The summer months are a natural enemy of the high-end home theatre kit. Sure, bright mornings and long sunsets may give us vitamins, helps crops grow, reduces stress, lifts our mood and has been worshipped as a god by many different cultures throughout history. But why is it the enemy of our projector screens?
Dangbei wants to change that with its latest projector, the Mars. This compact film-thrower promises cinema-grade laser tech, for a brighter picture even when battling the midday sun. Did we see the light after a few weeks of box set bingeing?
Design & features: stream machine
This boxy all-in-one unit looks suitably high-end, with a mix of glossy and matte plastics. The sides are perforated to help with airflow, and all the connectivity is found at the rear to help keep cable mess to a minimum. It’s portable enough to cart between rooms or take outside for an al fresco film every once in a while, but you won’t be regularly throwing it in a backpack.
A lot of portable and pico projectors doing the rounds right now come with smart services baked in, and the Dangbei Mars is no exception. It has Netflix, YouTube and Prime Video preinstalled on its Linux-based OS, plus Mirrorcast for sharing content from your smartphone (but no AirPlay).
There’s an app store for adding more services, but it’s missing some big hitters. A FireTV stick or Apple TV could be a worthwhile addition to one of the two HDMI inputs at the back of the machine. There’s also a pair of USB ports for direct playback, and a digital optical port for hooking up an external speaker system.
The Mars has comprehensive auto-adjustment, including 6-way keystone correction, auto focus and obstacle avoidance. That’s handy, seeing as it lacks adjustable feet for angling the lens upwards when placed on a low surface. It all worked fairly flawlessly in our testing, with the screen size adjusting to account for picture frames and the like.
There’s no optical zoom, though, and obstacle avoidance can result in a smaller image, so is no substitution for perfect placement and a big, empty wall or projector screen.
Image: laser focus
The Mars combines DLP projection tech with a high brightness laser, and is good for a 1080p resolution image at a peak 2100 ISO lumens brightness. That’s enough to give HDR10 and HLG content some welcome extra oomph.
The improvement over an LCD-based projector, such as the Emotn N1, is also evident straight away. It shines brightly against walls, without the need for a dedicated screen. Colours are deep and vibrant straight out of the box, and without the need for tinkering around in the settings menus.
The laser tech really comes into its own when used in the daylight. Far too many projectors are rendered useless when even a crack of natural light is in the room, but this isn’t a problem for the Mars. Sure, it works a lot better in total darkness, but still offers a suitable viewing experience in a lit room. We were immediately impressed by how finer details in The Witcher held up while light pouring in from a big bay window. Geralt’s sword swipes and slashes were defined, with no significant motion blur to make the image a muddy mess. It can project a maximum 180in picture, but image quality isn’t substituted for quantity.
It holds up while watching The Witcher, but how did the Mars fare when playing it? We fell at the first hurdle after hooking up our PS5, given we don’t own a copy of the game, so instead opted for the vistas of Far Cry 6. The vibrant, warm hues of the Cuba-esque landscape are very well represented, and motion held up fairly well for the most part. Most importantly, parachuting into an enemy base while wielding a machine gun just hits different on a 180in screen.
Faster-paced games don’t hold up so well, though. Comparing an all-rounder projector to a high refresh rate monitor is akin to driving a Citreon Picasso like a monster truck – both have their specific, very different benefits – but the Mars isn’t as adept at motion as we’d like. It’s more suited to cinematic games with a slower pace than Destiny 2 crucible battles or a FIFA 23 FUT Champions play-off.
Sound: built-in bass
From the off, the Mars impresses with its sound quality. The dual built-in 10W speakers get Dolby Digital Plus decoding, so won’t rival a proper 5.1 system – or even a modestly-priced soundbar with virtual surround sound – but audio is punchy and decently balanced given its small size.
This is helped by the lack of noise made by the internal fan, which isn’t entirely silent but never intrudes on whatever you’re watching. The projector also doesn’t pump out gratuitous amounts of heat, which is a bonus for the warmer months.
We found it was about enough to fill a modestly sized room, and weren’t compelled to add external speakers for casual viewing. If you plan on replacing your TV with one of these, though, we think a soundbar would be money well spent.
Dangbei Mars projector verdict
Small, fairly smart, and impressively bright, the Dangbei Mars gets rid of one of our major annoyances when it comes to projectors. The laser-assisted lamp really can cope with daytime viewing, meaning you don’t need to draw the curtains every time you want to watch a program.
Built-in speakers and smart services make it an all-in-one home entertainment system, but it has a more limited selection than rivals that use Android TV. There’s also a lack of physical adjustment, meaning you’re reliant on (admittedly effective) digital keystone, and it’s not quite small or light enough to be truly portable. You’re also limited to Full HD, when you don’t have to spend an awful lot less elsewhere to get 4K.
If you want the biggest screen possible and refuse to invest in blackout blinds, though, this still has plenty of appeal.
This compact projector delivers ample brightness and a simple setup, but misses the mark on smart TV
Expansive projected image gets satisfyingly bright
Compact unit looks suitably stylish
Mainly cool and quiet in use
Built-in speakers do a decent job
Still not bright enough to replace your TV during the day
Motion smoothness and response times not great for gaming
Dangbei Mars technical specifications
|Maximum screen size
|2100 ISO Lumens
|Custom Linux w/ Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video
|2x 10W w/ Dolby Digital Plus
|USB2.0, HDMI IN, SPDIF out, Ethernet