Projectors

Marantz VP-15S1 1080p Single-Chip DLP Projector

ARTICLE INDEX

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Introduction

The Marantz VP11S1 is one of the best projectors I’ve had the opportunity to review. It recently won our Secrets Best of 2007 award in the projector category, and in my opinion is still one of the best reference projectors on the market today. But the 11S1 does come with a steep price tag compared to a lot of the 1080p projectors on the market. Well, Marantz decided to trim the design down just a touch and bring most of what made the 11S1 such a great design into a more affordable package, the VP15S1.

I got the chance to see the VP15S1 at CEDIA when Dan Miller did a spectacular presentation of the model at the show. I don’t think anyone who went to the demo walked away unimpressed. Dan was showing the projector with the optional anamorphic lens kit and a wide variety of HD material. While demos are always fun, I was anxious to get a chance to tinker with the projector personally, and after reviewing the VP12S4 and later the VP11S1, I was excited to see what Marantz had in store next.

 

Specifications

  • Imaging Device: One Texas Instruments 0.95" DLP
  • Native Resolution: 1,920x1,080
  • Brightness: 1,000 ANSI Lumens
  • Contrast Ratio: 10,000:1
  • Lens: Made by Konica-Minolta; 1.45x Zoom
  • Lens Shift: Vertical
  • Inputs: (2) HDMI, (2) Component, (1) S-Video, (1) Composite
  • Accepts 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p60, 1080p24
  • Gennum VXP Video Processing
  • Dimensions: 5" H x 15.9" W x 18" D
  • Weight: 29 Pounds
  • MSRP: $10,000 USA
  • Marantz

The Design

The 15S1 shares a lot of its traits with the 11S1. In fact, unless you look closely, they are almost indistinguishable from each other. The biggest difference cosmetically is the orientation of the logos on the main chassis. Marantz changed the silk-screens on top of the projector, so you could read them regardless of the way the projector was used (table mounted or ceiling mounted). Beyond that, you have to look pretty close to spot any real differences.

Once again Marantz uses a custom Konika/Minolta lens and a rugged chassis that is both heavy and elegant. I didn’t notice any real differences in the performance of the lens. Marantz claims that the lens is identical to the one found on the 11S12 except that it is not hand picked. Chromatic aberration was pretty much a non-issue, and I only saw a tinge of it with red at the extreme ends of the image, similar to what I saw with the 11S1. Focus uniformity wasn’t quite as good as I saw with the 11S1 though. I had a hard time getting both sides of the image just as sharp, so there was a bit of a trade-off in full screen focus compared to the 11S1.With a close inspection of the screen I also thought per pixel focus wasn’t quite as tight as it was with the 11S1. The pixels didn’t look quite as sharp as they did at the screen. From a normal sitting difference, this wasn’t too much of an issue, but it’s that level of refinement that still has me looking back at the 11S1 in some categories.

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The back panel is nearly identical to the previous Marantz designs with the exception of lighting. I guess the small light was one of the options that had to go with this new lower cost design.  The back panel features two HDMI inputs (v1.3), two component inputs, an S-Video input, composite video input, and a D-Sub 15 pin input for RGB-HV. They also got rid of the RS-232 input on the back panel, so connecting this projector to a serial command system is not an option.Inside not a lot has changed.Marantz continues to use an 0.95” Texas Instruments’ 1920x1080 Dark Chip 3 DMD, just like they used in the 11S1 design. Like the lens situation, the 15S1 doesn’t have handpicked DMDs, but rather "standard" stock. I’ve actually heard from several other projector manufacturers that there are varying degrees of quality when it comes to DMDs. The color wheel is also a bit slower, with only a 5x speed, 6-segment color wheel. This cuts down on the noise of the color wheel a bit, but can also add to the “rainbow effect” for those sensitive to the artifact.

One of the biggest design changes is in the form of the irises. The 11S1 used a single iris combined with an ND filter built into the color wheel to act as a pseudo second iris. This new design uses two physical irises, one near the lamp and the other near the lens. When I wrote my review of the 11S1, I praised its contrast, but thought that the inclusion of a second iris might help things out a bit. We’ve reviewed quite a few projectors here at Secrets and a few have used a dual iris system with great results. The 15S1 uses a dual iris configuration with three fixed positions. There is a shut down position for the best contrast performance (which has a lower lumen output), a mid-point for a mix of good contrast (and higher light output), and an open position for maximizing light output. The 15S1 is a brighter projector than the 11S1, so even when I used the tightest iris setting; it still delivered enough light for my 120” Stewart Filmscreen Studiotek 130. My room is completely dark and has 100% light control and little if no reflective surfaces, so I was able to achieve light levels in line with what I had with the 11S1.

