At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: Nebula Mars II Pro

Avoid these Tech Glitches Before your Next Backyard Movie Night

The cold weather could be the least of your concerns if your outdoor projector doesn’t function properly at your backyard event. Here are a few problems to look out for and how to fix them.

My family and I have returned from a little adventure across town. It was at a friend’s outdoor birthday party in his backyard for his eleven-year-old son.

My friend asked me if I could bring along my portable projector to help him create an outdoor screening of “Black Panther” via his Disney+ app on his iPad. I was more than happy to oblige. His wife put up a white sheet on the back side of their house overlooking their patio, and we were ready to provide the post-meal entertainment.

How to Set Up your Backyard Movie Night Gear
Over the summer, my new Nebula Mars II Pro projector made by Anker was the backbone of my own backyard movie night series. My iPhone served up movies through the iTunes Store and Disney+.

I connected my iPhone to my Lightning Digital AV Adapter (from Apple) and then used an HDMI cable to tether my iPhone to the Mars II Pro. Though you can connect via Bluetooth, a direct connection avoids certain content transfer restrictions.

Though my portable projection system worked great, there were two technical glitches that I needed to work through:

How to Fix Audio Sync Problems with an External Speaker
The Mars II Pro’s two onboard speakers are relatively powerful, but the outdoors can be a noisy place, especially with crickets at dusk. When I tried augmenting the audio oomph with my portable AOMAIS Go Bluetooth speaker I discovered an annoying quirk using Bluetooth.

When streaming content via the Mars II Pro’s onboard apps, the video synced up just fine to the external Bluetooth speaker. The Mars II Pro works perfectly in its own operating universe.

But once I tried extending that equation and connecting the Mars II Pro via HDMI to my iPhone, that was a step too far! It created a small but infuriating audio delay from my AOMAIS Go speaker.

The fix is to avoid the Bluetooth connection altogether and hard wire the external speaker using an audio cable with 3.5mm mini connectors. After that, my external speaker’s audio synced to the Mars II Pro’s video perfectly.

Don’t Miss this Setting when Downloading Movies from the Apple TV App
File compatibility can be a problem when using a digital AV adapter.

I found that when downloading movies onto my iPhone from the iTunes Store, the flicks wouldn’t play when I used my Lightning Digital AV Adapter. Instead, I received this message.

BUT…

When I opened my iOS 14’s settings and navigated to the Apple TV app, I spotted this critical setting under Digital AV Adapter Options:

  • Downloads for AV Adapter

And here’s the fix:

  • Slide Downloads for AV Adapter to – Green

This setting allows “Apple TV app to download titles specially-formatted to play through an AV adapter…”

Wow. Yes, it was that simple.

The Fall Challenge
Armed with my summer outdoor movie night learnings, I felt emboldened to confront any technical problem that fall outdoor movie night might throw at me. I brought my gear over to my friend’s house, eager to boot it all up.

My friend had already download the movie on his iPad’s Disney+ app to avoid the occasional but maddening video artifacts that can pop up when streaming gets bumpy. (smart)

I unpacked my Lightning digital AV Adapter and HDMI cable combo and connected his iPad to my Mars II Pro.

Docking was complete, and we were ready to go.

Great Scott!
My friend tapped the play icon, and the movie began.

Suddenly, I felt an uncontrollable impulse. I screamed, “It worked!” And I proceeded to take a victory lap around the patio. Everyone stared at me with confusion. They must have wondered if I was channeling my inner Doc Brown from “Back to the Future.” (I was.)

That’s because over the summer, I tried to project downloaded Disney+ movies using this same set up using my iPhone XS Max… and failed.

I’ve always receive this message:

So, I’ve been forced to stream my Disney+ content instead. And yes, that worked. But the Disney+ download method has continued to elude me.

Living Happily with Cold and Mystery
Of course I’ve tried to figure out why my friend’s iPad succeeded where my iPhone has stumbled. Let me simply say that the investigation… continues.

For now, the fact that my Nebula Mars II Pro was able to contribute to another successful outdoor movie night during this chilly time of year is plenty to celebrate.

Sure, it was cold out, but these are extraordinary times. If there’s a way to avoid cancelling yet another event while also being able to social distance outdoors, I think it’s worth considering.

So, break out the long underwear. Wear layers. Stir up some hot chocolate for the kids. And maintaining some glow in a fire pit doesn’t hurt either.

With that in place, it’s worth it!

4 Ways to Upgrade your Day during COVID-19 with Technology

I put my technology to work and made these tweaks to help improve my family’s experience while spending more time at home.

Isn’t the promise of technology to improve the quality of your life? Well, now is certainly the perfect opportunity to make sure your tech is working overtime to help get you through COVID-19.

Here are four ways that technology helps me to maintain comfort at home and some sense of normalcy.

#1
Continue Ordering Groceries Online
Yes, I was one of those people who didn’t want to visit supermarkets while COVID-19 was spiking in the greater New York City area.

Sure, it was difficult to find open delivery slots from the usual online grocery choices, but I was able to hunt down enough openings between FreshDirect, Whole Foods/Amazon and Peapod to keep our refrigerator sufficiently stocked from March to June.

