- Maintenance-free laser illumination
- HD 1080p resolution
- Battery-power option
- Excellent auto-focus
- Lacks enough brightness for ambient light viewing
- No authorized Netflix app
Anker's Nebula Capsule 3 Laser impresses with its battery-drive, laser engine and raises our expectations of what a pico projector can do, though some LED competitors deliver twice the brightness at the same $800 cost.
By miniaturizing the technology from larger, more powerful and expensive laser projectors, Anker's Nebula Capsule 3 Laser puts a good image on screen and pushes into new territory. Its laser illumination engine and 0.23-inch DLP imaging target combine for a long and maintenance-free life while the projector's auto-focus technology delivers a quality HD image in seconds. The projector's battery is just enough to last through the typical movie or a few streaming episodes.
In the final analysis, the Capsule 3 Laser's 339 ANSI Lumens of brightness is just enough illumination for use in a darkened room. At $800, though, it is well behind LED projectors that deliver much higher the brightness. Let's see how it matches up with the best.
The Nebula Capsule 3 Laser takes pico projectors in a new and exciting technological direction by using a tiny laser to light up a room instead of LEDs typically used in this compact product class. With its modest 3.3-inch diameter, 6.7-inch height, and 2.1-pound weight it's easy to carry around and looks like a larger version of the company's Capsule II, with many physical features in the same place.
The Capsule 3 Laser's Laser Forge light engine starts with a 14-watt blue diode laser whose beam is converted to streams of red and green light with a phosphor wheel that are bounced off the projector's 0.23-inch Digital Light Processing imaging chip. The final 1080p-resolution image travels through the projector's output lens to the screen.
When the projector is first set up or moved, its excellent automatic focusing system temporarily projects a black and white target that a camera sensor uses to control its motorized lens. It takes a few seconds for the lens to move in and out while it zeroes in on a result that beats the sharpest eyes around.
Anker rates the Capsule 3 at 300 ANSI lumens; on the test bench it exceeded this and achieved 341 ANSI lumens in its brightest picture mode. Happily, there's no dust filter and its lighting components are rated to last 30,000 hours of use—the equivalent of nearly three-and-a-half years of continuous use or over 20 years of a more reasonable duty cycle of four hours a day.
The Capsule 3 Laser's Android TV 11.0 software uses a quad-core 1.2GHz ARM processor, dedicated graphics accelerator, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of solid-state storage space. On par with a smart TV, it can receive wireless casting streams from computers along with thousands of apps and programming sources, from CNN, SkyNews and many local news channels to Kanopy, Prime Video, and YouTube. It lacks a preloaded Web browser, although I manually installed the TV Web Browser and Puffin Browser, and the streams can be secured with the Nord VPN service.
The bad news is that there's neither a dedicated remote control button for Netflix programming nor an easy way to tap into the service. The Capsule 3 Laser requires a complicated series of setup steps for Netflix that, sad to say, is more than many will be willing to endure for Emily in Paris. On the other hand, the projector's HDMI port worked well with outboard streamers, such as the Chromecast with Google TV and Anker's own Nebula 4K Streaming Dongle. Both cost $50 and can handle 4K streams, but the Nebula streamer's remote has dedicated buttons for Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and YouTube, while the Chromecast dongle has buttons for YouTube and Netflix. Watching David Attenborough's Live in Color went well with each, although I had to fumble with remotes for both the projector and the streaming module.
Though its imaging chip is strictly native 1080p, the Capsule 3 laser is compatible with 4K signals up to 60 Hz, and offers HDR10 tone mapping for programming that has been coded for this image-enhancing protocol. The HDR tone-mapping is automatically adjusted and can't be altered for different content.
Based on Wi-Fi 5, the projector lacks the ability to tap into the more up-to-date and secure Wi-Fi 6 or 6E networks for internet access. There's also Bluetooth 5.0 to connect with a wireless speaker or use the projector's 8-watt speaker to play music from a phone or tablet. The audio system has the usual Dolby Digital decoding and offers up several sound modes as well as a Custom mode with bass and treble adjustments. It gets loud enough to service a small room but is nothing to write home about. On the other hand, the HDMI port is compatible with eARC to get sound out to a compatible soundbar or other device. The projector also has a 3.5mm analog stereo headphone jack if needed.
While the Capsule 3 Laser's HDMI 2.0 port is for wired video, its USB-C port is primarily for power, although it can work with images and videos on a flash drive. It doesn't work with Alternate Mode video from a phone or tablet, however.
The black Capsule 3 Laser's circular rubber base will protect your furniture from scratching when you set it down, but lacks an adjustable foot to aim the light stream up. It's easy to move around and set up on a coffee table, bookcase or tripod with its single threaded screw hole. Anker sells a tripod for $48 that can raise it to nearly 16-inches.