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In Use

I was hoping that the new irises would increase contrast ratio over the 11S1, but in this case we didn’t see it. With the 11S1 calibrated and contrast and brightness set correctly (head room preserved), we got a measurement of about 3300:1 On/Off CR. With the 15S1, we measured about 2500:1 On/Off CR in the same conditions. I guess the better DMDs and ND filter delivered a better native contrast ratio off the panel. It will be interesting to see how the 11S2 will fare as it incorporates TI’s new DarkChip 4 DMD and a dual iris configuration. My only guess as to why the dual iris configuration didn’t work as well as previous designs we’ve seen with this feature is the alignment of the irises in relation to each other. It is extremely important that the irises line up perfectly with each other to gain the most benefit from the design. Since this is the first time Marantz has used a configuration like this, I would expect later designs to improve on the design.

Despite the lower contrast level, I still thought the 15S1 delivered very solid blacks that were comparable to anything else I’ve seen out there in the DLP world. With the increase in brightness, perceived contrast actually went up. I watched a lot of material in iris position 2 (mid-point) and found it to be a nice mix. The high ANSI contrast afforded by the design made depth of image and intra scene contrast exceptional and more than made up for On/Off contrast limitations.  In fact, I had the chance to compare this projector to the new JVC HD-100, and while the HD-100 was a bit brighter, contrast levels didn’t make a huge difference despite the substantial measured difference. The JVC was a bit tighter in some really low level shots in the Blu-ray release of Underworld, but not enough to be a deal breaker. After awhile, I went back to the tightest iris position and ran the projector in high lamp mode and got the best of both worlds. The projector ran a bit louder, but contrast was exceptional and the image had more than enough punch with the increased brightness.

 


 

Setup

Installing the Marantz was quite easy. I used a Chief Universal Mount with horizontal sliders to center the image to my screen and dialed in the zoom and focus from there. The Marantz projectors always have a nice throw ratio, so getting the full image on my 120” diagonal screen wasn't an issue. Like the previous designs Marantz includes a nice cross hatch pattern that is perfect for zoom, focus, and leveling the image. Like the 11S1, the 15S1 includes a manual horizontal lens shift option and a manual focus lens. The lens shift worked nicely, and I didn't have any slip issues like I've seen on some other designs. I still prefer a powered focus option, as it allows you to focus the projector right at the screen, but I was still able to get a very crisp image from the 15S1 that was only a tad softer than the reference 11S1.

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The remote is one of the better projector remotes out there and includes quick keys for just about everything. Users can select the lamp mode, color temperature, iris position, input, and user picture modes all from a click of a button, bypassing the need to enter the menus. The remote is backlit, with a small slider on the side providing lighting to all buttons anytime. You can also access the convenient cross hatch pattern and aspect ratio control. The menus are pretty much identical to the 11S1. Marantz includes the standard options such as brightness, contrast, color, and tint, as well as lamp mode, iris setting, and gamma. End users can set up multiple memories, allowing for separate calibrations for each source. Further along in the menus you'll find adjustments for grayscale, video processing, image cropping, chroma error processing, and the standard installation options like projector position.Like the 11S1 before it, the 15S1 needs little in the way of calibration. Marantz has not included a color management system on this design, but primaries were a bit more in line than we saw with the 11S1. Grayscale out of the box was nearly perfect but could be dialed in slightly, especially in the lower IREs. Marantz has included several gamma options in the main menu, and I was glad to see they've included some higher gamma settings. I still found the standard setting (about 2.2) gave the best tradeoff of shadow detail and blacks, but there are some interesting options for getting more of a CRT look with some tradeoff of shadow detail.

One thing I did notice is that setting the brightness changes dramatically depending on the color space that is input to the projector. If you send an YCbCr signal, the level of black is completely different than an RGB signal. Anyone having multiple devices that use both may want to adjust them individually and save their settings in the user memories. I also found that you need to set black level to Expand, to show below black information in a pluge pattern. Thankfully, I was able to get a below black pluge regardless of what colorspace I fed the projector, unlike the last two Marantz projectors I've used.

