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Anker Nebula Capsule 3 review: Full HD home cinema from a pint-sized projector

Our Rating :
£499.99 from
Price when reviewed : 499
inc. VAT

While brightness is limited and HDR off the menu, the Capsule 3 delivers sound and picture quality way beyond its compact size

Pros

  • Convenient and practical design
  • Vibrant 1080p images
  • Built-in Google TV streaming
  • Surprisingly powerful sound

Cons

  • Limited brightness levels
  • Underwhelming battery life
  • No angle adjustments

For as long as we’ve been listing the best portable projectors, the Anker-made Nebula Capsule has been a mainstay. With its compact ‘soda can’ design, the original showed that you could produce a small battery-powered projector that could still deliver decent image quality and punchy audio, albeit with low 100 ANSI lumens brightness levels and a 480p resolution.

The Nebula Capsule II increased the size and added Android TV streaming, while taking the resolution up to 720p. And now comes the Nebula Capsule 3, complete with a full HD 1080p resolution and built-in Google TV. Unsurprisingly, it’s the best Nebula Capsule yet, and the various improvements reaffirm its position as one of the best and most convenient take anywhere projectors you can buy.


Anker Nebula Capsule 3 review: What do you get for your money?

The Capsule 3 is a portable projector housed in a distinctive cylindrical body – it looks a little like an over-sized can of fizzy pop or beer, measuring 80mm across and standing just over 160mm high.

Inside, it packs a 1080p DLP projector with a 200 ISO Lumens LED light source, plus an internal 8W speaker with Dolby Digital+ audio support, built-in Wi-Fi 5 and Google TV streaming. 

It’s designed to be sat on the floor or a tabletop or mounted on a tripod, then pointed at a wall or (preferably) a screen. Automatic focus and geometry correction features are on hand to make sure that you get a decent picture, while you’ve got access to all the major streaming apps – plus games and music apps – without needing to plug anything else in. It ships with a remote control and a USB Type-C PD charger, and there’s a single HDMI input at the rear, plus a USB Type-A socket, to cover you for connecting other sources.

Nebula also sells a Laser version of the Capsule 3 with the same resolution but a 300 ANSI Lumens laser light source. This is more expensive with an RRP of £749, and it also uses older Android TV software rather than the Google TV of the newer, cheaper Capsule 3.

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Anker Nebula Capsule 3 review: What does it do well?

This might be the ultimate portable point-and-show projector. Once you’re through the initial Google TV setup, you can just point it vaguely at a screen and let it run the auto-setup routine, and you’ll end up with a decent, well-aligned and focused picture.

It’s easy to use as well. Google TV is a big improvement on the older or custom versions of Android TV we’ve seen with some portable projectors. You can find all the major UK streaming apps – and they all work exactly as they should. You get a voice remote and Google Assistant to help you search for content, and the interface highlights shows and movies from the full range of sources, not just Google TV and YouTube. A true, cross-streaming platform Continue Watching feature would be brilliant, but it’s not too tricky to just dive into the individual apps.

I also like the fact that Anker provides a good, slimline remote control with illuminated buttons, but also touch controls on the top of the projector itself. With all the lights off it can be easy to mislay your remote while you’re midway through a film. Having controls on the projector means you can still hit pause or adjust the volume.

Most importantly, the picture and audio quality are surprisingly refined for such a tiny unit. As long as you’re in a properly darkened room or outside space, you get crisp, detailed 1080p images with strong colours and a nice, cinematic presentation. Watching the John Wick spin-off, The Continental, I was struck by how well the Capsule 3 handled the dark, earthen tones and authentic seventies style, while an episode of Blue Eye Samurai on Netflix showed that clean lines and more saturated colours aren’t a problem either. I also watched a good stretch of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and even in the gloom under decks and in the midst of battle, the Capsule 3 held up pretty well.

If I stress that colour performance is impressive, it’s partly because colorimeter testing threw up some surprising results. While the Capsule 3 can’t get near full-sized projectors on brightness or contrast levels, it does cover 91.4% of the sRGB colour gamut and 74.8% of DCI-P3; figures that some much larger projectors struggle to hit.

The viewing experience also benefits from the fact that the audio goes as big as the pictures. True, it’s fairly obvious that you’re listening to sound from a single source, with little in the way of stereo positioning and a limit to the volume before some boxiness creeps in. Yet, all the same, there’s enough welly to bring big screen blockbusters to life, and enough warmth and detail to hook you in. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give the Capsule 3 is that I regularly forgot I was watching footage from a pint-sized projector. When the action ramps up in The Continental and the period soundtrack kicks in, all you’re thinking about is that you’re having a good time.


Anker Nebula Capsule 3 review: What could it do better?

As with most portable projectors, the Capsule 3’s weakness is its brightness levels. You’ll be lucky to get over 80 lumens reflecting off the screen, and it’s much better projecting a 60 or 70in screen from 1.8 to 2.1m away than a 100in image from 3m. With a throw ratio of 1.2:1 and no optical zoom, you need some distance to get a bigger picture, and that inevitably means losing some brightness and contrast on the way. Be realistic about the screen size to get the best possible image, and don’t even think about using the Capsule 3 in daylight or normal lighting – you won’t be able to see much of anything. Needless to say, you can forget about any HDR stuff.

We would also like to see more image controls in the settings menu, with only a basic set of viewing modes, manual geometry adjustments and a brightness control. To be honest, this isn’t the kind of projector where you’re going to spend hours calibrating colour, but it would be good to have a few more tweaks available.

With roughly 2.5 hours of battery life in the dimmer Eco mode, falling to 60 to 80 minutes on full brightness, it’s still touch and go whether you’ll be able to get through a full movie or more than a couple of hours of bingeing Netflix before you run out charge. Indoors you can just run it powered from the mains adaptor, but the charging cable is short so you might need a mains extension. Otherwise, plugging in a USB-PD power bank should help you make it through a night at the movies.

Finally, there’s no easy way to angle the Capsule 3 upwards, so you really need to be able to position it or the screen so that they’re at roughly the same height. This isn’t a big deal – just buy a budget tripod – but other portable projectors have more flexibility here.

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Anker Nebula Capsule 3 review: Should you buy one?

The Nebula Capsule has always been a people-pleasing gadget. Even with the first one, it was hard to believe it was a proper projector, and the latest model can dish out a fantastic 1080p picture and good sound, considering its size and price.

Judged purely on picture and sound quality, it’s not the best option out there. The XGIMI MoGo 2 Pro delivers brighter images and similar colour performance, while the Viewsonic M2 is better still.

But nobody else gives you this kind of image and audio quality in such a compact, portable package, with Google TV streaming and an internal battery thrown in. The Capsule 3 is another pint-sized miracle worker, and it’s a whole heap of fun to use as well.


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