LG CF181D - Competitors
How does the LG CF181D compare to other 1080p home theater projectors on the market? In this section we consider the practical and performance differences, between the LG CF181D projector and some of the toughest competition.
2/20/2010 - Art Feierman
Well, as many readers know this Competitors section is often the last section completed, for any number of reasons. With the 1080p report only about 5 weeks off, now I decided to get this page up with the first posting. Since there will be tons of competitive discussion in the Report, I've cut this page, to comparing the LG to only five key competitors: The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, the BenQ W6000, the Panasonic PT-AE4000, the Sony VPL-HW15, and the JVC DLA-RS15. I would have also considered the InFocus X10, but my understanding is they are no longer available, so, it's a moot point. Meantime, if you want to figure out how the LG compares to projectors not mentioned here, read in between the lines. After all, there's likely to be a comparison between one or two of these other five projectors and the one you are considering. Let's have some fun:
CF181D vs. Epson Home Cinema 8500UB
Ok, let's start with the 8500UB. It replaces last year's Best In Class award winner in the mid-price range, the 6500UB. The 8500UB offers the best black level performance of any under $3500 projector (street price) that we've reviewed. No contest in this regard. While the LG CF181D also relies on a dynamic iris for best black level performance, it's not quite in the same class. There's a very visible difference between the two. The Epson, in this regard, is outstanding, the LG, "respectable".
But, black level performance isn't the whole ballgame. When it comes to general color, both do a really good job, but, With two tries of calibrating the 8500UB, and despite that on paper, it's color is slightly better than the LG, I give the LG a real, though slight, advantage in terms of skin tones and overall color. Mind you, the difference between the two, both right after calibration, is likely less than the amount of color shift that occurs as you put your first 1000 hours on either projector's lamp. In other words, score a point for the LG, in terms of color handling, but, it's small.
Next comes brightness. In "brightest" modes, the two projectors are effectively identical in terms of brightness.
There's a huge difference though, when comparing "best" modes with the LG being almost twice as bright. That's a huge advantage for the CF181D, for folks with larger screens. Case in point. Despite the fact that I haul the Epson in to my main theater for my annual Superbowl party (or other sports viewing), and use its brighter modes, with my 128" Firehawk there's no way the Epson's 500 lumens in "best" mode produces enough brightness to fill my screen.
Or, to put it another way: If I had to lose my JVC, and replace it with an under $3500 projector, because of my room and screen size, I could not choose the Epson. On the other hand, the LG would likely be at the top of my short list, easily handling my room and screen.
For those with smaller screens (say 110" diagonal or less), the Epson does have enough lumens (though it still can't match the brightness of the LG). In that case, the battle becomes very interesting. Epson for blacks, and more features, the LG with weaker blacks, a touch better color, and more lumens... Very interesting trade-off.
The LG is pretty flexible, but the Epson wins, easily. With a 100" screen, the LG can only be placed as far back as 17 feet 10 inches, compared to the Epson's 21 feet. For those wanting to rear shelf mount, just about everyone should be able to do that with the Epson, and probably one third of those that can use the Epson will find their rooms are too deep to rear shelf mount the LG. (Of course, if you want to rear shelf mount, and both work, then its not an issue.)
Sharpness between the two - essentially the same. Which one is the slightest sharper, will likely be determined by how precise the pixel alignment is on each particular projector. Call it a tie.
Warranty - Epson tops the LG. Both have 2 years, but Epson has two years of overnight replacement program as well.
Bottom line: If I were buying a projector for my main theater, in this price range, I'd have to pick the LG for the brighter "best" mode. While the Epson can have very good color in a calibrated, bright, LivingRoom mode, in that mode, the color is not a match for the LG.
If I was buying a projector - same price range, for my testing room "theater 2", with its 106" diagonal Carada Brilliant White screen, then for me, a no brainer. I go with the Epson, for the blacks, features, warranty, etc.
I am impressed with the LG. It's been a couple/three years, since there was a projector in this class/price range that I would choose for either of my rooms, that isn't an Epson UB. So, I guess the LG being the selection for my main theater, definitely indicates there's a new major projector (the LG) worth considering!
LG CF181D vs. BenQ W6000
In this comparison, the issues are different from the comparison with the Epson above.
