LG CF181D Projector Review
Welcome to our in-depth projector review of the LG CF181D 1080p home theater projector.
February 2010 - Art Feierman
LG CF181D Projector Overview
Well, the LG CF181D finally arrived. Getting one for review wasn't easy. All considered, I think it was worth the wait.
The CF181D projector, which for most of this review, I'll probably mostly refer to it as the LG projector, is a 3 chip LCoS design. That puts its closest competition, the JVC DLA-RS15, the Sony VPL-HW15, and the Cinetron HD700, all LCoS projectors. Of course, there's plenty of other competition for the LG projector, including the less expensive Panasonic PT-AE4000, and, of course, the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, as well as an assortment of Mitsubishi's, Optoma's, BenQ's and others.
The CF181D is a medium-largeish 1080p projector. It sells in the mid-$2000 range in the US, and happens to be particularly bright.
And the picture is most impressive. Color is really rather excellent after calibration. Lot's of good things to talk about. The LG has CFI - creative frame interpolation, although we had some issues with that, discussed further down this page. There's the usual collection of intputs, and very good, though not exceptional, placement flexibility.
The CF181D has a number of dynamic features. There are three settings for the Dynamic iris, (more on that below), and creative frame interpolation.
Despite any issues about some of these features, the CF181D has a really good combination of strengths, and no major weaknesses.
Let's get started!
CF181D Projector Highlights
- Extremely bright "best" mode for movie watching - over 900 lumens
- Very bright "brightest" mode one of the very brightest
- Very good post calibration color accuracy
- Skin tones and overall color are exceptionally natural
- Sharp image
- Very good placement flexibility
- Dynamic or manual iris modes, provide good, not exceptional black level performance
- CFI and other dynamic features
- Very good price performance
Projector Specs for the LG CF181D
Technology: LCoS (3 chip)
Native Resolution: 1080p (1920x1080)
Brightness: 1800 lumens
Zoom Lens ratio: 1.8:1, manual
Lens shift: Vertical - manual
Lamp life: 2000 (est.) hours at full power, 3500 claimed in low power
Weight: 21.6 lbs. (9.6 Kg)
Warranty: 2 Years Parts and Labor
Click for more complete specs and brochure: LG CF181D
Above image from The Hunt For Red October (Blu-ray disc). The CF181D looked especially fine on scenes like this one.
CF181D Projector - Special Features
Creative Frame Interpolation: TruMotion
Sadly, the LG projector does not have one of the better CFI systems. There is a jerkiness that occurs, when watching movies, which is basically unacceptable. I'm not sure if the LG is a little better in this regard than the Epson Home Cinema 650UB's CFI issues when it came out a little over a year ago.
However, the problem with the Epson was severe enough that they managed to upgrade the performance significantly just weeks after first shipment, with an upgrade path for original owners.
The LG jerkiness is very reminiscent of that. I would not recommend using CFI with movies, even if you might like the effect with some other projectors. The LG's CFI is what I consider intrusive. You will notice it from time to time, and it's not the job of a projector to rudely intrude on your viewing pleasure.
For sports, I left it on. Again, not one of the better CFI's but I've watched dozens of hours of the Olympics, with it mostly on, and have generally been satisfied. The issues with HDTV signal are not as great as with 24 fps movies.
So, adequate for sports, probably skip for most other things.
I should note that the LG offers a menu option of TruMotion Demo, in addition to the various settings, under TruMotion. If you engage TruMotion Demo, the left side of the screen uses CFI while the right side does not, so you can compare the effect. This is a feature found on several other projectors including the Epson UB's. It's a nice touch for those who "like to play".
Color Management System (CMS)
The LG is fully equipped, with a CMS system to adjust the individual primary and secondary colors. It provides, however, only a single control for each of those colors. For grayscale balance, the LG has separate R, G, and B controls for brightness and contrast. We mostly worked with Cinema and the two programmable Expert 1 and 2 modes. Those three offer slightly different controls than all the other modes (operative word, is slightly) with more controls available, including CMS for Cinema and Expert modes. You won't find the same ability to adjust the colors if working with Vivid, Sports or other presets.
LG CF181D Projector: Dynamic and Manual Iris
The iris mechanism of the LG projector offers five choices: Off - which means wide open iris; On, which gives you 32 step control of how far the iris is open (32 is wide open, the same as off); and three different dynamic iris modes.
So, you can use the iris manually, or dynamically, but not both (no big deal, but some might say it would be a plus to do both, because the LG is so bright.)
The three dynamic iris settings are Auto 1, 2, and 3. For "best mode" viewing, I worked with Auto 1, which provides the least overall brightness (but still plenty) and the blackest blacks of the three settings. Auto 2 is in the middle in overall brightness, and Auto 3, is virtually identical as wide open (at maximum), but doesn't close down as far, so less black improvement than Auto 1 or 2.
I'm definitely recommending Auto 1, for the blackest blacks. There's plenty of lumens behind Auto 1, so no problem there. I don't watch with dynamic irises on, on things such as sports, and most general HDTV programming, but, if I did, I'd probably select Auto 3.
Overscan Feature, and Edge Masking Issues
The LG CF181D only offers overscan, and not edge masking. (That's very common.) Unfortunately Overscan does not work with 1080i or 1080p sources, so it isn't available when my favorite HDTV channels happen to be running something where there's noise along the images, as often seems to be the case when low def is displayed - an example might be ESPN running Sports Center HD, and showing standard definition footage of a game. Let's just say, noise around the edges isn't rare, though some projectors are better than others to begin with.
This is potentially an issue, since when you get that jittery noise, say, along the top, you may not be able to rid your screen of it with the LG.
As it turns out, the LG is expecially good at handling the type of noise that makes you reach for overscan controls. I rarely spotted image noise along the edges. When I did, it was almost always on standard def TV, which (as long as you don't have your cable box or satellite box doing the upscaling) allows you to use the overscan.
So, while I'd be happier if the LG CF181D supported overscan at 1080 resolutions, it doesn't seem to be any kind of deal breaker issue.
Even forgetting that overscan 1080 issue, I personally prefer projectors to offer Edge Masking, either instead of, or in addition to Overscan. The LG lacks edge masking as do probably a slight majority of home theater projectors. The advantage of edge masking is that the overall image gets a couple of rows of pixels smaller, but you maintain 1:1 pixel mapping for the sharpest image. With Overscan you again eliminate a couple of rows of pixels on the outside, but then stretch what's left to fill the whole screen. You get the screen filled, but a touch of softness from the expansion, very similar to the softness caused by using Keystone Correction.
Image above: Sports in particular, including lots of Olympics looked really great - lots of lumens, a sharp image and vivid colors. This shot above, was done in "best mode" our calibrated Cinema (placed in Expert 1). Nice to have the lumens (about 1000) to actually use a "best mode" for sports. That's something only a handful of projectors are bright enough to accomplish.