The 3D snowball has gradually gained momentum and, if consumer-electronics companies are to be believed, it will soon become something of an avalanche. It's hardly surprising, then, that Acer has created the 15.6-inch Aspire 5738 3D, the world's first laptop to sport a 3D screen. The screen is rather like one you'd find in a 1960s drive-in cinema, only in laptop form. The 5738 3D is available to buy now from around £600.
The 3D display has been made possible due to the efforts of Australian company Dynamic Digital Depth, whose TriDef 3D technology can, allegedly, transform any 2D content into 3D. The system is pretty simple. When the 3D mode isn't enabled, the laptop's 120Hz display shows images as normal. When the 3D mode is enabled, that 120Hz image is split into two 60Hz stereoscopic images, and a pair of polarising glasses -- not the active-shutter or red-and-green anaglyph type -- are required to provide the impression of depth.
Pay close attention
We're pleased to report that the 3D effect works, but only under strict conditions: the screen must be tilted to a precise 120° angle, your eyes must be 60cm away, and you must be willing to look like a total dork with the one-size-too-small stereoscopic glasses or the clip-on lenses that go over your own prescription spectacles. Once you're aligned perfectly, there's a definite feeling of depth to the on-screen graphics, although, if you move your body for whatever reason, the entire illusion is ruined.
Take your brain to another dimension
Acer supplies a variety of purpose-built 3D demo movies and stills, some of which have a better 3D feel than others. In the best examples, the screen gains tremendous depth, appearing not as a flat surface but as a small window that objects can move in and out of. In some cases, the closest objects actually appear to be floating directly above the keyboard -- it's almost as if you can reach out and grab them.
It's not all good news, however. The image quality in 3D mode is in no way as impressive as it is in 2D mode, mainly because the vertical resolution is effectively being halved during the process of displaying two slightly different images. Even when the 3D mode is working well, viewing it can occasionally be rather uncomfortable. You may find your eyes tiring quickly or hurting, particularly when there's plenty of three-dimensional flotsam flying towards you.
To find another race
Those 3D demos are fine and dandy, but you'll tire of them within minutes. Luckily, the TriDef 3D system can transform your everyday 2D content into 3D, or at least that's what Dynamic Digital Depth claims. Simply open your chosen content in the TriDef Media Player and it'll be transmogrified into multi-layered 3D goodness in real-time -- or at least that's the theory. The reality is that it's often difficult to tell whether there's actually any depth in converted photos and videos. The effect looks okay in some instances, but it's certainly not convincing or rewarding enough to warrant searching for the funny-looking 3D glasses, which you'll inevitably lose.
Play close attention
Aside from the custom-built 3D demos, the most impressive 3D effect is delivered by games. Dynamic Digital Depth has drawn up a list of compatible games, which includes popular titles such as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, BioShock and Fallout 3. Like photos and movies, these have to be launched from within a piece of TriDef software, and, while the effect isn't mind-blowingly awesome, it does add noticeable depth to the experience.
Spec my kit up
The 5738 3D runs on solid, if somewhat ordinary, hardware. At its heart is a fast, 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 CPU, which will be quick enough to satisfy the demands of most users, as indicated by its PCMark05 score of 4,593. Our review sample also had a generous 500GB hard drive, and the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium, which takes full advantage of the system's 4GB of RAM.
The only disappointment is the laptop's somewhat mediocre ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570 graphics card, which turned in a fairly average 3DMark06 score of 3,140. It's fast enough to run high-definition movies and the like, but struggles to run 3D games at a high resolution with high detail settings, and that's a shame in a laptop designed specifically for 3D purposes. Battery life is average, too. The 5738 lasted 1 hour and 40 minutes in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test.
The Acer Aspire 5738 3D must be applauded for at least trying to usher in the 3D era, but it doesn't deliver a sufficiently convincing 3D effect, which leaves it open to the criticism that this functionality is a pointless gimmick. Still, its saving grace is the fact, even without this party trick, it's a very solid all-round laptop that's actually good value for money.
Edited by Charles Kloet