First of all, the BenQ is even brighter than the LG CF181D. It's brighter in "best" mode, and in "brightest", although the W6000's "brightest" mode isn't very pretty (way strong on greens). That said, the W6000 offers up another "bright" mode, with similar brightness to the LG's brightest mode, but, like the LG, having much better color than the W6000s brightest (which is over 300 lumens brighter than the LG).
I'll give the LG the slight advantage in color accuracy, while I'll give the W6000 the advantage in terms of "pop and wow" - that is the BenQ has a more dynamic look.
Still I'd say the LG offers the more refined image. For those that like that classic "look and feel" of DLP, they will tend to favor the W6000 over the LG, but, I suspect that more people will favor the LG, for its slighty more accurate color.
When it comes to the "holy grail" of home theater - black level performance, neither projector is exceptional. Yet both are pretty good!
I truly wish I still had a W6000 for a side by side, but, after going through notes, and mostly looking at some of my side by side images for black levels, between the Epson and LG, and then comparing the same images between the Epson and the W6000, it would seem that the W6000 has a slight advantage, but the operative term is "slight" LG and BenQ are much closer to each other, in tems of black level performance, than either is, to the Home Cinema Epson 8500UB.
My best interpretation would be that the W6000's dynamic iris has more range, so, on the right, very dark scenes, will best the LG. On the average darker scene, though, with some bright areas, the two are probably about as close to being the same as any two projectors with dynamic irises that have different behavior. In terms of black levels, close to a tie, but I give the advantage to the BenQ.
When it comes to sharpness, a clear win for the BenQ W6000. Because of the lack of convergence issues with a single chip DLP, it's a rare DLP projector that isn't visibly (though not greatly) sharper than the usual LCD and LCoS projectors.
Warranty wise, the LG wins. their standard 2 year parts and labor warranty is exactly twice as long as the BenQ's single year.
Placement flexibility: While technically, the LG has the advantage, I have to score these two as a virtual tie. Consider:
The LG has a 1.8:1 zoom compared to 1.5:1 for the W6000, so more distance flexibility. But, people who ceiling mount usually have a lot of options. The BenQ won't let you mount closer than just under 12 feet, compared to the LG's just under 10 feet, but, does anyone care? (maybe!). More importantly, is considering flexibility for those who want to shelf mount. Definitely a tie, as the BenQ can be placed 17 feet 8 inches back at maximum (100" diagonal screen), and the LG, can only best that by 2 inches 17 feet 10 inches.
The BenQ has the advantage of also having horizontal lens shift, which might be of benefit to some. On the other hand, the LG CF181D has more vertical lens shift. For that same 100 inch screen the LG could be as high as 10 inches above the screen, whereas the BenQ goes no higher than even with the top of the screen (surface).
For those ceiling mounting with a tall ceiling, the BenQ has to stick down lower by about that extra foot, which I assume is a little less attractive to some. On the other hand, the LG is the bigger, more noticeable projector.
When it comes to frame interpolation both up the 24fps rate of movies, but only the LG offers creative frame interpolation (CFI).
Those enamored with the look and feel of DLP will almost certainly favor the W6000. For the rest of us, it's a lot of trade-offs. As of right now, I'm leaning toward the LG projector as the slightly preferred of the two, but I may yet, change my mind. In fact, I'm probably favoring the LG right now, because I've just spent 70 hours watching it. Normally you would expect me to favor the BenQ for the slight black advantage, and for the sharper image. I suspect that in the upcoming 1080p Report, the LG and W6000 are going to be slugging it out for the same award. We shall see who wins.
LG CF181D vs. Panasonic PT-AE4000
The PT-AE4000 from Panasonic has a MAP price of $1999 which is $500 less than the LG. No question it is less expensive. There's also no question that the PT-AE4000 is loaded with features, compared to the LG (and most other projectors). The Panasonic has an especially good CFI (creative frame interpolation) whereas the LG's really could stand improvement, and really isn't viable for most movie watching, even if you don't buy into the whole idea of "preserving the director's intent".
