LG CF181D - Review Summary
A summary of the LG CF181D projector's pros and cons and capabilities.
2/20/2010 - Art Feierman
LG CF181D Projector - The Bottom Line
I am impressed. And pleased to grant LG's new CF181D home theater projector our hot product award. There are a number of contributing factors, but, what it really comes down to is this: The LG CF181D is one of the brightest 1080p home theater projectors, and it combines all those lumens with some rather great looking color. Add to that, some pretty good placement flexibility, and, it starts looking like the decision was a slam dunk. Truth is, not quite. The LG projector would have been even more impressive with better blacks, but, the LG's blacks are borderline, but not quite, ultra-high contrast level performance.
There are 3 or 4 other projectors in the general price class that can beat the LG in terms of black level performance, but, I've deemed the black levels to be good enough. While folks really into performance will always prefer better blacks still, I found the LG to do a sufficient job that "I could get by with these blacks." I'm not that easy to please. Nonetheless, when I kicked back and said "Art - what projector would I put in my main theater, with its 128" Firehawk screen, if I was limited to under $3500, and had to surrender my JVC?" It all became rather clear:
The LG, for my room, would be the best compromise projector. The Epson, Panasonic and other LCD projectors are all too thin in "best mode" lumens to survive my room for movie watching (without switching to a brighter, inferior mode).
Then I looked over to DLP - With InFocus out of the picture in this price range, that primarily leaves BenQ and Optoma, and of course the much less expensive entry level Mitsubishi HC3800. The DLP's might all be a touch brighter, but only the BenQ is brighter, with only the BenQ having comparable black performance, and having more lumens. (The BenQ, would not work in my particular room, unless I went back to ceiling mount,which means the projector would hang down on an 8 foot pole, instead of a nice, neat shelf mount).
Above, from the new Star Trek movie - Blu-ray disc
Finally, there's not much "low cost" LCoS competition, basically just the Sony VPL-HW15, and the Cinetron HD700, the rest of the LCoS projectors are over $4000. When, the Cinetron was an OK projector, nothing to write home about except lots of lumens, and the LG is brighter still. The Sony, well, it's got some really nice things going for it, but, like the Epson, has no chance of filling my large screen for best movie watching.
And there you have it. I'd probably have to take a close look between the LG and the BenQ, but, it really has to come down to one of those two, in the lower price ranges.
I define a Hot Product Award winner as basically being a projector with overall very good performance, but also one that is likely the best choice for at least one significant segment of the buying public. Well, large screen folks are definitely a very significant segment! As I said, wasn't hard to decide.
Above, from The Dark Knight, Blu-ray. This CF181D image is a good example of a night time image with enough bright lights that the difference in black levels between the LG, and some projectors with better blacks, isn't going to be very noticeable, if at all.
Of course the LG has more going for it than 900 "best mode" lumens. It also is one of the brightest in "brightest mode". In fact it is about the same brightness as the Epson UB, and really only comes up short when compared to the BenQ, but, the BenQ when it's at its brightest - around 1700 lumens, has fairly weak color - way too green. The LG though, just short of 1400 lumens, has color far better. Drop the BenQ down to its next best mode, and the LG is brighter, and has color at least as good!
Bottom line brightness, the LG is the second brightest "best mode" projector we've tested in the price range, and also the 2nd brightest in "brightest mode", with only the BenQ beating it at all. The LG, like the BenQ is perfectly at home with larger screens or situations with too much ambient light for almost all other competition.
LG CF181D Color Performance:
On paper, post calibration, the LG looks very good. That is to say, it calibrates nicely, but there are a number of other projectors that calibrate over the range, closer to the ideal 6500K.
No matter, the overall picture of the LG - in terms of general color, and especially skin tones, creates an image that is very pleasing to watch. It's one of those, at least as far as this one is set up, that generally looks very right. Not as "right" as my all time favorite reviewed projector (for color accuracy), the InFocus IN83. That said, score the LG CF181D as offering superior skin tones, and overall better than average color. And, I might note, if you don't need lots of lumens, and are comparing the LG to the Epson 8500UB, I'd have to give the LG the edge in overall color performance.
The image above, is a very good image for viewing black level performance. There are sufficient bright areas, that most projectors with dynamic irises won't close them down too far. As a result, it's a good indicator of how the LG performs on "mixed scenes - mostly dark but with moderate amounts of brighter areas.
The LG offers perhaps a more natural look than the BenQ W6000, but the two projectors should look fairly different. I think from a color standpoint, the choice is likely to be very personal. I'm not sure which I favor, would need to get another look at the BenQ, for a side-by-side.
The LG is typically sharp for 3 chip projector. Optics seem particularly good, and convergence is also very good, but not exceptional on this unit. You can get a sharper image with a sharp DLP projector, but not by much. My take, as I've expressed many times, is that the difference between a good "average" sharpness 1080p projector and one of the "sharper still" DLPs is barely noticeable when watching film-based movies, but you can appreciate the difference on high quality digital content like sports, including the Olympics, or the type of gorgeous content you see on channels like Discovery HD. Bottom line - it could be sharper, but, pretty sharp, nonetheless, and shouldn't be a deal breaker except for the most fanatical sharpness freaks. It certainly wouldn't be for me, and I've come from DLP's to, more recently two JVC LCoS projectors both comparable to the LG in sharpness.
