Anker Nebula Solar Portable Review
The $599.99 Anker Nebula Solar Portable fits a lot of features into a small package. Fully portable, thanks to a built-in rechargeable battery that can outlast most full-length movies, it has built-in Android TV 9 for streaming over a Wi-Fi connection, screen mirroring, and an HDMI port for connecting to other video sources. Unlike much of its competition, it can also accept 4K input and downconvert it without any hiccups. That combination makes it our new Editors’ Choice among portable projectors for home entertainment, replacing Anker’s own Nebula Mars II Pro.
It’s Not a 4K Projector, But It Plays One as Your TV
The Solar Portable is built around a 1080p (1,920-by-1,080) TI DLP chip. The company says it uses TI’s Manhattan format (meaning a rectangular array), which shortens battery life compared with the diamond chip array that’s more common in portable projectors but avoids the scaling artifacts that the diamond array can add to images. The imaging chip is paired with an LED light source that Anker rates at 30,000 hours in full-power mode.
Despite the 1080p native resolution, the projector connects at 4K (3,840-by-2,160) by default, and it also supports both HDR10 and HDCP 2.1, the HDR and copy protection versions used by 4K UHD discs. In short, it behaves like a 4K projector with a soft focus. Most portables, including the AAXA M7, the Philips PicoPix Max One, and the BenQ GV30, don’t support 4K at all.
The menus offer two power levels. The brighter is Standard, which will run down the battery in 1.5 hours. The power-saving choice, which extends battery life to 3 hours, is called Battery. You can use it even when the projector is plugged in, but its lower brightness means you probably won’t want to. Auto mode automatically switches between the two power modes, depending on whether you’re connected to AC power.
Anker rates the projector brightness at 400 ANSI lumens in Standard mode. Do not compare the number to the LED lumen ratings that many manufacturers use. ANSI lumens are standard. LED lumens aren’t, and they’re often significantly inflated. (More on brightness later.)
At 3.1 pounds without the external AC adapter, the Solar Portable has a typical weight for a mini projector, and it’s also small enough, at 2.3 by 7.6 by 8.6 inches (HWD), to fit in a briefcase or backpack. If you plan to carry it with you, you might want to get a protective case, since Anker doesn’t include one. However, you won’t need one for room-to-room portability or if you install the projector permanently to use as a smart TV, with possible occasional use for a backyard movie night.
As is typical for projectors with Android TV, setup requires connecting to a WI-Fi connected network and signing in to Google before you can use another video source connected to the HDMI port. Physical setup is easy. Optionally connect an image source to the HDMI port, turn the power on, adjust the image size by moving the projector back and forth, and chose a video source. The automatic focus worked nicely in my tests. Horizontal and vertical keystone correction, as well as digital zoom, are also available, but I recommend avoiding them, since they can introduce artifacts.
In addition to the HDMI port, there’s a USB Type-A port for reading files from USB memory, but it requires downloading ES File Explorer from Google Play. There’s also a USB Type-C port that serves for power input only.
The audio scored well on volume, but less well on quality. The dual 3-watt speakers delivered more than enough volume for a large family room, but the sound was distorted at the highest setting. At levels suitable for a midsize room, quality was serviceable, despite a bit of a bottom-of-the-barrel echo effect. As is becoming common for portable projectors, there’s also a Bluetooth speaker mode that lets you use the projector as a speaker for other devices.
Adequate Color Accuracy and Shadow Detail
The menu for the Solar Portable lists four predefined picture modes: Game, Movie, Standard, and Vivid. Using any mode other than Game as a starting point, you can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness. The adjusted version will be become the new User mode without affecting the original predefined setting. Game mode does not allow any adjustment, but it offers the shortest lag time, which makes it the preferred choice for gaming.
Color accuracy in my tests was similar in Standard, Movie, and Vivid modes, but a little cooler in Standard. Vivid provided the most accurate color, while Movie was a close second and also delivered the highest brightness and best shadow detail, making it my preferred choice overall for movies. That said, Standard handled subtle gradations in video input the best. You might want to check each of the modes for each image source you use.
I found movies and video highly watchable despite color accuracy being off by just enough to notice, even for clips I wasn’t familiar with. Most people will easily accept it as good enough, and even the pickiest video enthusiasts should find it tolerable. The projector also held shadow detail better than many of its competitors, showing enough detail to make out what was happening even in the darkest scenes in our test suite.
See How We Test Projectors
As already mentioned, the Solar Portable connects at 4K by default. In my tests, when I switched from 1080p discs to 4K HDR discs and back again, it handled the change smoothly. However, dark scenes lost shadow detail compared with the same scenes in the SDR version of the same movies. I was able to improve the image by adjusting contrast, but the best I could manage was a match to the 1080p SDR version, without the improvement promised by HDR.
For 3D, the projector supports DLP-Link glasses. I didn’t see any crosstalk in my tests, and 3D-related motion artifacts were at a typical level for current generation projectors. However, the Solar Portable required manual switching to and from 3D mode.
Input lag is easily low enough for casual gaming. I measured it with a Bodnar meter at just over 27ms for both 1080p, 60Hz and 4K, 60Hz. Unfortunately for gamers, Game mode does not hold shadow detail as well as Movie mode, so you have to choose between having a short lag time for quick responsiveness or getting better shadow detail so you can see what’s happening more easily in dark scenes.
As already mentioned, Anker rates the projector at 400 ANSI lumens, which is bright enough by Society for Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) standards for a 90-inch 16:9 image in a dark room using a 1.0 gain screen. In my tests, using Movie mode, the image was indeed bright enough to fill my 90-inch screen in the dark. In a family room with moderate ambient light, it was bright enough to be watchable, if somewhat washed out, using an 80-inch screen.
A Shining Star
The Anker Nebula Solar Portable costs a little more than most of the other projectors mentioned here, but it delivers far more. If you insist on better audio quality, you could pick the BenQ GV30, which also includes Android TV; for slightly higher brightness, try the Anker Nebula Mars II Pro. But both of those models are limited to 720p resolution, which translates to less image detail and a soft-focus look in comparison to 1080p.
Similarly, if you want native 1080p resolution, the Phillips PicoPix Max One might appeal for its lower weight and 2.5-hour battery life in Standard mode, or the AAXA M7 for its 2.1-hour life in Standard mode and its USB Type-C port for mirroring mobile devices. But neither of those models supports 3D or HDR, or includes either built-in streaming or a bundled streaming dongle.
One other alternative to consider, if you plan to install the projector permanently, is the Anker Nebula Solar, which costs a little less than the Solar Portable. Anker says it’s exactly the same projector without a battery (and no option to add one). Both models have native 1080p resolution and the ability to accept 4K HDR input at up to 60Hz. However, the Solar Portable’s long-lived battery completes the full set of features that lets it replace the Mars Pro II as our Editors’ Choice for portable home entertainment projector.
Anker Nebula Solar Portable
The Bottom Line
The 1080p Anker Nebula Solar Portable offers lots of desirable features, including support for 4K and HDR, built-in Android TV, and good brightness for its size and weight. Color accuracy isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for most people to accept without a second thought.
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