The Panasonic also has Lens Memory, so it can work well with either a 2.35:1 (cinemascope) aspect ratio screen as well as the usual 16:9 screens. Basically it emulates having an anamorphic lens. The LG has nothing like it, nor does it support an anamorphic lens. And the Panny has a number of other various dynamic features, as well, so when it comes to different abilities, and special features, the Panny gets the advantage.
The Panasonic also has the edge in terms of placement flexibility with the ability to be placed further from the screen, like the Epson, and it also has more lens shift than the Epson or the LG.
When it comes to picture, both are really good on color. Overall, I give the slight edge to the LG, but it's close enough... It's not so much that the colors and skin tones are more accurate on the LG CF181D projector, and more that the image also has more "pop", whether naturally, or due to lots more lumens.
And, when it comes to brightness, there's no contest at all. The 900 lumens in "best" mode, of the CF181D projector, is almost as bright as the Panasonic PT-AE4000's 1071 lumens in Dynamic, but there's no comparison in terms of color or skin tones, the LG's "best" mode is dramatically better than the Panasonic's "brightest" mode (as we would expect). If you want to push the Panasonic even further, crushing a lot of near whites, you can get up to 1160 lumens, not only short of the LG's best 1380, but the LG at 1380 produces a better picture than the Panny at 1160 or at 1071!
Ahh, and that brings us to black level performance. While the Panasonic as an ultra-high contrast projector, is very capable in this regard, while its not as good as the Epson, it's at least as good as the LG. I'll give the Panny the black level performance advantage, but it's slight. While the difference between the two in this regard is worth considering, the other differences are sufficiently great that other factors will determine your choice.
Panasonic has a limited warranty for up to two years (you have to fill out the paperwork for the 2nd year). But, if you are a heavy user, that extra year may not come into play, as the Panasonic's warranty is also limited by a 2000 hour maximum, which many people who watch TV as well as movies, manage to hit, in a single year. It's like those 50,000 mile 10 year drivetrain warranties on GM vehicles. If you are driving 15,000 a year, it's a 3 year, 3 month warranty, not 10 years.
Much as I love rich dark blacks, the Panasonic never really dazzled me like the Epson. From a personal take, unless the $500 difference is critical to you, or one of the Panasonic's many features is something you can't live without, then my pick is the LG.
All those wonderful LG lumens, in exchange mostly for a few special features, and a very slight black level advantage.
LG CF181D vs. Sony VPL-HW15
Also poor Sony. Sony it seems (due to no personal bias I am consciously aware of) has not done well in our annual 1080p reports. Seems whenever I'm considering awards, there's always one or two projectors that seem to come out ahead.
This year Sony offers up the VPL-HW15, their latest, and least expensive 1080p LCoS projector, with a MAP price of $2799. Basically that puts it $200 more than the LG, close enough that price is not likely to be a deciding factor.
Both are LCoS, in fact, it's quite possible that the LG is using the same Sony LCoS panels as the Sony. I have no reason to believe that, but, there aren't a lot of choices (JVC, Canon, and Sony) if you need to OEM an LCoS engine. Since the LG can't match the blacks of the JVC's they can't be JVC LCoS panels. Canon focuses on biz and scientific and doesn't design them for HT. Not that it matters.
Both LCoS both have similar enough placement flexibility. (Though the LG can be placed further back so that again, may help make a rear shelf setup viable for more people's room.)
Black levels should be roughly comparable. Again, the iris action will be different. One projector might do better on some dark scenes than the other, but, one more time: Both have pretty good blacks, but definitely not up to what, say Epson offers. Again, the difference in black levels between these two, are minor.
LUMENS! Here we go, again, a huge difference in brightness. The LG walks all over the Sony, so if you want a larger screen, or if you have a typical screen size, but deal with sufficient ambient light, or want lights on, for sports viewing, then it's no contest - all LG.
"Best" mode: LG 898 lumens, Sony 540 lumens.
"Brightest" mode: Even throwing every trick in the book at the Sony (such as boosting Contrast at the expense of crushing near whites), we couldn't get more than 837 lumens out of the Sony, and the LG definitely has far better picture quality in its "best" mode at 898, than the Sony, has in its Dynamic mode, as we would expect. Think of the Sony as generally being a similar projector, but one that's barely 60% the brightness.