When news of COVID-19 began leading the headlines elsewhere in the country, more grocery delivery times in our neck of the woods gradually appeared.

And I kept ordering.

No, I didn’t like the idea of someone else picking out my food, but I was willing to ignore my ‘hunting and gathering’ instincts because of the extraordinary circumstances. But a funny thing happened along the way… I realized that I was indeed able to get the majority of what I wanted without showing up to a market. And it didn’t really cost that much more.

Other than the original challenge of finding open delivery slots, online grocery delivery has become an amazingly convenient way to stock our house.

I know it’s not like this shopping option hasn’t been available for years. But I never gave it a chance. (I considered it an unnecessary luxury.)

But the truth is… it’s a real time saver. And you know what they say about time…

#2
Buy a Chair with Ergonomic Support
Sitting all day can be a punishing experience for your body, especially your back. In the early days of COVID-19, I found that my lower back was stiff and achy. And I knew that the culprit was my old home-office chair, which wasn’t designed to provide sufficient ergonomic support. And it clearly wasn’t made to sit in all day.

So I decided that it was time to upgrade.

The choices for a better chair are endless, and they can get crazy expensive. (A Herman Miller Aeron, the gold standard, can set you back $1,400.) While the opposite side of the shopping spectrum is under $200, you should consider that you get what you pay for.

That said, there are solid chairs out there at more reasonable price points. I eventually zeroed in on the well-reviewed $349 Autonomous ErgoChair 2, which I bought direct. (Autonomous began in 2015 on Kickstarter.)

Compared to my old chair, it’s a dream to sit in! It provides all of the right supports to help keep me aligned throughout my day. And my lower back is incredibly happy with the proper lumbar support. (You can’t put a price on that!)

#3
Set Up an Outdoor Movie Night for your Friends
You may recall that I launched the Lester backyard movie night series earlier in the summer, which mimics the idea of a drive-in movie, but without any cars parked in the middle of my backyard!

I bought a Nebula Mars II Pro, which is a small but powerful battery-run projector. I popped it on a tripod and taped a white sheet onto our backyard fence.

Then, it’s showtime!

You can stream Netflix directly from the Mars II Pro or you can hard wire it to your smartphone to access an almost endless supply of movie choices. You can also connect to the Mars II Pro via Bluetooth, but not all movie services will let you stream through to the Mars II Pro via a smartphone.
(Once you figure out these irregularities, you’ll look like a wizard having so easily turned your backyard into a movie theater!)

The Mars II Pro has two 10-watt speakers, which is impressive for this product category. That said, I’ve found that the summer nights have become increasingly noisy with various insect beasts proclaiming their existence. The last time we tried our outdoor movie night, the roar of crickets overwhelmed the entire experience. So, it was clear that I needed a louder portable sound system to work with.

So, I bought the AOMAIS Go Bluetooth speaker ($70.99 on Amazon) which projects 40 watts of power, and you can really appreciate the boost in sound.

It’s simple to pair the AOMAIS Go to the Mars II Pro. And even though it’s easy to carry the speaker around, it ironic that it’s about twice the size of the projector.

There are more powerful portable speakers out there, but they’re more expensive. The AOMAIS Go has enough oomph to do the trick for me.

#4
Order More Bandwidth for your Family’s Streaming Needs
I imagine that you too may have faced a barrage of complaints from family members that your home Wi-Fi network can’t handle the increased load of endless Zoom meetings, online learning and Netflix streaming.

It’s probably not your Wi-Fi. It’s your Internet service plan. So, go check it and then upgrade your bandwidth to the next level. That should do the trick!

I was paying for the base plan of 100 Mbps. So I spent $10 more a month to double it to 200 Mbps. That stabilized things really quick.
(There are faster plans, but I say only buy what you need.)

As part of my review of our Internet plan, I also decided to buy a compatible modem with my Optimum service. Then, I returned the modem that I was renting, which will save us $10 a month.

I’ve effectively doubled our bandwidth without spending more on a monthly basis! Now, everyone at home is having a better online experience throughout their day.

Make those Tech Tweaks
Sure, our world is feeling a bit out of control these days. It’s more important than ever to do what you can to maintain a smooth home operation. Used most effectively, your technology can help you to do exactly that!

Which Portable Projector for your Backyard Movie Night?

If you’re thinking of inviting friends over during this summer of COVID-19, staying outside is a good idea. Setting up a backyard movie night is one easy way to maximize the visit. But choosing the right projector can be difficult. Here’s what I bought…

I expect we’re probably into this for the long haul. So, I’ve made the decision to partially release myself from seclusion (to my wife’s great joy). I know that some have seemingly forgotten about COVID-19, but I’m not in that group… believe me.

In fact, I’m still having all of our groceries delivered from FreshDirect and Peapod. The fact that I no longer feel like I’m playing the lottery to find an open delivery slot is a good indication that more people are shopping for themselves again. I should mention that we live in Connecticut, which is currently not a hot spot. And that’s certainly good news. And maybe reason enough for me to take advantage of the relative calm and take care of some business… like getting a haircut! Who knows what the future will bring.

