Lumagen Radiance 2021 Review
By Chris Heinonen on
When Lumagen released their Radiance XD processor, it was a huge deal. When most displays and projectors lacked anything beyond a rudimentary color management system (CMS), or hid it away in the service menu, the Radiance unlocked the full control over colors, grayscale, and gamma to users. Instead of choosing between the display with the best image, and the one with the good image but less control, you could pick the best and know you can get it dialed in perfectly later on. It wasn’t the cheapest add-on accessory ever made, but it did something that many people didn’t think possible.
Now almost every display ships with some sort of CMS. From a simple one-point grayscale control with some color presets, to sets with 20-point white balance controls and a full Hue-Saturation-Luminance (HSL) CMS to get the gamut correct. When every display comes with some sort of control over it, is an external CMS like the Lumagen Radiance 2021 worth the add-on and expense anymore? I borrowed a unit from Lumagen to see what extra benefits it provides.
When it comes to video reviews, I hate the CIE color diagram. When magazines started to include it, it gave us a new perspective that we didn’t have before. Now when I see it alone, without an error (dE2000) chart it smacks to me of laziness. And this plays right into what the Lumagen can do as opposed to other CMS system.
With a standard display CMS, you can get those CIE points correct. Red hits Red, Blue hits Blue, and the CIE chart looks great. Now if your movies only had 6 colors in them they would all look perfect! Of course there are millions of other colors inside that triangle, and we have no idea how they perform. Any experienced reviewer can tell you that manipulating the CMS to get those 6-points correct can often make every other color worse. This is because most CMS systems are poorly designed.
Here is some actual data from a brand new, 4K display. I ran it through the Quick Analysis workflow in CalMAN 5.1.2 to generate this data, so it is easy to do for another display. Our grayscale is decent, though a bit reddish with an average CCT of 5949. Our gamma has an average of 2.38 (I am targeting 2.40), but isn’t close to perfectly tracking the target. Our grayscale also has an average dE2000 of 4.07 from 10-100. Looking at the CalMAN Comparator chart, you can see that the measured samples are different from the target samples on the bottom.
Now if you look at the gamut, you see a more issues. Green and Yellow are over-saturated while Red and Blue are under-saturated. This becomes even more apparent when we look at the saturations chart, or the 96-sample color checker chart. There are a lot of visible color errors here, well beyond just those 6-points. Our average Color Checker error is a dE2000 of 5.24, with a maximum error of 12.54. Those are errors that anyone can see.
This presents an interesting case for the Lumagen Radiance 2021 and its 3D Cube Calibration. Using 125 points in a 5x5x5 matrix, it will measure and adjust far more than those 6-points, and attempt to correct the issues we see. It will also bring in those Green and Yellow color-points to make them inside the Rec. 709 gamut. What it can’t do is correct the 100% Blue and Red values that lack saturation, as only a display can add saturation. It can try to fix everything below 100% and provide a more accurate image overall.
Using CalMAN, this whole process is automated. I ran the grayscale calibration, which took around 6 minutes, then started the color calibration and went out for a run. I came home and the whole process had only taken 30 minutes. So how effective is the CMS inside the Lumagen Radiance 2021?
Well, our grayscale is now perfect. The RGB balance is almost ruler flat with a CCT of 6576, and the gamma tracks 2.4 almost perfectly. Our average dE2000 is an invisible 0.53, and if you look at the color comparator you can’t see any difference between the measured samples and the targets. It really is perfect.
With the gamut, we see what the Lumagen Radiance 2021 can do and what it can’t do. Yellow and Green have been corrected with dE2000 values below 3.0. Blue and Red are still under-saturated, and Blue has a dE2000 around 5.0 that is still visible. Looking at the comparator we see some errors there, but less than before.
Where the Lumagen Radiance 2021 shines is on the advanced measurements. Any saturation below 100% is now perfect. You can look at those color comparator charts and see no real errors at all. When you get to 100% blue you see an error, but not below that. Now can you see how those traditional measurements are flawed?
