Marantz VP-12S4 Darkchip 3 DLP Home Theater Projector: Can it really get any better than this without a 3 chip system?
Probably not. This is the first of two Darkchip 3 home theater projector reviews this month. In about a week I'll be posting my review of the new Optoma H79, a somewhat less expensive projector, featuring the same Darkchip 3 DLP processor.
Marantz has loaded so much into this physically beautiful DLP projector (yes it is pretty to look at - makes you want to leave the lights on in the room), that it is going to be tough to beat. Color saturation is spectacular, the high contrast ratio produces the best "blacks" I have tested so far (I don't do CRT projectors), and it avoids the contrasty look that many of the less expensive HD2+ DLP chip based home theater projectors seem to suffer from. And I couldn't find a single annoying flaw. (Well, one - it could be a little quieter - but that's not related to image quality).
That said, I'm giving the Marantz 12S4 projector a Hot Product Award, as so far, its the best single chip 720p projector I have seen yet. Now, given a $14,495 list price, it is one of the most expensive out there (but, don't worry, there are plenty of other pricey home theater projectors - Runco, Yamaha, Digital Projection, etc. - in this price range). BTW, the VP-12S4 replaces the older 12S3 home theater projector, which utilized the lower contrast HD2+ DLP chip. Still, my best projector advice to offer - if you can afford the Marantz VP-12S4, go for it! You won't be dissapointed. In fact, it will almost certainly exceed your expectations - by a wide margin.
I'll get more into the what I like, etc. in the Projector Performance sections, but first, I'll finish this overview.
This Marantz projector is fairly large (18.6"w x 15.9"d x 5.2"h), slightly off white, with an lens mounted off center. It offers manual lens shift that dials in effortlessly - and most importantly has lots of range - more, I think - than any other projector I have played with. That means you can mount it a couple feet higher than the top of your screen - keeping it close or flush with your ceiling. It comes with a small remote that is only partially backlit - an annoyance (more later) but then, I seriously doubt that many people choosing a projector in this price range will not choose to have a sophisticated touchscreen remote to control their whole system. (Marantz's RC9500 is a nice choice for example, but there are others - or even full room control, Crestron type systems).
The Marantz VP-12S4 home theater projector, claims 700 lumens, and a contrast ratio of 4500:1!!! The zoom is fairly long throw, but has plenty of adjustment range with a 1.45:1 ratio on the zoom. (For a 100", 16:9 screen, you can place it as close as 12.6 feet and as far back as 18.3 feet. A second, more expensive version of the Marantz VP-12S4 is with a longer throw zoom lens.
Now 700 lumens of home theater projector doesn't sound like a lot, but based on viewing, I think we can assume that the Marantz projector holds its own nicely with most projectors rated 1000 - 1100 lumens. I suspect this is due to Marantz measuring its output when this projector is set to produce a "best" image. In many reviews of projectors - 1000 lumen models often measure out at 350 - 500 lumens, mostly becaue the manufacturers play the lumens game. They measure the maximum output - poor color balance - typically 10,000 kelvin temperature, instead of down around 6500 Kelvin, and worst contrast. As a result when reviewers get done "optimizing the picture", surprise - half or more of the claimed lumens are gone!
Certainly the Marantz had the brightness when its aperture is set at F5.0 (600 lumens). There is a brighter F3.0 aperture option, rated 700 lumens), and full lamp power, to project an excellent image across 123 diagonal inches of my (140") matte screen. (I will update this when my new 128" Stewart Firehawk is installed first week of June.)
So, to conclude our overview, the Marantz produces a beautiful image - best I've seen so far from any 1 chip DLP projector. It is certainly expensive, but as you will see in the Projector Performance: Image Quality section, it is certainly that next level, beyond those $3,000 to $7500 projectors out there. Since you are spending "the big bucks" you are entitled to a better warranty too. Marantz does not dissapoint, with a 3 year parts/labor warranty. Warning: Be sure to purchase your Marantz from an authorized dealer. Marantz is very clear on their website, literature, etc. They prove NO Warranty on the projector, if purchased from an non-authorized reseller - and that includes Ebay sellers!
Let's now look at the physical layout.