The Limits of Social Distancing
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been particularly conservative about navigating in our new COVID-19 world. But you really can’t entirely isolate your family for an entire summer and prevent all outside social interactions beyond Zoom chatting.

And it’s not even just the summer we’re talking about… it could be another year… or two!

People need some social connection!

Expanding your Safe Circle
So we are now ‘interacting’ with a few other families we know who are also ‘being careful.’ We’re trying to follow social distancing rules, but of course it’s imperfect when there are fifth graders in the equation.

Yes, it’s increasing the risk, but I have to develop a long-term plan that’s reasonable. Sheltering at home for two weeks is easy. Four months is hard. How about asking your family to continue on for some unspecified future?!

Turn Your Backyard into an Outdoor Movie Theater
As we thought about the Lesters’ ‘reopening plan,’ we considered how we would handle playdates. Clearly, those interactions should be outside.

We brainstormed about what they might look like, and we came upon one quaint option of hosting outdoor family movie nights in our backyard.

That’s a perfect idea, right?!

And, of course, it’s the newest challenge for Mr. At Home with Tech…

Looking for a Needle in a Haystack (Again)
As I Googled through what seems like a complicated and vastly oversaturated market of portable projectors that range from $90-$2,000 (really), I immediately felt overwhelmed.

First off, you’ve got to decide exactly what you’re looking for. This tech category can have a variety of names:

  • Pocket projectors
  • Portable projectors
  • Pico projectors
  • Mini projectors
  • Battery-powered projectors

They mostly refer to the same general product line. So, I tried to focus on several key needs:

  • Battery power
    (No extension cords stretched across my backyard, please)
  • An image of at least 720P HD
    (Come on… I’ve got standards!)
  • Bright enough to do its job at dusk
  • Sufficient onboard sound so I wouldn’t also want to use a separate speaker
    (Less clutter)

Everything I found in the sub $200 price bracket didn’t really seem cut out for the job.

My spending cap was $500. Anything more felt too expensive for just a fun outdoor activity. Sure, it would certainly be a big help during this ‘Summer of COVID,’ but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

Facing the True Cost
The biggest challenge I created for myself was the need for battery power. That requirement really limited my choices.

And my options dwindled even further as I looked for bright enough projection chops to handle a twilight screening as well as a strong enough battery to make it through an entire movie.

And then the killer: My $500 price point.

The truth is, you’ve got to spend more (sometimes a lot more) to get a bright-enough projector that gives you any flavor of HD, runs long enough on its battery and projects decent sound.

Hello, Nebula Mars II Pro
It’s ironic that with so many supposed choices, only one projector came close to meeting my requirements:

Nebula Mars II Pro
by Anker
$549 on Amazon

It’s effectively an all-in-one solution to launch our movie-night series:

  • 720P Video
  • 3-hour battery
  • 500 lumens (which isn’t the brightest, but is at the top this category)
  • Dual 10-watt speakers (a huge differentiator)
  • Horizontal and vertical keystoning (important to get a squared image)
  • Some cool streaming options through its Android 7.1 OS
  • Can also hard connect through USB and HDMI

And it didn’t hurt that both Wirecutter and Rolling Stone called out the Nebula Mars II Pro as a top pick.

Plus, I already have solid brand loyalty to Anker.

Budget Friendly Choices have Limits
There are more powerful options to consider if you’ve got a bigger budget, but I kept my research focused on more affordable choices. I found a couple contenders, but they couldn’t match the Mars II Pro’s specs:

The price is right, but this AAXA not as bright as the Nebula and the sound output is weak.

  • Viewsonic M1+
    $299.99 on Amazon
    854×480 (WVGA)
    300 lumens
    6 hour battery
    3W (x2) speakers

Good price and great battery, but it’s not true HD and this Viewsonic is even dimmer than he AAXA. The speakers are better than some, but the M1+ still can’t compete with the Mars II Pro.

The Right Tool for the Job
So, I’m going with the Nebula! Yes, it broke my budget cap, but it’s also worth it to have confidence in your choice.

Click.

I could have spent less, but then I’d be setting myself up for disappointment with gear that’s not powerful enough to handle an outdoor environment.

Dealing with the Great Outdoors
When designing a backyard movie-night experience, you should always remember that you’re not trying to create a ‘home-theater’ equivalent. Otherwise, you’ll need to spend a whole lot more.

And your event is inevitably going to be rough around the edges. (I’m only planning on using a white sheet hung from my backyard fence.)

And who knows if our guests will quickly lose interest in our outdoor movie in favor of chasing fireflies? Maybe a swarm of mosquitos will tank the whole screening.

There can be any number of variables that may prevent this investment from finding true success. But, if you’re going to go for it, don’t skimp too much on the oomph of your visual and audio projection.

Open for Business?
I’m excited to have my Nebula Mars II Pro for our Lester backyard movie nights.
Come on over… But don’t get too close.

For me, this is real progress during this Summer of COVID.

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