Katherine Boehret

Two Laptops Take Images to Another Dimension

If switching from standard to high-definition television wasn’t confusing enough, there’s another wave of TV technology on the horizon: 3D. But 3D TVs and much of the 3D content won’t be available until later this year, and even then most of these sets will be pricey and will require people to wear special glasses for viewing. If you can’t wait for a 3D TV to hit your living room, you can get a preview of what’s to come with the latest in 3D laptops.

I feasted my eyes on 3D laptops this week, testing the $770 Acer Aspire 5738DG and checking out the $1,700 Asus G51J 3D. These two computers are aimed at different crowds and each uses different technology to display enhanced images. The Acer is designed as a laptop first and a 3D game player second, and it’s priced for mainstream consumers—only about $70 more than the model without 3D. The Asus laptop is meant for serious gamers who care about a high-quality 3D experience. Unfortunately, you still need to wear the 3D glasses with both.

The Acer Aspire laptop applies a slightly older 3D method known as micro-polarized display, often referred to as “micropol.” It combines software, a film layer on the computer screen and 3D glasses to make videos and photos pop out. This laptop can take 2D videos and photos and display them in 3D; it also plays about 150 3D games as well as 3D movies, of which there aren’t many.

Acer converts 2D content to 3D by using a third-party software program called TriDef 3D, which people must use to see their photos and videos in 3D. Using this program is a bit clumsy and I tested it by loading my own photos and videos onto the Acer. A faster way to see photos or videos in 3D is by right clicking on the file from anywhere else on the PC and selecting an option to see it in TriDef’s 3D player. It was fun to see old images and videos in this 3D simulation.

I looked through a friend’s photos from a trip to Petra, Jordan, and the 3D sight of him riding a camel through a rock valley was spectacular. Files that were in the Windows Media Video format played without issue, and I watched two such videos including one of a bear lumbering around in a stream. But when I had trouble playing QuickTime and MP4 video files, a spokeswoman for Acer checked and confirmed that the TriDef program won’t play all QuickTime or MP4 video files; TriDef is working on fixing the MP4 problem.

Another problem with the Acer’s technology is that the laptop screen must be tilted at just the right angle—about 120 degrees—to see 3D properly. Otherwise the image looks blurry.

Eight photos and nine short videos come loaded on the Acer Aspire. All of these looked really good to my eyes, which were covered by the included black 3D shades. A clip-on piece for prescription glasses also comes with the laptop.

The Acer Aspire can be loaded with an Intel (INTC) Core 2 Duo processor, discrete graphics, 4 gigabytes of memory and a 320-gigabyte hard drive. Its keyboard includes a 10-key number set on the right, like that found on most desktop keyboards. Its bright screen measures 15.6 inches diagonally and it weighs 6.2 pounds.

The pricier Asus G51J 3D laptop comes loaded with Nvidia’s (NVDA) 3D Vision, considered to be a much higher quality 3D experience. This technology was originally only available on a desktop PC with several different necessary components. Now on a laptop, it displays 3D images to people as long as they’re wearing special battery-powered glasses and are standing no more than 40 feet away. These Nvidia glasses deliver the highest resolution possible per eye and enable wide viewing angles. The screen also has a high refresh rate of 120 hertz compared to the Acer’s 60 hertz.

Unlike the Acer Aspire, 2D photos and videos can’t be viewed in 3D on the Asus. Instead, this laptop depends on originally produced 3D content, including photos or videos that are captured using special technology like that found on 3D cameras such as Fujifilm’s FinePix REAL 3D W1, which are rare. As is also true on the Acer Aspire, movies only play on the Asus if they were created in 3D.

Games are another story. Nvidia 3D Vision will convert 2D games to 3D in real time using the computer’s graphics processor. Nvidia has tested some 430 games that work with this technology today.

Asus couldn’t send a G51J 3D laptop to me in time for this column, but I got a look at it in January while wearing the battery-operated Nvidia glasses, which work for 40 hours before a recharge and can fit over prescription glasses. This laptop has an Intel Core i7 processor and can have a hard drive of up to 500 gigabytes. It comes with 4 gigabytes of memory and its screen measures 15.6 inches. But it weighs 7.3 pounds, or about a pound heavier than the Acer.

Later this year, Acer also plans to make a laptop with Nvidia’s technology. (Acer currently uses Nvidia’s technology in its monitors.) Nvidia has announced plans for using its 120-hertz 3D Vision capability with laptops from Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics.

It’s obvious that, right now, 3D technology isn’t necessarily something most mainstream consumers want or need. Gamers will see Asus’s G51J 3D as an exciting mobile alternative to what was once only available in a desktop. And the Acer Aspire will appeal to casual gamers and people who want a trusty laptop and/or the ability to view some photos and videos in 3D. One thing’s for sure: Wearing the special glasses—no matter how stylish—is still a wearisome part of seeing things in 3D.

Edited by Walter S. Mossberg.

Write to Katherine Boehret at mossbergsolution@wsj.com


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