Black Level Performance and Shadow Detail:
The LG CF181D is pretty much middle of the pack in terms of black levels, for a projector in the $2000 to $3500 range. It might be borderline "ultra-high contrast", but in reality, it doesn't quite rate that status. It may be comparable to the least of the ultra-high contrast projectors in performance, such as the Sanyo PLV-Z3000, but cannot match the Panasonic PT-AE4000, let alone the Epson UB projectors. It does, however beat out the Mitsubishi HC3800, the entry level projector with the best blacks. It falls about half way between the HC3800 and the Panasonic, overall. The BenQ W6000 should have the slight advantage in blacks. Still, the LG is a step down in blacks when compared to the Epson, and probably the Mitsubishi HC7000.
Still the LG produces blacks I believe I could live with. Even on the very dark scenes it does a decent job, even if a projector like the Epson would appear noticeably better on the same very dark scene. I couldn't say the same, for example, about the the Mitsubishi HC3800 or the Optoma HD8200 (without its iris engaged - but I found it's dynamic iris action to be annoying).
Shadow detail of the LG is very good. Comparable to pretty much everything else in the class. It has the slight edge in this regard, compared to the Epson, which has always been a touch weaker at dark shadow detail than the competition. Still, I don't consider the variation in shadow detail to be signifciant from one 1080p projector to the next.
Bottom line on blacks and shadow detail - the LG walks the line on black level performance, but manages to be "good enough" that other factors become more important to many potential owners. Shadow detail is just fine.
The very bottom line:
The LG CF181D is an extremely impressive first entry for LG into the serious side of the Home Theater market in the US. I'm not sure what LG has been up to elsewhere, but, I do know they have been selling other projectors overseas that haven't made it here. Welcome LG!
Never mind that its their first US entry. While the LG has some minor flaws, the overall package seems to be one of the best options out there. In the LG's case, the massive collection of lumens trumps the less than spectacular black levels, and makes for a well balanced projector, that should meet the needs of a wide range of home theater enthusiasts (and normal people too).
The LG is not particularly feature laden, but does have Creative Frame Interpolation. Unfortunately, it's a bit problematic with 24fps movie content, with too occasionally visible jerky artifacts. For sports, it works better, but still not one of the best. My personal take on the CFI is it needs work. I add the LG CF181D to the list of projectors sporting CFI, where I think the manufacturer should be doing a fix. It's just not ready for prime time. It's not alone. I had the same complaint last year for the Epson 6500UB, and this year, I wasn't overly impressed with the JVC implementaton of CFI, but at least with the JVC's it's mostly too "digital looking" rather than an artifact problem. Hey, most of these companies are first, or if not, second generation CFI, and most home theater projectors still don't offer any CFI at all. (It should be pretty standard next year though. Good thing CFI isn't a life and death important feature).
What is important is the end result. The LG is a great looking projector with plenty of brightness, excellent skin tones, and a good feature set. It is the first home theater projector entry for LG, and all considered, they've done a great job.
Definitely one of the best offerings in a mid priced projector, that's currently available. The LG CF181D's combination of strengths will appeal to an impressive percentage of potential buyers. For some large screen owners shopping in the LG's price range, this is the projector they've long been waiting for.
Time to finish off with our breakout of feature/benefits into Pros, Cons and typical performance.
Before that, however, a quick congratulations to LG, for a truly impressive first effort here in the US. To quote a favorite movie:
"Looks like there's a new sheriff in town."
LG CF181D Projector: Pros, Cons, and Typical Capabilities
Image below: From Indiana Jones - The Last Crusade
LG CF181D Projector: Pros
- A dazzling 900 lumens in "best" mode, makes handling larger screens easy, and dynamic
- Almost 1400 "brightest" mode lumens, and pretty good color to boot - great for sports viewing or fighting some ambient light.
- Excellent color, post calibration, especially skin tones which really do look a touch better than some very good projectors
- Reasonably good "enough" black levels, though not great
- Better than average placement flexibility with 1.8:1 zoom and lens shift
- Dynamic iris, though not producing the blackest blacks, does offer pretty smooth operation
- Iris can be put in manual mode, if projector too bright, but iris can not perform dynamically, so black levels not as good.
- Offers creative frame interpolation (some limits)
- Takes 24fps film to 48fps (2:2 pull-down)
- Excellent remote control
- Overall, a most impressive picture, plus all those lumens make for the CF181D's superior price performance
LG CF181D Projector: Cons
- CFI has some jerky artifacts when using with 24fps film content. Not recommended for movie viewing
- Black level performance, while pretty good, would need to be better still to compete with the best in the LG's price range
- Documentation - pretty basic, though generally helpful, but lacks good descriptions of many features. For example, Real Cinema On, 24fps 1080 becomes 48fps. Set it Off and it uses 3:2 pull-down. It's not explained in the manual.
- No anamorphic lens support
- Menus, otherwise logical, pack too many items per menu, requiring scrolling, and making it harder to find features
- Changing out the lamp requires unmounting from a ceiling mount
- Overscan not operational with 1080 source material, and no edge masking either (bummer)
- Could be a little quieter (23 db in eco-mode, probably about 27-28 at full power?)
- Despite 1920x1080 native resolution, does not support data resolutions of 1600x1200 UXGA, or 1920x1200 WUXGA.
LG CF181D Projector: Typical Capabilities
- Documentation - overall
- Just average lamp life - 2000 hours in High lamp power mode, 3000 in low (eco) power
- Styling: Black, boxy, some minor nice touches - not bad, not impressive
- Overall size and weight - a medium large projector typical in size for an LCoS projector
- Shadow detail performance
- Cost of operation
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