Anchor Nebula Solar Portable – Review 2021

Anchor Nebula Solar Portable for $ 599.99 fits a lot of features in one small package. Fully portable, thanks to a built-in rechargeable battery that can survive most movies in full length, 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 the competition, it can also accept 4K input and down-convert it without any hassle. This combination makes it our new Editors’ Choice among portable home entertainment projectors replacing Anker’s own Nebula Mars II Pro.

It’s not a 4K projector, but it plays one like your TV

Solar Portable is built around a 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) TI DLP chip. The company says it uses TI’s Manhattan format (meaning a rectangular array), which shortens battery life compared to the diamond chip array, which is more common in portable projectors, but avoids the scaling artifacts that the diamond array can add to images. The image chip is paired with an LED light source, which Anker estimates at 30,000 hours in full-power mode.

Despite the native 1080p resolution, the projector connects at 4K (3,840 x 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 laptops, including the AAXA M7, Philips PicoPix Max One and BenQ GV30, do not support 4K at all.

From above

The menus offer two power levels. The lighter is the Standard, which will discharge the battery in 1.5 hours. The power-saving option that extends battery life to 3 hours is called Battery. You can use it even when the projector is connected, but its lower brightness means you probably will not. Auto mode automatically switches between the two power modes, depending on whether you are connected to AC power.

Anchor estimates the brightness of the projector at 400 ANSI lumens in standard mode. Do not compare the number with the LED lumen ratings that many manufacturers use. ANSI lumen is standard. LED lumens are not, and they are often heavily 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 is also small enough, at 2.3 x 7.6 x 8.6 inches (HWD), to fit in a briefcase or backpack. If you plan to take it with you, you may want a protective case as Anker does not include one. However, you do not need one for room-to-room portability, or if you install the projector permanently for use as a smart TV, with possible occasional use for a movie night in the backyard.

As is typical of Android TV projectors, the setup requires connection to a WI-Fi connected network and logging in to Google before you can use another video source connected to the HDMI port. Physical setup is easy. If necessary, connect an image source to the HDMI port, turn on the power, adjust the image size by moving the projector back and forth, and select a video source. The autofocus worked fine in my tests. Horizontal and vertical keystone correction as well as digital zoom are also available, but I recommend avoiding them as they can introduce artifacts.

In addition to the HDMI port, there is a USB Type-A port for reading files from USB memory, but it requires downloading ES File Explorer from Google Play. There is also a USB Type-C port that serves for power input only.

Gates at the back

The sound scored well on volume, but less well on quality. The dual 3-watt speakers provided more than enough volume for a large family room, but the sound was distorted at the highest setting. At levels suitable for a medium-sized room, the quality was usable, despite a bit of a bottom-of-barrel echo effect. As it is becoming common for portable projectors, there is also a Bluetooth speaker mode that lets you use the projector as a speaker for other devices.

Adequate color accuracy and shadow details

The Solar Portable menu displays four predefined picture modes: Game, Movie, Standard, and Live. Using any mode other than Play as a starting point, you can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness. The adjusted version becomes the new user mode without affecting the original predefined setting. Game mode does not allow any adjustment, but it provides the shortest delay time, making it the preferred game choice.

The color accuracy of my tests was similar in Standard, Movie and Vivid modes, but slightly cooler in Standard. Vivid delivered the most accurate color while Movie was a close second and also delivered the highest brightness and best shadow details, making it my favorite choice overall for movies. That said, Standard handled subtle graduations in video input best. You may want to check each of the modes for each image source you use.

Seen from below

I found movies and video very worth seeing despite the fact that the color accuracy was beaten down by just enough to notice, even for clips I was not familiar with. Most will readily accept it as good enough, and even the most discerning video enthusiasts should find it bearable. The projector also held shadow details better than many of its competitors, showing enough detail to see what happened even in the darkest scenes in our test suite.

See how we test projectorsSee how we test projectors

As already mentioned, Solar Portable connects at 4K by default. In my tests, when I switched from 1080p discs to 4K HDR discs and back again, it managed the change smoothly. However, dark scenes lost shadow details compared to the same scenes in the SDR version of the same movies. I was able to enhance the image by adjusting the contrast, but the best I could handle was a match for the 1080p SDR version, without the improvement that HDR promised.

Seen from the right

For 3D, the projector supports DLP-Link glasses. I saw no crosstalk in my tests, and 3D-related motion artifacts were at a typical level for current-generation projectors. However, Solar Portable required manual switching to and from 3D mode.

Input layers are easily low enough for casual play. I measured it with a Bodnar meter of just over 27ms for both 1080p, 60Hz and 4K, 60Hz. Unfortunately for gamers, Game mode does not contain shadow details as well as Movie mode, so you have to choose between having a short delay time for quick response or getting better shadow details so you can more easily see what is happening in dark scenes.

Seen from above, to the left and from the front

As already mentioned, Anker estimates the projector at 400 ANSI lumens, which is light enough by the 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 actually 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 seen if it was somewhat washed out, using an 80-inch screen.

A shining star

Anker Nebula Solar Portable costs a little more than most other projectors mentioned here, but it delivers far more. If you insist on better sound quality, you can choose BenQ GV30, which also includes Android TV; for slightly higher brightness, try Anker Nebula Mars II Pro. But both of these models are limited to 720p resolution, which means fewer image details and a soft-focus look compared to 1080p.

Similarly, if you want built-in 1080p resolution, the Phillips PicoPix Max One can appeal to its lower weight and 2.5 hours of battery life in standard mode or the AAXA M7 for its 2.1 hours of life in standard mode and its USB Type-C port for mirroring of mobile devices. But none of these models support 3D or HDR or include either built-in streaming or an included streaming dongle.

Another alternative to consider if you plan to install the projector permanently is the Anker Nebula Solar, which costs slightly 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 long-lasting Solar Portable battery completes the full set of features that let it replace the Mars Pro II as our Editors’ Choice for portable home entertainment projector.


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