- LED light source with up to 30,000 hours of life
- Colors calibrate very well
- Lots of app options with Android TV 9.0
- Falls well short of specified brightness
- Requires calibration for accurate color
- All color temperature modes are too blue and there’s no grayscale adjustments
- No HDR brightness or gamma control
- 3D feature is missing
There are some bright points to the Anker Nebula Cosmos Max—good 4K detail, easily calibrated color, long-lasting light source—but they don’t quite outweigh the faults.
Beyond the games, gadgets, films, and headphones that have secured their funding through Kickstarter and Indiegogo, companies have used the crowdfunding platforms as a way to drum up interest for new projectors and allow us all to preorder the products. VAVA's VA-LT002 found its audience through Indiegogo, as did the portable Nebula Capsule II from Anker. Anker again used the crowdfunding model to step into the 4K market with the Nebula Cosmos Max—a LED projector that uses Texas Instrument's pixel-shifting 4K DLP technology. During preorder, the Cosmos Max was available for as low as $1,099 if you got in fast enough. Its current MSRP is $1,800, though it was widely available in December for $1,699.
Anker uses a 0.47-inch DMD DLP chip in the Nebula Cosmos Max that has a native resolution of 1080p (1920x1080) and uses XPR technology to increase the resolution up to 4K. (For more information about 4K pixel shifting and an idea of how it compares to native 4K chips, check out Michael J. McNamara's two-part Projector Resolution Shootout.) The RGB LED light source has a life of up to 30,000 hours and Anker claims a light output of 1,500 ANSI lumens, although as shown on the Brightness chart below, I measured significantly under that number. There are no additional light source modes, such as a full power setting to boost the light output, or a dedicated Eco mode to extend the light source life (30,000 hours is more than enough for the vast majority of us anyway).
The Cosmos Max supports both HDR10 and HLG. There's a toggle in the menu for manually switching it on and off, although as I talk about in the Performance section, turning HDR on doesn't do the Cosmos Max any favors. Anker advertises a Dynamic Smoothing feature on the Cosmos that presumably does some form of frame interpolation, but there's no way to turn it on or off. On my sample it didn't seem to be working, or affected the picture minimally at best.
The Cosmos Max is a fixed-lens projector with a throw ratio of 1.2 and can project an image from a 30- to 150-inch diagonal at 2 feet 7 inches up to 13 feet 1 inch. (See ProjectorCentral's Anker Cosmos Max Throw Distance Calculator to check the necessary distance for your screen size.) Included is a digital zoom and keystone correction to get the fit just right (although, as always, you should be judicious about engaging these extra adjustments as they can affect image quality and overall brightness). There is also an excellent 3-second auto focus, which is usually relegated to the portable projector set. And, while there is a tripod mount point for temporary setup locations, the size and lack of carrying accessories makes the Cosmos a better fit for a permanent place on a shelf or ceiling mount.
As a general rule, projectors are white or black boxes that don't lend themselves to effusive, lyrical praise on their aesthetics, but Anker has really outdone themselves with the visual design of the Cosmos. The dark metallic oval shaped chassis isn't one you immediately want to hide away in its own room. And the top panel has two LED light options that can be toggled on and off—the red Nebula logo and, fittingly, a field of stars that fade in and out. The projector measures 13.8 x 9.8 x 3.9 inches and weighs 7.4 pounds. On the back are two HDMI 2.0 (one with ARC), two USB ports each capable of data and power, and an optical port. The ES File Explorer needs to be downloaded from the Google Play store to play files from a USB drive. Both Bluetooth and Chromecast are supported for streaming audio or video to the Cosmos from a mobile device or computer.
Four speakers, in combination with Dolby Digital Plus processing, are designed to spread the sound for a more immersive experience. There aren't multiple sound modes to adjust frequency curves or fine tune for specific content, so what you hear is what you get. Midrange frequencies are heavily pushed, likely for vocal clarity, but the dialogue can still be overpowered by sound effects within the same range. And while the speakers can get loud, they start to overmodulate above 80-90% of max volume.
Something that plagues a lot of 4K projectors in this price range is the use of the Aptoide web-streaming interface. Thankfully, the Cosmos Max is free of Aptoide and instead runs on the Android TV 9.0 platform. Thousands of apps are available for download through the Google Play store and it runs smoothly. While most of the apps run perfectly fine, Netflix is the most glaring exception. The version available for download is similar in at least one respect to the Aptoide version, in that the interface requires a cursor to easily sign in. Anker's workaround for the problem is by using the Nebula Connect app on your mobile device that allows you to navigate the Cosmos by scrolling or using your fingers as a mouse on the device's screen. It's a bit clunky, but gets the job done.
The included remote is delightfully simple and intuitive to use. Buttons are where I expect them to be without looking down at it, and the design keeps it to the necessary minimum for easy use. A built-in microphone is there for Google Assistant at the press of a button. There's no backlight to the remote, but due to the simple layout, I never found myself wanting for one.
