LG CF181D Projector Review

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.

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