removed common DLP defects such as the rainbow effect and the dotty noise which normally afflicts horizontal motion, especially during camera pans. If you keep the brightness levels sensibly low you'll struggle to find any noise at all.
High-definition feeds, especially via the DVI jack, look out of this world - and in the process amply show off the 12S3's exemplary fine detail response. There are very few projectors available which make such an accomplished job of delivering pixel-perfect textures without falling prey to grain. It's not just high-def material that looks awesome, though. Progressive and even standard interlaced sources all look fabulous.
With this latest update, Marantz has delivered its best projector yet. The third generation of the 12S projector is a significant step forward from the mark II and has become, I think, a strong contender for best in its class.
Everything about the 12S3, from its sturdy design to its all-inclusive connectivity, genuinely useful features and above all its superb picture quality simply exudes cutting edge sophistication. As usual, DLP projectors that feature the latest TI chipsets and technology command a premium and Marantz isn't giving the 12S3 away. It could be time to get a bigger piggy bank...