Key Features List
- 0.47-inch DMD DLP chip with XPR technology
- 3840x2160 (4K) resolution
- HDR10 and HLG support
- RGB LED light source with up to 30,000 hours life
- 1,500 ANSI lumens rating (measured at 731 ANSI lumens)
- 1.2:1 Throw Ratio
- Auto focus, digital zoom, and keystone correction
- Four 10-watt speakers with Dolby Digital Plus
Picture Modes. There are only three picture modes on the Nebula Cosmos Max—Standard, Movie, and Office. A color temperature of Normal, Cool, and Warm can be selected within each picture mode. By eye, and later verified with measurement gear, all of the color temperatures tint noticeably blue instead of the neutral gray used in most television and movie productions. The only additional picture settings are brightness, contrast, gamma—with settings labeled Enhanced, Enphoto, Maxbright, Photo, and Linear—and saturation, hue, and gain for the six color points. These last controls are useful to calibrators with instruments and were actually required here to achieve accurate color points, but there are surprisingly no capabilities to adjust white balance gain or bias, and therefore no way to correct the blue-tinted color temperature.
To assess the grayscale and color accuracy of the Cosmos Max, I used Calman software from Portrait Displays, a Murideo Six-G 4K/HDR signal generator, and an X-rite i1 Pro 3 spectrophotometer. As my eye saw, all color temperatures and display modes measured too cool. Movie mode with a Warm color temperature was closest to the target 6,500K (in both Enhanced and Maxbright gamma), but even then it was still a noticeably blue 8,700K. Pre-calibrated color was off as well, with red, blue, and magenta all very oversaturated. The cool color temperature pulled cyan and (especially) magenta too blue. I was able to correct the color discrepancies with the CMS controls and get them all under a DeltaE of 2.0 (a value under 3.0 is considered excellent). Settings are shared across all picture modes, both SDR and HDR, so you can't do dedicated settings for HDR.
Unfortunately, following my adjustments, the next day everything was restored to their default settings and that calibration work was lost. Frustrating to say the least. With some experimentation, I discovered that my Cosmos Max sample didn't retain changes to its settings when power was cut from the projector for more than about a day. That prevents you from calibrating it and storing it away in a closet between viewing sessions. Or, in a permanent installation, it means that you have to redo the settings following a power outage. The lack of retention wasn't consistent, though. I can't explain why, but one of the four times the projector was unplugged for an extended period during testing, the calibrated settings were still in its memory.
As mentioned, there are no settings to adjust light source power output such as an Eco mode. The brightness setting, instead of adjusting primarily the black level as you'd expect, instead dims the entire light output. The brightest collection of settings was Standard picture mode with Normal color temperature, Brightness set to 100, and gamma set to Maxbright. Measuring those settings with a light meter, the Nebula Cosmos Max generated 731 ANSI lumens, only 48.7% of the number printed on the projector's box. At those settings the image is also very blue (color temperature measures 11,100K). In Movie picture mode, the brightness drops by 7% to 681 ANSI lumens and by 15% to 625 lumens in Office mode. Even though we perceive higher brightness from LED light sources compared to lamps, the low output from the Cosmos Max means a light-controlled room is necessary, especially for viewing any dark content (such as almost all of Batman Begins).
SDR Viewing. I've been going through a rewatch of The Expanse in preparation for the new season that was released in December. It's already a show that bathes in a blue color palette (the depths of space and all) and the blue tint on the Cosmos Max accentuates that even more. Overall it causes the show to be too blue and affects skin tones (there's some rosy life missing from peoples cheeks). After calibrations, deep blues, like the color used for the protomolecule, has a nice vibrancy, as does the reds of Mars when we meet Bobbie Draper in the middle of a firefight on the surface of the red planet. Blaster explosions have a nice pop against the dusty red surface.
It's been 35 years since Clue flopped in the theaters before turning into a cult phenomenon. The genius slapstick performances, running gags, and impeccable comedic delivery never fail to make me laugh. Wood tones of the mansion's interior look warm and soothing. Skin tones have a slightly reddish hue, but not distractingly so. There is some lost shadow detail in the foreboding storm outdoors due to an elevated black level, but overall it was a pleasant viewing experience after calibration.
The auto focus did an excellent job dialing in the 4K detail. Up close I could see a small amount of chromatic aberration, specifically around white numbers and letters, but it wasn't something I could pinpoint from a normal viewing distance. I'm not very susceptible to the DLP rainbow effect and I didn't experience any. Our normal disclaimer for any DLP projector applies, though: If you are susceptible to seeing them, make sure you purchase the projector from a vendor that will allow for returns just in case.