Your display is now practically perfect. On the color checker, our average dE2000 has fallen to a ridiculously low 0.75, with a maximum value of 2.3. Considering that anything below 3.0 is invisible when watching a movie, your display is now practically perfect.
When other sources review the Lumagen Radiance 2021 and related products without providing this extra data, you really can’t see what you’re missing. You’d only see that yellow and green got a little better, but blue and red still had issues. Now that you know that only pure red and pure blue have issues, but everything else has been fixed, you see more value in the Lumagen Radiance 2021.
To further enhance the Radiance line, Lumagen has added Darbee support in the 20xx line. Many consumers and professionals were blown away by the Darbee but disliked the external box it added to their system. Now it can be combined with the full power of the Lumagen Radiance 2021 to provide the best image possible.
Trying it out with Skyfall and The Avengers, the Darbee enhancement provides just a little bit of extra pop to the image, but without noticeable ringing or shadow crush. The definition of objects is slightly enhanced, and objects like a lantern against the water are accented a little more. Using the split screen function you can tell the differences a bit more, but it remains subtle.
Despite wanting to dislike the Darbee features, I find myself actually enjoying them in practice. I also feel that the Darbee benefits become more effective the better your display is. If your display already has a high native contrast ratio, the Darbee serves to enhance that. If you have middling contrast, the Darbee will improve it but might take a higher setting to accomplish the same goals. To me, it’s a nice bonus feature added on top of the toolkit the Lumagen Radiance 2021 already has.
What else does the Lumagen Radiance 2021 have beyond a CMS system and the Darbee? With 4 HDMI inputs and dual HDMI outputs, it can handle the video devices in your system while outputting the signal to both your display and your receiver/processor. Why not just let the receiver handle HDMI switching? Because many of them should not. They mess up the video signal and make changes you can’t undo. The video processing they provide is often best disabled, and ideally, they should only handle audio.
It also has a scaler that is better than those in a display or projector. DVD and Cable/Satellite content is scaled to your displays native resolution without the addition of ringing and other common artifacts. If you have a 4K display, Lumagen has a 4K version, the Radiance 2041, that will scale your sources to that resolution as well. Many 4K sets don’t have a CMS at all so the Lumagen Radiance 2021 provides a massive improvement to that image by making it accurate and providing a better-scaled image.
There is a whole host of other features to utilize. From anamorphic lenses to game modes with faster response times, to custom resolutions and timing if you have a non-standard resolution. The Lumagen Radiance 2021 is packed full of features that you really might not need, but are available if the reason arises.
Of course, the Lumagen Radiance 2021 isn’t perfect. If you aren’t using Auto-Calibration, the menu system can be a bit of a slog. There are many options, and understanding them requires keeping the manual close by and accessible. I’d like to see some improvements here in the future, perhaps a computer interface for managing all the presets, but it isn’t a deal breaker. Once everything is properly setup you’ll be able to avoid the menu system for a long time, and Auto-Calibration has really helped here.
What is harder to evaluate is the value of the Lumagen Radiance 2021. For many people, I think it is an easy purchase. If you have a high-end display that lacks a CMS, like the Sony VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector, or any of the 4K TVs that lack a CMS, it will make a huge improvement. I personally think that a neutral, accurate image is far more important than extra resolution, so adding it to one of those displays to make them accurate is a giant upgrade.
For some others, it might be harder to justify. Myself, I think it is one of the best investments you can make in your home theater. It takes an average display and makes is way above average, and it takes the best displays and makes them even better. It also migrates with you to your next display, much like a great pair of speakers will stay great as you upgrade amplifiers and processors.
If you haven’t seen what the Lumagen Radiance 2021 can do, it’s hard to explain what a totally neutral, accurate image really looks like. Once you’ve seen it, you really never want to go back. It’s the best component on the market for what it does, and to me an almost indispensable component for a high performance home theater system.
Produces amazing results with the best images you've ever seen, Auto-Calibration is fast and effective, Darbee a nice added benefit
Price, Menu System, upcoming HDMI revision for 4K could leave it outdated
The Lumagen Radiance 2021 takes your projector or display to a new level, producing the most accurate images you've seen.