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HP Envy 17 3D review: HP Envy 17 3D

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MSRP: $1,599.00

The Good Slim, attractive design; full HD 1080p display; includes active-shutter 3D glasses.

The Bad Clunky 3D software; using 3D kills video game frame rates.

The Bottom Line HP's upscale-feeling Envy 17 3D offers great hardware at a decent price, but its 3D implementation isn't as good as that of laptops with Nvidia's 3D Vision.

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7.5 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 5
  • Support 7

HP's second-generation Envy laptops have been favorites of ours, combining sleek design, solid construction, and high-end components, all for a reasonable price (at least compared with the first generation of Envy laptops). The latest version of the Envy 17, one might call it generation 2.5, adds 3D capabilities.

While the feature-packed Envy 17 includes a Blu-ray drive, both HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, and a USB 3.0 port, the addition of 3D hardware and active-shutter glasses isn't as much fun as it could be. Instead of using Nvidia's well-established 3D Vision platform, HP uses XpanD glasses with the TriDef 3D software we've seen on a handful of passive 3D laptops.

The implementation is clunky to say the least. The TriDef software is ugly and confusing, we weren't able to play 3D Blu-ray movies out of the box without downloading additional software, and the TriDef software wrapper for running PC games in 3D cut frame rates nearly in half in some tests.

Once we had worked through the kinks, the 3D effect was good-to-excellent, especially in 3D videos, but for a starting price of $1,599 we'd like a little more polish. Putting aside the 3D issue, the Envy 17 remains an excellent high-end desktop replacement and one of our favorites in this category. Unless you're dying to combine the Envy with 3D, look instead to the non-3D version of the Envy 17, which cuts about $300 from the price.

Price as reviewed $1,599
Processor 1.6GHz Intel Core i7 720QM
Memory 6GB, 1,333MHz DDR3
Hard drive 640GB 7,200rpm
Chipset Mobile Intel PM55 Express Chipset
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 16.4x10.8 inches
Height 1.3 inches to 1.5 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 17.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 7.2/8.8 pounds
Category Desktop replacement

The 3D version is physically identical to the non-3D Envy 17, and our general impressions of the design and construction remain the same (and some of these observations are taken from that earlier review). With a slim, but heavy, aluminum and magnesium chassis, the Envy 17 is less of a desk-hogging system than many of its 17-inch counterparts, leading us to compare it with the (still slimmer) 17-inch MacBook Pro. The similarities even extend to the backlit keyboard and oversize clickpad.

The same subtle pattern of imprinted squares covers the wrist rest and back of the lid as we've seen on other Envy laptops, and the construction feels rock-solid and durable. Even better, this is one of the few truly fingerprint-proof laptops we've run across.

The flat-topped, widely spaced island-style keys are standard across most of the laptop industry at this point, including the majority of HP laptops. Even with a full number pad included on the right side, there's still plenty of room in the keyboard tray, and there's room for an even larger keyboard, although the one here was perfectly suitable for typing.

The large clickpad evokes Apple's version, with the left and right mouse buttons built right into the clickable surface. The size is decent, but could easily be even larger, and the multitouch functionality can't hold a candle to Apple's (which is something that can currently be said of any non-Mac laptop). The next generation of clickpads will hopefully bring added functionality and responsiveness, but they're still a ways off.

One of the system's highlights is its big 1,920x1,080-pixel display. Under edge-to-edge glass, the full-HD screen looks great, and is exactly the right resolution for Blu-ray and other HD video content. As in the other Envy laptops, HP has teamed with Beats Audio to include special bass-boosting software and hardware that purportedly works especially well with Beats-branded headphones, but also sounds clear and hefty with other headphones or through the system speakers. It won't fill the room for your next house party, but it certainly sounds very good for laptop speakers.

In 3D mode, the display stays bright and clear, but the 3D effect is particularly susceptible to problems with off-axis viewing (as with most 3D systems). The included XpandD glasses don't have a power button; when you point them at the screen with 3D content playing, they simply turn on.

We actually couldn't get 3D Blu-ray discs to play through with either the included TriDef software or HP's default media player software. Instead, we had to download CyberLink PowerDVD 10, which worked fine (as we're sure many other media-playing applications would). Onboard documentation about how to play 3D files and games, and what file formats are supported, was nearly nonexistent. For 3D newbies, we can imagine it being a very frustrating experience.

For games, one has to launch the game's EXE file through a TriDef wrapper app, which requires scanning for it automatically, and if that doesn't work, tracking down the correct EXE file and manually adding it to the TriDef app's list of recognized games. It's a cumbersome process, and not as intuitive as Nvidia's 3D Vision platform, which combines the 3D software and hardware--in this case, we're dealing with 3D software and hardware from different companies.

Most (but not all) of the games we tried launched in 3D, but the difference in quality while running in 3D mode was very noticeable. In Street Fighter IV, for example, the game ran at 59.8 frames per second in normal 2D mode, as we'd expect from this powerful collection of hardware. But running the game through the TriDef 3D wrapper app cut the frame rate to 30.7 frames per second. Still playable, but that's almost a 50 percent drop.

HP Envy 17 3D Average for category [desktop replacement]
Video VGA, HDMI, DisplayPort VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks. Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.
Data 4 USB (1 USB 3.0, 1 USB/eSATA), SD card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA
Expansion None ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive Blu-ray player/DVD burner DVD burner, optional Blu-ray player

The highlight of the Envy's ports and connections collection may be the inclusion of a still-rare USB 3.0 jack. While there are a handful of USB 3.0 portable hard drives out there, for now the combo USB/eSATA port may be more useful.

The Envy 17's performance was on par with other high-end Intel Core 17 laptops, even though its 1.6GHz Intel Core i7 720QM will soon be eclipsed by the latest generation of Intel Core processors, formerly known by the code name Sandy Bridge. Those chips are just starting to find their way into the market, and for now, only in high-end quad-core versions.

Upgrades to the 2010-generation Core i7-740QM and Core i7-840QM are available for $100 and $400, respectively. It may be possible to find or configure a faster laptop, but for practical purposes, it's hard to imagine any multitasking situation in which the Envy 17 would run into much slowdown or stuttering.

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