HDR Viewing. There's an HDR toggle in the menu that, when left in its On position, will allow the projector to respond automatically to the presence of an HDR signal and applying its appropriate processing. If you don't turn on the HDR toggle the color looks unsurprisingly bland. When the HDR toggle is turned on and activated by an HDR program, the colors swing hard in the other direction. The skin tones of Rey and Finn, as they run around Niima Outpost being pursued by First Order Stormtroopers in Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Disney+, are very red—as if they spent far too many days in the Jakku sun. This oversaturation is driven home moments later as the reds and oranges of TIE Fighter explosions looks unnatural and almost waxy.
The same oversaturated red can be seen in the field of roses or the pile of strawberries on the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark Disc, although it isn't as unnatural as it was in The Force Awakens. Other colors look more natural, in particular the blue skies throughout and the shades of brown in the fur of deer. Excellent detail is shown in the air bubbles in dripping honey and the close barbs of a peacock feather.
The black level on the Cosmos Max is relatively high and it crushes blacks a bit, so shadow details get lost. Most of the detail during the furnace scene in Blade Runner 2049, where K is searching through the ash for the toy horse, is difficult to make out.
3D Viewing. Originally, my Cosmos Max sample had an option for 3D in the menu, which is a specified feature. But I was unable to test it before a pushed firmware update happened. After the update the 3D menu option disappeared; web reports suggest it wasn't working properly and the manufacturer plans to bring this feature back in a future firmware update. In the meanwhile, when I played a 3D disc it only displayed in over-under format and I was unable to get the 3D effect to work properly.
The more production costs for projector technology lowers, the more we see companies extend into the midrange market. Anker has had some winners with inexpensive portable options, but this first foray into the home 4K market isn't quite ready for primetime. The Cosmos Max has no accurate picture mode without calibration, and there's no way to calibrate white balance. If you could fully calibrate it, it won't let you do separate settings for HDR, and it won't retain its settings through an extended power loss. Beyond this, Anker's motion-smoothing isn't defeatable (it's also questionable how well it's currently working), and 3D seems to be missing in action. Critically, the Cosmos Max also fails to come close to its claimed brightness rating, which in this case pretty much restricts it to dark or dim room viewing. Overall the projector is missing most of the fine control and execution we've come to expect from typical dedicated home theater projectors. That's to be expected with inexpensive portable projectors like the kind Anker is best known for to date, but it doesn't fly today in an $1,800 4K projector—especially given several better performing lamp-based projectors we've tested in the $1,500-$1,800 price range, or even the 4K LED-based portables in the same price bracket we've reviewed.
That isn't to say the Nebula Cosmos Max should be written off. Anker is working to improve things with each firmware update. And by the sounds of it, there have been some improvements as updates roll out. There's a solid base to the Cosmos Max, one that Anker can build on and improve. But where it stands at the end of December 2020, there's some work to be done.
Brightness. In Standard picture mode and Normal color temperature with Brightness set to 100 and Maxbright gamma selected, the Anker Nebula Cosmos Max measured 731 ANSI lumens, which is only 48.7% of the published spec. Light output in Movie mode dropped by 7% to 681 ANSI lumens and by 15% to 625 ANSI lumens in Office picture mode. There is no Eco mode to prolong light source life or decrease power consumption. Color brightness measured 104% of white.
The picture modes measured as follow:
Anker Nebula Cosmos Max ANSI Lumens
|Picture Mode||ANSI Lumens|
Brightness Uniformity. Brightness uniformity measured at 78%. On my sample the difference was between the center and top right of the screen, but hot or dim spots were not perceptible. For most of the screen the difference between sectors was only about a maximum of 50 ANSI lumens.
Fan Noise. Anker says that the Cosmos Max is rated not to exceed 32 dB based on the ISO7779 lab measurement standard. In a more casual measurement in my living room from my viewing position about three feet behind the Cosmos Max, the sound meter registered 35 dB. That certainly isn't too bad, but the whine of the fans can be heard during quiet moments.
Input Lag. With a Leo Bodnar 1080p lag tester, I measured 1080p/60 input lag on the Nebula Cosmos Max at 108.8ms. This is far too much for any but the most casual gamer, and would only be acceptable for games that aren't reliant on quick response, like The Sims.
- HDMI 2.0 (x2, one with ARC)
- USB 2.0 (x2)
- Optical out
Calibrated Settings. Calibrated image settings from any third-party do not account for the significant potential for sample-to-sample variation, nor the different screen sizes and materials, lighting, lamp usage, or other environmental factors that can affect image quality. Projectors should always be calibrated in the user's own space and tuned for the expected viewing conditions. However, the settings provided here may be a helpful starting point for some. Always record your current settings before making adjustments so you can return to them as desired. Refer to the Performance section for some context for each calibration.
Picture Mode: Movie
Color Temperature: Warm
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Anker Cosmos Max projector page.