The Capsule 3 Laser comes ready to project with an AC adapter, remote control and batteries; it took about five minutes to get everything set up. After I paired the remote control to the projector, I logged into my Google account and authenticated it with a verification code. Finally, I linked the Capsule 3 Laser to my Wi-Fi network.
While there's no lens cap, the optics have a protective window. The projector's 1.2:1 throw ratio yielded a vivid 46-inch from 49.5 inches. To see the image size at different throw distances, you can check out ProjectorCentral's Anker Capsule 3 Laser throw calculator.
While it lacks image shifting or a zoom lens to get the projected image exactly right, the Capsule 3 Laser has vertical and horizontal keystone correction that can correct for up to a 40-degree angle; it can be set to automatic. I preferred the ability to manually push or pull each corner to get a spot-on image. At a 10-degree tilt, it lost 15% of its brightness—much better than we've seen on some other portables.
The back of the projector has an On/Off button as well as one for using its Bluetooth abilities, while the top has backlit four-way navigation controls and keys for selecting the current menu option, adjusting volume or backing out of menus. There's no link to the Capsule 3 Laser's Android TV's Entertainment Home page, however, which makes the projector's small remote control indispensable. In addition to the Home key, it has an On/Off button as well as keys for going back, volume adjustment and focus. It has a mic for listening to your Google Assistant searches, and it came with a pair of AAA batteries. I found it had a 30-foot range.
The meat of the projector is its Android-based Entertainment Home page, which allows you to pick which apps to install and use as well as selecting the input and seeing the battery's charge level. It has a shortcut to the Settings section with a list of items on the right with links for Wi-Fi network and the Projector Settings, Apps, Device Preferences and Remotes & Accessories.
As is the case with this class of projectors, there's an on-screen keyboard for tediously filling in Web destinations and passwords. I streamlined the process with a Logitech K780 Bluetooth keyboard.
The Capsule 3 Laser carries a one-year warranty, which is fairly typical.
While some other projectors have six or seven picture modes, the Capsule 3 Laser has four: Standard, Movie, Game, and Custom. The Standard mode is a good balance between brightness and color balance and the Movie setting is warmer, but less bright. The Game mode, which will only appear as a menu option when an HDMI source is active, is considerably less bright than those two modes. Its primary characteristic is that it defeats the projector's keystone feature and its MEMC motion-smoothing to provide input lag around 22-24 milliseconds with 4K/60 Hz or 1080p/120 Hz signals. This is significantly lower than the other modes, which came in at well over 100 ms with a 4K/60 or 1080p/60 signal. (See details in the Measurements section.)
The Custom mode measured the brightest of all, and allowed me to adjust Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness as well as set the Color Temperature to Cool, Normal or Warm, or to a custom setting using separate red, green, and blue gain controls. I was also able to adjust the projector's Gamma (Normal, Dark or Bright). Yet another option within this mode is for Wall Color, which defaults to White but offers seven other options, including Purple and Red. None of these controls are available in any other picture mode, which are basically take-it-or-leave-it.
In Custom Mode, with its default settings including for Wall Color (White), Color Temp (Custom) and Gamma (Normal), the Capsule 3 put out 341 ANSI lumens, or about 13% above Anker's 300 ANSI lumen spec. The color balance showed whites that were relatively neutral but leaned slightly toward green, though not enough to be bothersome. Besides being the brightest, this mode had the most natural flesh tones.
In Standard mode, the projector pumped out 302 ANSI Lumens of light. The color balance was a bit warmer compared with Custom, with whites that remained pretty neutral and with a touch less green than Custom. It was still a little cold for my tastes, but flesh tones were more robust and saturated without looking unnatural. Even with reduced brightness, this mode still projected impressively vivid and saturated images at my approximately 55-inch picture size.
Movie mode warmed up the image considerably, which actually pushed whites, browns, and flesh tones a little too far into red and made some faces glow unnaturally. As is typical, the extra warmth came at the cost of brightness, with the Capsule 3 Laser putting out 236 ANSI lumens. It was fine in a darkened room but as soon as the sun started shining through the windows, the image got washed out.
As noted, the projector's Game mode is only available with HDMI sources such as a gaming console or computer. You won't even see it grayed out on the menu or know it's an option if you don't have an HDMI source plugged in—it's just not there, which is silly. It offers a color balance that leans bluer than the others and pretty natural skin tones that were more along the lines of Standard mode. But it has far less brightness than the other modes, coming in at just 123 ANSI lumens, only about 35% of the projector's maximum measured brightness. Anker says this will be corrected with a firmware push sometime in March that should just about double the brightness of this mode to approximately 250 lumens.
