Nebula Capsule II: Big entertainment in a pint-sized projector
Anker rolled some of the biggest names in streaming into a pint-sized projector called the Nebula Capsule II.
It’s powered with Android TV software and Google Assistant, making it the most forward looking portable projector on the market.
Being able to watch a baseball game in your backyard is one of the great pleasures of summer.
But what makes the Capsule II so impressive is its 720p picture resolution, a remarkably handy remote control and more than 3,600 apps from the Google Play store.
You’ll recognize the projector’s menu if you own a Smart TV or NVIDIA Shield with Android TV software.
With built-in apps for Hulu, Pluto TV, YouTube, PlayStation Vue and Sling TV, the Capsule II is an easy pick for an outdoor movie night or watching live sports. Add a HDHomeRun or Tablo tuner to the mix and you can watch over-the-air channels using a TV antenna.
For gaming, I paired an inexpensive Matricom gamepad to the Capsule II to play Badland, Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP Renegade.
Last summer, I spent about a month testing out the Nebula Mars II. I still think it’s among the best portable projectors on the market. The one limitation was its third-party software. I plugged in a Roku Streaming Stick to broaden the app selection.
Adding anything else to the Capsule II is unnecessary. The first Nebula Capsule debuted in November 2017. A major selling point for its follow up is its Android TV software. It marks a huge leap forward for portable projectors, and makes the Capsule II unique in the pico projector market.
5 Facts about Nebula Capsule II
- Android TV software with Google Assistant
- Netflix works (sideloaded)
- Doubles as 8W Bluetooth speaker
- 720p resolution / 200 lumens
- Numerous Live TV/Streaming options
If you’re interested in a particular element of the Capsule II, you can jump down to sections on Streaming Netflix, Best Apps for Live TV and Movies, Running without WiFi, Gaming on Android TV, Key Features, Setting Up the Capsule II, and what to consider before you buy it.
How I tested the Nebula Capsule II
I spent three weeks testing the Nebula Capsule 2 indoors and outdoors. Most of my testing happened while being connected to my home WiFi network. I did some offline experimenting with the Capsule II as well to see how it could be used if you took it to a campground or a place without any Internet connection.
An OWLENZ 120-inch projection screen that I bought on Amazon was used for watching movies and live TV outdoors. Anker sent me the Capsule II to test out for this review.
The Capsule II comes with a USB Type-C cord and adapter for charging, and a remote control equipped with Google Assistant for voice commands.
The Nebula Capsule II is essentially a portable TV and streaming device rolled into one.
The only workarounds you need to know about is with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Anker says that due to Netflix’s policies, the company only certifies devices with at least 1 million units in production.
Anker addresses the lack of Netflix on the main menu by side loading the app through its mobile app. Just follow the instructions on the app to add Netflix to the projector. When you’re done, you’ll have an N icon at the top of the app.
Once you have Netflix on the screen, you can go back to using the regular remote control or the mobile app to navigate around. Aside from needing the mobile Nebula app to boot up Netflix, the app worked well, and the picture looks as good as any that loads natively.
A Google spokesperson told TechHive that Amazon Prime would be added to Android TV by summer. Assuming it’s added to all versions Android TV software, Amazon Prime would be a welcome addition to the Nebula Capsule II.
Best apps for Live TV and Streaming Movies
There are literally thousands of apps on Android TV, but during my testing, I was drawn to many of the same choices that I have for my TV. Having Android TV on board means the average cord cutter can easily tap into subscription services and free live TV (with the right accessories).
Pluto TV was a big one. The free streaming service has a robust lineup of free movies, and more than 100 live channels. It’s an easy way to quickly find a movie, or find some live music.
Movies Anywhere is an easy way to pull in your movie collection from a number of online platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Microsoft and Xfinity.
YouTube TV was impressive, especially when I watched a Red Sox game outside on the OWLENZ screen. As you can see from the photo below, the picture remained bright and crisp. I connected the 2.4GHz bandwidth on my router while live streaming on YouTube TV and Philo.
Philo adds another 58 live TV channels such as A&E, History and Paramount. And Hulu is another great staple for movies and TV shows.
And since I use a TV antenna quite a bit, I tried out a HDHomeRun and Tablo OTA DVR. I watched some of the Stanley Cup Finals on NBC — and even with my WiFi router one floor above me — I didn’t run into any lag or hang-ups. Watching Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals at night is pretty dazzling when you can project a 100 inch screen or onto a wall.
Running without WiFi
At the back of the projector, the Nebula Capsule II has a single HDMI port and USB port. Having these ports means you don’t have to rely on an Internet connection to watch a movie or look at some family photos saved to a hard drive.
ES File Explorer was already loaded on the projector. So I plugged in an external hard drive to the USB port, and my movies played seamlessly. The saved files on a hard drive can be viewed under the “local” folder. (I also had these same movies available to me through my Plex account while connected to WiFi.)
Even without any WiFi, the Nebula Capsule II can play games from the Google Play Store that have already been downloaded to internal memory. Anker says the HDMI port can be used to connect DVD players, game consoles and streaming devices.
