The Marantz VP-12 was one of the first highly specified DLP projectors. The original version used the HD2 DMD, capable of 720 x 1280 pixel resolution, and sat at the high-end of its class almost from the outset. To date there have been three variations of this model, each of which has been slightly more impressive than its predecessor.
Now we have the S4, or fourth iteration, but although there are common features, and the looks are very similar to what came before, this is effectively a brand new model, with changes to the DMD device, the optical system, the video processing and the interfaces. The unit also sports, not one, but two HDMI inputs. One of these can be used with an appropriately equipped DVD player, the other can be reserved for the next generation of HDMI equipped Sky (and perhaps other) settop boxes due out in the shops almost certainly within the year.
The DMD inside the VL-12S4 is Texas Instrument's HD2 DarkChip3. With its smooth mirror surface and closer mirror spacing, images can benefit from greater contrast and reduced artefacts. The S4 also uses a 7-segment colour wheel with a green neutral density element in conjunction with a 200W SHP lamp. The promise is of a better black level and greater dynamics.
However, perhaps the biggest change can be found in the video processing, in particular scaling and deinterlacing. Previous models used Faroudja solutions, but here Marantz has cooperated with Gennum on a new customised version of its VXP GF9350 processor. Gennum is a Canadian manufacturer of considerable repute which specialises in making semiconductors for broadcast use. The GF9350 is its first silicon aimed at the domestic market, and is roughly comparable in some ways to the Silicon Optix engine recently adopted by Denon for its flagship DVD player. Why the two companies have taken such different approaches when they are part of the same group (D&M Holdings) is not clear. At least it underlines that at the design level the two companies are still in competition.
The four elements
The processor has four elements. TruMotionHD is a high performance high definition compatible deinterlacer which produces a progressive output from an interlaced input. FineEdge provides edge enhancement, which smoothes image edges, especially diagonals which show aliasing in the form of 'staircasing'. RealityExpansion refers to the use of 10bit signal processing and upsampling, where many alternative solutions (including the popular Faroudja FLI2310) use 8bit processing. Finally, FidelityEngine is a noise reduction algorithm which is designed to preserve picture detail.
These are the main changes to the S4 but there have been a number of secondary ones which improve operation of the control system (eg faster adjustment of colour temperature in the auto setting) and an updated picture adjustment menu, a wider range of picture condition memories, and a new improved remote control.
Marantz claims that the S4 runs more quietly than its predecessor. In practice, it's quiet, but not overly different from what's gone before. It's almost certainly not a match for the Yamaha DPX-1100, which in my experience, sets the standard by which others should be judged. The longer throw lens helps here however, as it should not be necessary to position the projector between the viewer and the screen.
Picture quality is outstanding. There is a combination of vitality and stability about the picture that I have not previously encountered from any other single chip DLP model. Rainbow artefacts are banished to a very low level, so unless you are unusually susceptible (as some people are), this should not be an issue. Colour reproduction is very accurate, with no noticeable pollution of greens by adjacent yellows while noise levels are extremely subdued across the spectrum. This contributes to the overall impression of rock solid stability, but the other factor is the Gennum processing, which can even turn a low grade interlaced S-video feed from a Sky box into something really worth sitting down to watch.
Of course, to really make the unit shine, you need to hook it up via the HDMI digital interface. DVD via this source is spectacular; the quality of the image processing, and in particular the stability of the picture, the subtlety of colour reproduction, the sense of depth, the resolution, and the way that the definition of fast moving scenes is maintained post processing, set new standards in its class.
High definition footage is even more involving. The native HD resolution of the panel gives images an almost photo-realistic quality.
Marantz has taken the award-winning VP-12 design and rebuilt it with an enviable selection of cutting edge components. The HD2 chipset remains a favourite and the video processing from Gennum is immediately impressive. For those looking for a high-end, single chip DLP projector, the VP-12S4 delivers across the board. Recommended