It's no secret that 3D TV was a big theme at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. Electronics companies are banking on 3D to sell the next wave of flat-panel TVs starting this holiday season. Much less attention has been paid, however, to the use of stereoscopic 3D displays for computing even though it could be a natural fit for gamers.
Several companies announced 3D computing products at CES. Acer's updated 15.6-inch gaming laptop, the Aspire 5740 series, will include a model (the 5740DG) with Acer's TriDef 3D display and AMD's ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 graphics. MSI demonstrated a prototype all-in-one desktop with a 3D display based on Nvidia's 3D Vision technology (here's the press release). Asus already sells a gaming laptop using the same 3D Vision technology (more on that below). And Acer, Dell, LG Electronics and ViewSonic all announced "3D-ready" 120Hz 1080p displays.
Laptops with 3D displays are not new, though they have been few and far between. Sharp introduced the Actius RD3D in the U.S. way back in 2003. This early example used two 15-inch LCD panels separated by a parallax barrier to create a 3D effect without special glasses. But it only worked when viewed from right angle and distance, the display had a low resolution, and the notebook was heavy, sluggish and cost more than $3,000.
Things finally started to pick up last year. First Acer introduced the Aspire 5738DG, a mainstream laptop with AMD's ATI Radeon 4570 graphics and 15.6-inch display (1366 by 768) that uses a polarizing filter and passive glasses. A few weeks later, Asus released the G51J-3D, a higher-end gaming laptop with a 15.6-inch display (1,366 by 768) based on Nvidia's 3D Vision, which uses a fast display synchronized with active shutter glasses.
Each approach has its pros and cons. The passive system used by Acer is simpler because it doesn't require a wireless transmitter, and the glasses are lighter and less expensive. By comparison systems such as Nvidia's 3D Vision require bulkier active glasses and a wireless transmitter to control them, a 120Hz or faster display and a reasonably powerful GeForce GPU. On the other hand, the passive system cuts the horizontal display resolution in half while the active approach lets you display full 1920 by 1080 images (provided you have the hardware). Most important, active glasses work with any 120Hz display, while passive shutter glasses require a display with a polarizing filter--an extra step in the manufacturing process that is labor-intensive and costly. This is why most of the 3D TV demonstrations at CES relied on active glasses (Samsung, Sony, LG Electronics and Panasonic); only JVC and Hitachi showed LCD TVs using a polarizing filter.
CNET has good reviews of the Acer Aspire 5738DG-6165 and Asus G51J-3D with a more in-depth comparison to these two approaches to 3D.
The alternative to a 3D laptop--if you already have a good gaming desktop--is to purchase a 120Hz monitor and Nvidia's $200 3D Vision kit, which includes the special glasses and wireless transmitter. The first 120Hz monitors to hit the market last year--the Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ and ViewSonic FuHzion VX2265wm were 22-inch models with a resolution of 1680 by 1050. At CES several companies announced slightly larger displays that support full HD (1920 by 1080).
Acer claims it will be first out of the gate with the GD245HQ sometime this month, but Dell is already taking orders for its Alienware OptX AW2310 and LG Electronics' W2363D and ViewSonic's V3D241wm-LED shouldn't be too far behind. All of these displays are 23 inches or larger. ViewSonic also announced a 120Hz 3D-ready widescreen DLP projector, the PJD6531 (both Acer and ViewSonic already sell several 3D-ready projectors).
While the hardware is just falling into place, most games are good to go. Entertainment companies are still learning how to shoot and edit content in 3D, but it turns out PC games are relatively easy to optimize for these 3D displays and the many demos I've seen look great. Nvidia says more than 400 titles already work with 3D Vision.
Despite some big bets from consumer electronics companies, in the short-term 3D TV in the living room is likely to be a tough sell--and there are plenty of skeptics out there. But the pieces are in places for great PC gaming in stereoscopic 3D, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it begin to catch on in 2010.