Editors' note, December 13, 2007 The rating on this review has been lowered from 8.3 to 8.0 due to changes in the competitive marketplace, including the review of the Sony VPL-VW200.
LCD and LCoS projector manufacturers have had 1080p resolution projectors on the market for a couple of years now, including models such as the excellent Sony VPL-VW100 that we reviewed last year. Enter Marantz, who managed to beat all the front projection DLP makers to market with the VP11S1, the first available one-chip DLP projector with the highly coveted 1,920x1,080 (1080p) resolution chip set. Now the three display technologies--LCD, LCoS, and DLP--are on more of a level playing field in terms of performance, features, and specs. Sure we had a couple of complaints, but overall, the Marantz VP11S1 is a very formidable performer in the category. And it better be, because this projector lists for a penny under $20,000. For the few who can afford it, the VP11S1 comes close to the ultimate in home theater image quality. Marantz's DLP projectors have been among the most attractive and elegant to our eyes, and the VP11S1 is no exception. It's available in both white and black finishes, although the review sample we received was finished in black. The lens assembly is positioned just slightly off the center of the chassis, giving it a more symmetrical look than most projectors with lenses all the way to one side.
Completely redesigned, the remote control is now much larger than those of previous Marantz projectors, not to mention fully backlit, making use in a darkened theater environment much easier. Direct access keys are provided for all of the most important functionality, including input selection. This will definitely facilitate the custom installer's task of programming a Crestron or AMX touch-panel remote system--certainly a big consideration at this price point. The internal menu or GUI (Graphical User Interface) is identical to previous Marantz projector designs, and we found it easy and intuitive in its navigation. For a front projection system, which is normally pretty sparse in the features department, the Marantz VP11S1 excels, offering a range of extras that affect performance. First up, however, is the light engine, which uses a single 1080p-resolution DLP chip that, unlike even more expensive three-chip designs, still relies on a color wheel to produce color. Unlike the chip used in rear-projection DLP televisions, the one inside the Marantz--and all 1080p DLP front projectors, for that matter--has a full array of 1,920x1,080 discrete pixels, as opposed to using so-called wobulation to achieve the 1080p pixel count. We suspect that the discrete pixels have a lot to do with the sharpness we saw (see Performance, below).
The unit's extensive picture controls start with six selectable color temperature presets and eight gamma selections--a large number of choices that might be confusing for most folks. Normal and Economy modes for the lamp as well as 6.0 and 3.0 Iris choices collectively control the lamp's light output. We used normal mode and F6.0 in our system to drive a relatively small 72-inch-wide Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 screen, but your choices will vary according to screen size and type.
A blanking feature (we're giving it cool factor of 10) allows you to mask the picture perfectly to your screen edges, so even a slight overscan of the picture is not visible on the screen frame. This is a rare and welcome feature on a digital projector, and one that we have long wondered why manufacturers haven't incorporated more often. The VP11S1 also offers three memories per gamma setting, which is far more than most home theater applications will ever utilize.
The vertical lens shift is a great feature that will give you a lot of flexibility when installing the projector on the ceiling, although we'd love to see a horizontal lens shift too. While a keystone feature is included, it does adversely affect the performance of any digital projector, and should not be used. Instead, make sure you or your installer takes the time to position the VP11S1 correctly in relation to your screen so you won't have to use keystone correction.
Connectivity options are fairly generous. Two HDMI digital inputs are the most important connections. There are also two component-video inputs, one S-Video input, one composite-video input, and one 15-pin VGA input for a computer hookup. The VGA, component-video, and HDMI ports can all handle 1,920x1,080 (1080p) resolution at both 60Hz and 24Hz, among numerous other signals. Finally, two 12-volt triggers for electric drop-down screens and masking systems, as well as an RS-232 control port are included. Out-of-the-box performance at the factory presets was fairly accurate, with a couple of exceptions. The grayscale, although close in the kelvin numbers (see the Geek box), was distinctly greenish at the bottom end of the scale, which is an issue we notice with a lot of high-end digital projectors. Calibration was relatively simple, with all of the necessary controls in the projector's Fine menu, and fixed the problem completely. Overall color accuracy was decent with one exception. The primary colors of red and blue are relatively close to the HD or ATSC references, but green is off the mark and somewhat yellowish making it look a little neonlike. Overall, that was pretty much our only gripe with the VP11S1's otherwise spectacular picture.
Black-level performance was among the best we've seen in a digital projector. The depth of black produced by the Marantz is deep, rich, and ultimately satisfying. Even really dark material on discs such as Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back looked convincing, clean and artifact-free. Chapter 8 of the HD-DVD version of Seabisuit, where Jeff Bridges finds Chris Cooper sitting around a campfire in the dead of night, was rendered with lots of subtle shadow detail, deep rich blacks, and almost no artifacts.
The clarity of the Marantz's picture when fed a good source, such as HD-DVD or high-def from a cable TV or satellite provider, will floor most folks. Its resolution capability continually impressed us throughout the evaluation process. The excellent lens, which is custom made for Marantz by Konica/Minolta, is certainly partly responsible for its delivery of extremely sharp pictures. In fact, in the one-chip category, the VP11S1's lens exhibits fewer chromatic aberrations than anything we've seen. We were pleased to find that both the component and the HDMI inputs delivered all of the resolution from a 1080i test signal. Unfortunately, we didn't have any 1080p sources to test it with, such as a Blu-ray player, but we expect 1080p performance will be equally sharp.
Good transfers on HD-DVD, such as the aforementioned Seabiscuit, were just staggering. Conversely, poor transfers such as Backdraft reveal that the transfer process in HD-DVD is as important as it ever was with any prior video medium. HD channels such as Discovery on my cable system certainly looked solid, but not as crisp as the best HD-DVD transfers. Color saturation was also quite impressive for a one-chip design. Colors from the excellent transfer of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory appeared to be almost wet with saturation.
One area where the Marantz is relatively weak is light output. With a rated light output of only 600 to 700 ANSI lumens depending on the Iris setting, the VP11S1 delivers considerably lower light output than much of the competition in this area. Therefore, you need to be very careful what screen size and material you mate with the projector. We recommend screen sizes ranging from 72 to 84 inches wide (6 to 7 feet) for optimum results with plenty of light output.
There is no question that Marantz's VP11S1 is one of the best 1080p resolution digital projectors money can buy. Perhaps the best direct comparison would be with the aforementioned Sony VPL-VW100 "Ruby" SXRD three-panel LCoS projector. Image clarity and color accuracy are definitely better on the Marantz, and black-level performance on both is a toss-up. Price is where the Sony wins in the comparison, as the VP11S1 runs about twice the cost at $19,999. If budget is not an issue and you want the best in this rarified 1080p front projection category--and you're not looking for a really large screen--then the Marantz is the projector for you.
|Before color temp (20/80)||5,775/6,300||Good|
|After color temp||6,725/6,500||Average|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 244K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 58K||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.655/0.326||Average|
|Color of green||0.297/0.673||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.145/0.055||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|