Gaming on Android TV
I only downloaded a few basic games to the projector. Badland, Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP Renegade. The projector has 4.4GB of internal storage, 8GB ROM and a Quad Core A53. So it’s good enough for casual gaming.
Playing on a huge 100” screen took me back to when I used to play simple, fun games in an arcade. I didn’t connect my gaming consoles to the Capsule II (yet), but Anker says game consoles are compatible.
One thing to note if you already own games on a NVIDIA Shield: The Shield runs on a different version of Android TV than the Capsule II. So if you already own games on a Shield, they won’t transfer over to the Shield. I did see an exception or two (e.g. Star Wars: Knights of the Republic).
The Capsule II has 200 ANSI lumens, which makes it watchable in dim light. But this projector is really made for nighttime or viewing at dusk. The two 8W speakers added some nice dimension to the audio for their size. There is an audio output, but I was very happy with the sound quality coming from the two 8W internal speakers.
And the auto-focus/keystone correction work well. There were a couple of instances where I had to engage the auto focus manually. The keystone correction is quick and responsive. I watched mostly everything at 100 inches, which Nebula says is the maximum screen size. But I found (depending on the angle/setup) that I was able to go over 100” while maintaining very good picture resolution.
Google Assistant is no small thing. When I first read that Assistant was a feature on the Nebula Capsule II, I was skeptical. What am I going to use this for? You can do some of the things you expect from Google Assistant such as asking for a weather forecast, or when the next Red Sox game is on.
If you have the projector set up in your garage and ask Assistant, “How do I repair a flat tire?” getting a number of instructional YouTube videos is pretty nice.
On the entertainment front, I was most impressed with its movie search. When I asked to see thriller movies, I was given choices from Google Play and VUDU as you’d expect. But I was pleasantly surprised to see the software also pulled in the movies saved to my Plex account.
Chromecast is pretty useful for sharing photos and videos from your PC or smart phone. But honestly, the Android TV software had more than enough options for movies and TV shows. I’m glad to have Chromecast on the projector, but only as a backup option.
Setup and power
There are a couple of ways you can position the Capsule II. When I was watching the Red Sox game on my back deck, the projector was only about 10 feet from the screen that I hung in front of my sliding doors. The screen was slightly above eye level so I put the projector on a small drink table. To get it at the right elevation, I put a few books under the projector.
When I watched movies indoors, I was projecting at an angle so I could use a big space of open wall just below the ceiling. A tripod was a much better way for that kind of setup. I have a tripod for a camera that works great for precise angles. Anker makes a tripod for its projectors. But these projectors have a universal fitting so just about any camera tripod will work.
Anker says the battery life is between 2.5 to 3 hours, and that was on point with my experience. I watched Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story on Netflix, which clocks in at 142 minutes. After the last credits rolled, I still had a little bit of battery power left to cruise around the menu.
After another movie, I ran the battery down to nothing just to see what would happen. When the projector’s battery dwindles to 20 percent, a warning pops up on the screen. That last 20 percent lasted longer than I expected. And there’s one more warning that comes on the screen a couple of minutes before it goes full dark.
Before using the Nebula Capsule II
The Nebula Capsule II does not come fully charged. So you should plug it in as soon as you get it out of the box. Once the power light in the back of the projector turns full green, you’re ready to turn it on.
Press the power button for a few seconds to power on the projector.
The first three things you should do after charging up the projector go in this order: connect it to your WiFi network, update the Android TV software and then load up on apps.
There are controls at the top of the projector, but using the remote control makes using the Capsule II a lot faster. When you get in the habit of using voice commands through Google Assistant, you’ll really be able to track things down easily.
If you’ve never used Android TV software before, it’s actually very easy to add apps and customize the menu. Move over to the top left icon under apps to access the Google Play Store. Once you have the apps you want, Android TV lets you rearrange feeds from the apps that you chose.
If you are buying a Nebula Capsule II
The Nebula Capsule II costs $579.99, which is about the same price of a decent Roku TV.
If you are thinking of buying the Capsule II, I would suggest buying the unit directly from Nebula for a couple of reasons. Shipping is free. And the company has a 45-day return policy (which is 15 days longer than Amazon.) That said, Amazon is also selling the Capsule II for about the same price.
I do wish Netflix and Amazon Prime Video was available on native apps. Anker says it’s currently working with Netflix to get its certification. Amazon Video will hopefully be available during its anticipated roll out to Android TV devices this summer.
You can buy projectors in the $600 to $700 range with a higher picture resolution of 1080p. But you’ll be sacrificing the Capsule II’s portability, and more importantly, all the advantages that come with a certified version of Android TV software.
The Capsule II is remarkably versatile for a projector of its size, and unlike a number of competing models, you don’t need to add any accessories — including a smart phone — for an outdoor movie night. It’s the best portable projector that has come out in 2019.
So what’s your favorite portable projector? Have you tried out the Nebula Capsule II? Tell fellow readers about your experience with projectors in the comments below. For more tips on streaming, head over to the main page of The Cord Cutting Report.
MENTIONED IN THIS REVIEW:
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble