I have reviewed quite a number of plasmas since the last time I had a Marantz unit in my system. Plasmas have become much more common since then and, of course, prices have dropped considerably
Marantz has gone through two more generations of plasmas since my last one, so I took the opportunity to review their latest 50-inch product.
The setup menus are easy to use with one flaw that still exists in this version -- the picture control scales are not numbered. When adjusting picture, there is only a pictographic bar. If calibrations are lost or changed, there is no way to put them back in exactly, other than re-calibrating all over again. Otherwise, this is one of the most complete setup menus that I have seen, and the advanced menus offer such necessary features as a screen wiper and a white screen in case of the dreaded burn-in. I can attest to the fact that this latter feature works as intended, as one of my staff left the plasma on with a static screen, and I came in four hours later to find a very nice Alpha Laser Center logo burned in on the screen. After panicking, cursing and screaming for a few minutes, I found the controls for the white screen, turned it on overnight, and the burn-in was completely removed. There is also a grey level adjustment, which I increased to the maximum, and the noise reduction adjustment, which I turned off for the review, but left on at the second of three levels for casual viewing.Video Essentials was used to calibrate the picture.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
The D1 was tested with a HALO A51 amp and with the $4999 Anthem P5 amp, a hulking brute of a piece of equipment. The P5 is a true monster, one that would not fit in my Salamander audio rack and requires two 20 amp circuits to fully feed it. It is engineered like a monoblock amp, with each channel independently mounted on the chassis. Each channel has its own transformer winding and fourteen bipolar output devices. It has balanced inputs and single ended inputs, and is rated at a powerful 325 watts/channel. Bottom line, this thing is powerful enough to light small cities.
Other equipment used was the Krell DVD Standard, Marantz DV-8400 universal player, Krell Resolution speakers, and my KEF Reference speaker system. Interconnects used were the Wireworld Silver Eclipses and the AudioQuest Pythons. Speaker cables were also the Silver Eclipses for the front three speakers.
Setting up the Statement D1 is very straightforward and also gives the user a lot of control over the many features of the processor. This is one of the processors that can convert the information from the 7.1 inputs to digital to provide bass management as necessary, and then back to analog again. Although this does theoretically result in some loss of resolution, it is well worth the option to get proper time delay and speaker management for DVD-Audio and SACD. Another feature that I found truly useful is the ability to set a particular crossover point for each speaker as well as the subwoofer, something that really allows you to fully tune your system.
When I first hooked up the Statement D1, I went right to two-channel performance with the Krell DVD Standard hooked up via the balanced inputs. This immediately challenges the analog section of the processor, the section that I believe is not only the toughest to get right, but also the section that really makes or breaks a processor. Right out of the box, the Statement D1 was impressive, and a different animal than the AVM20. This processor has an excellent analog section, one that actually compares very well with my much more expensive Krell HTS 7.1. The sound is neutral, slightly laid back in its presence, and very full. The top end is well defined, and unlike the AVM20, which has a laid back and slightly dark top end, the Statement D1 is full, clear and revealing. The mid range is also well detailed and neutral to slightly laid back in presence. Bass is full and defined. In comparison to the Krell, the D1 has slightly less top end clarity and detail, but it comes very close to the $8000 unit. Over the past couple of years, I have been fortunate enough to have many of the major processors on the market in my system, and my personal search for a processor ended with the Krell, as it had the best analog section. The Statement comes very close, and this is a very, very impressive performance for a processor.
Surround processing such as Dolby Digital, DTS, PL II, etc. was performed in an exemplary manner, marred only by the occasional mild pop in picking up or cutting off a digital signal. It is hard to find a major processor that doesn't do a good job of surround processing, and with the excellent analog section, the D1 ends up right on top of the heap.
The 7.1 analog input can be converted back to digital for bass management with little loss of resolution, but my stand has always been to spend your money on full resolution rear speakers if possible, and I continue to wonder why we just can't get a digital standard for high resolution audio.