The Sony has a much better implementation of CFI, and has some pretty well thought out dynamic features to be used in moderation. Still, even considering all of that, unless you are a CFI fanatic, etc., I figure most will give the LG the advantage. I do.
CF181D vs. JVC DLA-RS15
Well, up until this comparison, the LG has been holding its own. So far, of the previous 4, it's done very well, with me favoring it slightly against all but the Epson, and in the case of the Epson, your specific room requirements, screen size, and tastes will come into play.
But, JVC has several LCoS projectors, and the DLA-RS15, which just arrived the other day, is serious competition. Understand, they aren't in the same price range. The JVC is a $4000 street price projector - $1500 more than the LG, so that will weigh on everyone's decision.
But, the RS15, does great blacks - only beat by two or three - all more expensive projectors. The LG isn't bad, but it really is no match. The JVC has about as much advantage over the Epson as the Epson over the LG, and one of those steps, is significant. Two real improvements - well, "night and day" doesn't apply, but yes, black level performance is the game changer. Big win for the JVC RS15.
The LG CF181D, though has a brightness advantage, just not a huge one. I haven't gotten the measurments back from Mike yet, but the JVC should clock in around 750 to 800 lumens in "best" mode, and probably high 900's or even slightly over 1000 in "brightest" mode.
The LG, though, clearly has the advantage, but it's a small one, in comparing "best" modes, and shouldn't be an issue unless you are pumping lumens on to a screen larger than my 128" since either can handle my high contrast gray screen without difficulty for movie watching.
I would however gladly have the extra few hundred lumens of the LG's "brightest" mode, when viewng sports. On a screen like mine, the JVC has just enough to handle modest ambient light, the LG would seem brighter, or handle a bit more light. A win for the LG.
CFI. Haven't started with the JVC yet, but I assume its the same as the RS25 I recently reviewed. If that's the case, the LG CFI has some visible annoying artifacts with 24fps content, sufficient that I say - don't use it. The JVC CFI is smoother, but, like all CFI's, it tends to make movies look like "live digital video" or "soap opera" type content. The JVC's CFI has a bit more of that look than the Panasonic or Epson, so most won't use CFI for movies, but, for those who like the effect, the JVC is defiitely better than the LG CFI. For sports both CFI's are usable, but, again, more likely to spot an artifact on the LG.
Color and Skin tones: As much as I like the LG, when I swtich between the LG and my own JVC RS20 (and thanks to an improved color management system the RS25 can calibrate slightly better), the JVC still has the more natual image. But, it's very close! I can definitely live with the LG's color, which as mentioned above, I consider a touch better than the Epson. When you switch to "brightest" modes, both projectors offer "brightest" modes whose overall color and picture quality isn't far down from "best" mode. That said, I consider the JVC's "brightest" mode to definitely beat a still good, LG. That probably isn't surprising. As LG squeezes out those extra 400 lumens at "best". But, even our next "brightest" mode for the LG - around 1100 lumens, still isn't a match for the JVC. You've got more lumens when you need them, but the LG can't maintain the especially good color of its "best" mode. Me, I wish my JVC had a 1300 or so lumen range, even if the color drops off a bit. But, I get by.
Placement flexibility - JVC wins - a full 2:1 zoom it can place as close as, but can be 28 inches further back from a 100 inch screen, a real plus for rear shelf folks. The JVC has both vertical and horizontal lens shift. The LG only vertical. The JVC even has a slight advantage in vertical lens shift (up to 15 inches above a 100 inch screen instead of 10 inches). While JVC wins, it's not much of an advantage unless your room setup needs the additional lens shift, or that extra distance for shelf mounting.
Warranty - both have two years parts and labor, neither has a replacement or loaner program. A tie!
Bottom line: Other than the lumen differences discussed in length, it's hands down the JVC. The JVC just bests it at color and skintones, and placement flexibiity (but only slightly). The big black level difference though, to me, puts the RS15 in a different class. Funny, as a $4K projector it is in a different class. In our upcoming report the poor RS15 will be one of the least expensive projectors in our $3500 - $10,000 premium class. That said, for someone dying for the black level performance of the JVC RS25, but with barely the budget for the RS15, might well decide on an LG as an interim projector, and wait a couple few years, when all projector classes will be better still.
NEXT: LG CF181D warranty