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Marantz continues to favor the Gennum VXP video processing chip. The 15S1 includes the same chip as the 11S1, so there is no drop in quality in video processing. I've become a big fan of the Gennum chip over the last few years. I've been impressed with its performance in several projector designs and its incorporation in our reference Anthem Statement SSP.  The Gennum VXP chip is a fully capable standard definition and high definition video processing solution. It does full interlace/progressive (I/P) conversion and scaling of both SD and HD sources. The chip is one of only a few that does true inverse telecine 2:3 and 2:2 pulldown with 1080i sources for film material and motion adaptive processing for video based sources. It also offers diagonal line processing for video based material, frame rate conversion, and chroma processing for sources that exhibit the famed “chroma bug” (CUE).I put the 15S1 through the paces with both our SD and HD video test suite, and it did a superb job in both. The 15S1 truly eliminates the need for an outboard video processing solution. This adds a lot of flexibility with outboard sources such as DVD players and HD players since you can rely on the projector for most of the processing duties and treat the sources more as transports. The 15S1 accepts all NTSC and ATSC video signals including 1080p24 with no issues at all. With a 24p signal, the unit displays the signal at 48 Hz, eliminating the judder commonly associated with the 2-3 pulldown process used for 60p. While you will still see some minor stuttering from the inherent 24fps film process, panning is quite a bit smoother than what we typically see from displays that do not support 24p playback in the correct multiple of 24 Hz.

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When the 15S1 was initially announced, I was bombarded with speculation questions about it. When you compare the specs of the 11S1 and the 15S1, it would be easy to say that this projector is nearly the same and Marantz is just trying to gain more market share. Even I was a bit skeptical, but I've learned over the last few years that refinement can go a long way, and performance on paper rarely translates to real world use. The 15S1 does come a lot closer to the performance of the 11S1 than its price dictates though. In fact, I found the 15S1 a bit better in some areas. For one it is a quieter unit. One of the biggest annoyances I had with the 11S1 was the audible whine from the color wheel that was a bit too distracting during quieter passages of movies. The 15S1's fan makes it a bit louder than some of the quieter SXRD and LCoS projectors I've used, but it's considerably quieter than the 11S1 was, even in high lamp mode.

The 15S1 also handles 24p material better than the 11S1 I had. The Gennum video processing chip is shipped to customers with 24p set literally at 24 instead of 23.96. The 11S1 (and several other implementations I've seen) didn't fix the timing during its initial run (this was fixed later with firmware after our review), and we would see a frame drop on occasion. Not the case here as 24p playback is liquid smooth. You gain some more light output with the 15S1, but that has its tradeoffs as well. Obviously, contrast isn't quite as high as the 11S1, plus I saw more of the rainbow effect (RBE) with the 15S1 compared to my time with the 11S1. It is hard to say if this is from the lower speed of the color wheel or the higher brightness. It was still far lower than the 720p DLP projectors I've used, but enough that I noticed it in high contrast sequences on occasion. RBE has been a constant issue for me with 720p designs, and I will say I was pretty anti-DLP during those days due to this issue and the headaches it induced. These new 1080p projectors pretty much eliminate RBE, and I haven't had any headaches or distraction in use. Moving away from test patterns and measurements, the 15S1 delivered exceptional images with day to day use. I loved the inclusion of multiple iris positions. I would use the tight iris setting for movie playback, allowing for deep blacks and exceptional shadow detail, and the mid-iris position for playing games allowing for a punchier image with brighter sources.

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I recently had the chance to review the new final cut of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner on Blu-ray. Just before this review, I was lucky enough to attend a screening in Seattle at the famed “Cinerama” downtown. I thought the new cut looked quite good there in 35mm, but watching it in HD on the 15S1 completely trumped it. Contrast levels of the 15S1 were far better than what the cinema experience offered, and the amount of depth and detail delivered by the digital projector was night and day. The film became far more involving for me this time around.  Another favorite was the Blu-ray release of Pixar's gem Ratatouille. To date I don't think I've seen any animation on par with what Pixar has done here. The use of high dynamic lighting effects, detail, and dimension is second to none, and the 15S1 delivered it all in spades. You literally get that “window” effect watching video this good ,and you could swear that you could walk up to the screen and literally touch the objects.

I also had the chance to compare the 15S1 to one of the newer LCoS projectors available, the JVC HD-100. This new projector is a bit more refined then the first model in the line and is closer in performance to the better 1080p DLPs than what I saw with the HD-1. The Marantz trumped it in terms of detail and color accuracy though. Single chip DLP projectors are just unmatched in terms of sharpness and fine detail. Mixed contrast scenes also looked a bit more dimensional with the 15S1. The HD-100 did give it a run for its money in terms of light output, providing a more punchy image, and its native contrast lent to a more dimensional image with really low light images. Colors were a bit overblown with the JVC though. The question is whether the end user would like the results of the wider color gamut or not.

Conclusions

At half the price of the reference VP11S1, the Marantz 15S1 brings almost all of the performance at a far more reasonable price. You lose a bit of performance, but not nearly as much as the price would dictate. The 15S1 throws an exceptional image and could easily fit the needs of anyone looking for a reference grade 1080p projector. At a price point that is far more attractive to the average consumer, the VP15S1 represents a solid value and is highly recommended