Note that the lumen readings above are applicable only when the included AC power supply is used. When the Capsule 3 Laser is unplugged and running on battery power, or if the Battery brightness mode is selected manually, the image dimmed about 36%. Using the projector's internal 52 watt-hour battery pack, the projector ran for 2 hours and 4 minutes of playback in Standard mode. When there's 30 seconds left, the projector has a countdown and then shuts itself off.
It all came together when I used the Capsule 3 Laser to display web sites and Excel spreadsheets for a small group, and later watched a variety of streaming shows, YouTube videos and cable TV shows. When I watched the Dawn of Man scenes at the start of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the sky backgrounds were rich and saturated, while there was a lot of detail in the monkey faces and dark scenes. Later I watched aquarium videos that showed the bright red of jellyfish and purple tang fish alongside green coral.
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Initially during my evaluation, I found the Android user interface to be somewhat slow in response, and there was some noticeable delays when calling up individual apps and specific programs within the apps. By the end of my review, however, Anker had issued a firmware update that among other things "Reduced stutter and lag on UI (user interface)." There was also another update just for the remote. Either way, it seemed to do the trick. From that point on, the time to bring up programs was greatly reduced, and the projector reacted faster when calling up and navigating the set-up menus.
It may not be the fastest projector to start up and shut down, but the Capsule 3 Laser can work well in a common conference room at work or the family den. It took 27.1 seconds to start up and get to the Android Entertainment Home screen; on shut down it needed 5.6 seconds before its fan shut off.
The Capsule 3 laser wasn't exactly quiet, with the projector's two fans putting out 38.6dBA in our casual measurement taken from 36 inches away. That drops to 37.9dBA in Movie mode. While running, the projector never got hotter than 92.6 degrees Fahrenheit, although its AC adapter hit 128 degrees F.
By using the latest advances in engineering, the $800 Anker Nebula Capsule 3 Laser points the way to a new generation of laser-driven pico projectors. It offers HD resolution, a nice color balance, and light output that's enough for a modestly-sized image in a darkened room. Meanwhile, its excellent autofocus function and ability to run on battery power are nice bonuses.
On the downside, it lacks a preloaded Netflix app, though this is a fault shared by many similar Android TV projectors. But where the Capsule 3 laser really falls short is on overall brightness. Its most direct competition at this expensive price is the recently reviewed XGIMI Halo+, another Android-based projector that delivers about twice the brightness from its LED light engine while also offering sophisticated auto-focus and keystone capabilities. Those extra lumens can make the difference between having to watch in the dark all the time or being able to pull the shades up for modest light. It also makes for a better experience when you turn out the lights.
Granted, the XGIMI is somewhat larger and heavier, and comes without a battery option. So if portability and the ability to operate away from AC power is key, the Capsule 3 could be a solid option. But if you don't mind plugging into the wall, there may be better choices to consider among current generation compact LED projectors.
Brightness. In Custom picture mode with default settings, using the supplied AC power supply, the Anker Nebula Capsule 3 Laser put out a high of 341 ANSI lumens, exceeding the projector's 300 ANSI lumen spec by about 13%. The Standard picture mode still delivered 302 ANSI lumens in our sample.
Pulling the AC power automatically puts the projector into Battery brightness mode, which reduced the brightness for any given picture mode by about 36% vs. the Standard brightness mode.
Anker Capsule 3 Laser ANSI Lumens
|Mode||Standard Brightness||Battery Brightness|
Brightness Uniformity. Brightness uniformity was a very good 87.6%, with the top left corner of the screen measuring slightly less bright than the center and lower portions. No hotspotting or other artifacts were visible on screen.
Fan Noise. The Capsule 3 Laser's pair of fans produced 38.6dBA of noise in Standard mode, measured 36 inches from the projector. Using Movie mode decreased this to 37.9 dBA in a room that measured a background level of 36.0dBA. Anker's specification is 28dB of fan noise using the industry-standard multi-point averaged measurement.
Input Lag. The Capsule 3 Laser's Game picture mode automatically defeats the projector's MEMC frame interpolation motion-smoothing and keystone correction features to reduce input lag. In Game mode, the projector measured a respectable 22.4 ms lag with a 4K/60 signal from a Bodnar lag meter, 22.6 ms with 1080p/60, and 23.7 with 1080p/120. This should provide a satisfying experience for all but the most competitive gamers. Using Standard mode, those measurements jumped to 129.6 ms, 129.7 ms, and 89.6 ms respectively, all of which are too high for even the most casual gaming.
- HDMI 2.0
- Audio out (3.5mm stereo jack)
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Anker Nebula Capsule 3 Laser projector page.
To buy this projector, use Where to Buy online, or get a price quote by email direct from Projector Central authorized dealers using our E-Z Quote tool.
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