3D has slowly been making a comeback in movies for the past few years, mostly in films with a heavy dose of CGI. The technology has come a long way, as have the sensibilities. Last year’s Coraline used 3D not so much to shock audiences with scary things coming out of the screen but instead to add depth to the animation, making everything seem just a bit more real. Where movies go, games are not far behind. And right on the heels of that are consumer electronics.
We’ve had the chance to review two notebooks with technologies that allow users to view 3D movies and pictures and play games in 3D: the ASUS G51J 3D and the Acer Aspire 5738DG. However, the technology is still new and a bit raw. If you’re going to jump in while the wave is building up, which system is best?
Both notebooks have 15.6-inch glossy displays and 1366 x 768 pixel resolutions. Both have decent horizontal and vertical viewing angles when watching regular content. But when wearing the 3D glasses, we found that we had to hit a precise vertical angle on the Acer to see the 3D effects properly. Sitting up or slouching was enough to throw everything out of whack.
The ASUS had no such issues –- we were able to view the screen from a wide variety of angles and still see the 3D effects fully. This is perfect for gamers who will no doubt end up physically dodging blows and shrapnel even more in 3D.
The difference in viewing angles comes from the technology in the glasses. Acer’s pair of polarized lenses render the effects passively. The system came with two pair – one full set and one set of flip-down shades for people who wear glasses. The flip-down shades pair didn’t work well at all, leaving those who need glasses behind.
ASUS opted for powered shutter glasses that receive a signal from an infrared emitter attached to a USB port. Plus, the display has a refresh rate of 120 Hz—a first for notebooks—so 3D images are much more detailed and crisp than on the Acer notebook. They’re a bit heavier than the passive pair, but aren’t uncomfortable and, best of all, fit over most glasses. The designers went so far as to take a trip to a Pearle Vision to make sure they’d fit over a variety of styles.
Acer’s 3D display is provided by TriDef while ASUS teamed up with Nvidia. This not only accounts for the difference in display and glasses, but also in the 3D media you’ll have access to. TriDef lists about 120 games ranging from casual to hardcore that will work with the Acer notebook. TriDef’s Ignition utility will also convert normal DVDs into 3D and allow users to select how deep the effect should be.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Nvidia lists over 400 games that work with their 3D technology given their involvement in the gaming community. Gaming in 3D on the ASUS G51J was a much better experience than on the Acer, particularly in games that can take full advantage of the screen. We were particularly impressed with gameplay in Batman: Arkham Asylum.
There’s less straight video media available in 3D, though what there is renders beautifully. The Nvidia 3D player makes an attempt to convert videos on the fly, it doesn’t do a great job. As with the TriDef utility, you can tweak the Nvidia player’s settings. This didn’t enhance DVDs significantly and trying to 3D-ify an AVI file caused the system to crash. Still, more content is promised in early 2010 as well as plugins for YouTube, Google Earth, and other websites/apps.
We noticed a performance hit when gaming in 3D on the ASUS. Compared to the non-3D version of the G51J (which offers full HD) we experienced lower framerates in Call of Duty: World At War and Left 4 Dead on the G51J 3D. The games still played smoothly, but there is a tradeoff.
The Acer’s ATI Radeon discrete graphics chip offered decent gaming, but frame rates were far behind the ASUS even with 3D effects on. On 3DMark06, the Acer’s score of 3,018 can’t hold a candle to the 6,779 marks earned by ASUS’ notebook.
It may be obvious that a system that costs $1,699 will be far better than one that costs $799. But if you’re going to go for a 3D notebook you want something that allows you to really take advantage of the technology. Movie buffs will appreciate the Acer Aspire 5738DG as it’s better at bringing 3D to 2D video. Still, right now it’s a decent notebook that has a fun extra in 3D, yet doesn’t offer true immersion.
The ASUS G51J 3D is right on the cusp of an emerging technology, offering the best 3D experience we’ve seen so far on a notebook. If you want in on the bleeding edge, especially if you’re a gamer, then the G51J 3D is worth the $200 premium over the non-3D version of the notebook.