Adding the P5 to the mix increased the impact of this pair. The HALO A51 is probably one of the best amps for $4000 available, and although the P5 can't quite match the smooth microdynamics of the Parasound, it comes close and it makes a case for itself via massive amounts of power and huge reserves. I was not in a position to hook up two 20 amp circuits to this beast, so my review is based on just one circuit, and I am not sure exactly what impact it had on the performance. Still, it was hard to deny the power this amp brings to the table even using only one circuit.
One thing was evident very quickly upon critically watching this plasma -- this panel has a great picture. The contrast ratio seems to have been improved from past generations, and this panel is so bright that it almost glows supernaturally. This is a very good thing, as it makes achieving a good black level much easier. The great bugaboo of any fixed pixel display is black level and black level detail. The problem of achieving black seems to have two different approaches in plasmas. One is to completely turn off the pixel, which the Panasonic panels do. This achieves a very deep black, but gives up something in black level detail. Plasma panels are all fairly poor at black level detail, but when you turn the pixel completely off, black level detail is virtually non-existent. The second, which is the approach the Marantz panel uses, is to lower the light output of a pixel as far as it can go, which achieves an almost black color, but increases the contrast ratio so much that at normal viewing levels the almost black color becomes even more black. This particular panel is able to get a deeper black than the 5020 due to the increased contrast ratio (not as deep as a Panasonic based panel) and, because the pixel is not completely turned off, there is better black level detail. This is important, because the end result is a more detailed overall picture, but blacks are at times still slightly grey. This plasma manages to get about as dark as I have seen black on a panel that leaves the pixel on, so it is an excellent compromise.
When watching analog 480i signals, the Marantz really shines. The onboard electronics and scaler do as good a job as I have seen at making a lousy cable feed look watchable. It is probably as good at this as any plasma that I have experienced. Noise reduction was actually a bit handy with some of the highly compressed cable channels. In all cases, colors were bright, bold and accurate. This panel required minimal tweaking out of the box to calibrate, and I found the increase in contrast ratio to be noticeable.
Artifacts were minimized (as much as they can be with 480i), and the Stadium stretch mode works fairly well. It leaves the center two thirds of the picture pretty much alone, and does a fairly sharp stretch on the extreme sides. Because so much of the center is minimally stretched, watching the Marantz is a pretty natural experience.
Many of the plasma bugaboos are not present in any significant manner on the Marantz. There was little evidence of false contouring, which consists of contours around bright objects in dark scenes (for example, the burning flame of a candle). There was little to no mottling in dark areas, and little "green moss" effect.
Moving on to DVDs revealed a very crisp and detailed picture. The D2 was hooked up via DVI cable, and the Krell DVD Standard hooked up as a progressive scan unit via component inputs. Here, the contrast ratio increase was even more appreciated, as it is in movies that I am most disturbed by grey blacks. This is where I cranked up the grey level, and noticed that the overall black level after calibration was definitely better. To me this is extremely important, as I am very sensitive to black level.
High def programming really allows the Marantz to strut its stuff. The detail and clarity of this panel is simply excellent. It creates that "window on the world" that HD is supposed to achieve, and the picture is a feast for the eyes. The Pioneer cable box actually outputs at 720p, and Time Warner deserves some kudos for not over-compressing all of their HD feeds.
The final improvement to the Marantz is the price, which has dropped to a MSRP of $9999, which is very much in line with other good 50-inch plasmas. With its rich feature level and its good processing decreasing the need for video connoisseurs to run out and buy an outboard scaler, this is an overall good value. If I could have anything else, I would wish for an outboard box for connections which would allow for more inputs. The lack of flashy trim and speakers makes for a clean look which allows the plasma to blend into its surroundings, which was one of the major reasons consumers have lusted after such displays in the first place. Highly recommended.
Marantz P5040D Plasma Monitor
Resolution: 1365 x 768
Viewing Angle: 160 degrees
Video Inputs: composite RCA, composite BNC,
S-Video, RCA component, BNC component RGBHV, 15 Pin, DVI-D with HDCP
Audio Inputs: 3 pairs of RCA inputs
Onboard 9 watts x 2 amplifier
Audio Inputs: 3 inputs left and right,
Internal audio amp.
Dimensions: 48 1/8 " x 29" x 3 3/4 "
Weight: 98 lbs.