3D on the PC


The successful 3D movie Avatar has stirred up huge interest in 3D technology. Manufacturers are now pushing 3D television sets, even though there’s currently not much 3D content to watch on them. Of course, PC manufacturers don’t want to watch the bandwagon roll on by, so they’re introducing 3D PCs. One such example is ASUS’s new G51J 3D, a 15.6" notebook computer with 3D graphics built right in.

The concept of  3D movies is not new. According to Wikipedia, the British film pioneer William Friese-Greene filed a patent for his stereoscopic motion-picture technology in the late 1890s. His technology worked by projecting two films side by side, and viewers would see the two films as a single image using a stereoscope. This was news to me. But I do know that 3D movies were all the rage in the 1950s, and they made a comeback in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I am pretty sure I saw Jaws in 3D in 1983.

There have been plenty of 3D movies released in theaters over the years, but the public doesn't usually expect every film to be released in 3D. When a new movie is released, some people get very excited about it if it's in 3D, but I've never heard anyone complain about a movie if it's not in 3D. That’s probably because 3D movies tend to look a bit unreal with the glasses on and blurry without them. But the technology continues to improve; 3D just keeps looking better and better, as witnessed by the advent of 3D films shown in IMAX theaters in recent years.

3D video technology uses special equipment to record an image from two perspectives, and then special glasses filter the image so that each eye sees a slightly different perspective. Older 3D glasses used different-colored lenses to filter the image, while the newer ones use polarizing filters to achieve a similar effect. At least the latest 3D glasses don’t look as wacky as the older ones.

I think that once everyone settles on a standard, 3D will become a standard feature that all TVs and computers have, much like color, stereo sound, and widescreen HD. Then you’ll simply buy the 3D glasses if you need them—and that’s if they’re even needed at all. But I, for one, don’t want to sit in my den watching TV wearing 3D glasses. I hate the fact that I have to wear prescription glasses when I go to the movies. That’s just me. But let's focus on the 3D PC—or notebook, to be specific.

The ASUS G51J 3D

Not even considering its 3D capabilities, the ASUS G51J 3D is quite a piece of hardware. The notebook is built around a 1.6GHz Intel Core i7-720QM processor paired with 4GB of memory. In addition, Intel’s Turbo Boost Technology, combined with the ASUS LevelUp function, lets you overclock the CPU up to 2.8GHz for even better performance. So while the system is aimed at gaming, it’s powerful enough to handle any processor-intensive application you might want to run.

Ample storage is provided by a pair of 320GB, 7200rpm hard drives, giving you a total of 640GB for installing games, media and other software. Other features include a SuperMulti DVD burner, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a 2-megapixel webcam. An Altec Lansing sound system handles audio. Also included are Gigabit Ethernet, four USB ports, one eSATA port, one FireWire-400 port, one VGA port, and one HDMI port. A memory card reader that is compatible with SD, MMC, and Memory Stick media rounds out the package. ASUS installs a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium as the operating system.

The G51J 3D is capable of true 3D gaming as well as 3D playback of compatible media files. The 3D capability is provided by an nVIDIA GeForce GTX 260M graphics card with 1GB of DDR3 memory and PhysX support, which adds a bit more realism to your gaming. You see all the action on a 15.6" widescreen display with LED backlighting and a 120 Hz refresh rate. Unfortunately, the display’s native resolution is just 1366 x 768 pixels, or 720p. Such a high-end system really should have a 1080p display, even though you wouldn’t see much of a difference on a 15.6” display.

The notebook comes with a pair of nVIDIA 3D Vision active shutter glasses and an infrared dongle. The dongle connects to the notebook using a short USB cable while the glasses connect to the notebook using a longer USB cable. With everything connected and powered up, the 3D magic can happen. I watched a very impressive demo in which things really did seem to jump right off the screen. Personally, it made me feel a slight touch of vertigo, but it was impressive nonetheless.

The 3D effects are made possible by the display's 120 Hz refresh rate, in conjunction with the glasses, to present each eye with a different image at a 60 Hz rate. Most games should benefit from the 3D technology, as will any compatible 3D media such as downloaded movies. Blu-ray is out at this time because the notebook does not have a Blu-ray drive. As for audio, the notebook’s EAX Advanced HD 4.0 audio technology provides support for 3D gaming surround sound. Another useful feature is the illuminated keyboard, which allows for easy operation in darkened rooms.

The G51J 3D is powered by a six-cell lithium-ion battery. The notebook measures 14.76 x 1.60 x 10.43 inches and weighs 7.28 pounds with the battery installed. B&H offers a $100 instant savings, and you'll get another $100 off with a mail-in rebate from Asus.

The ASUS G51Jx 3D

If you are free to spend a bit more money, you can do so on the ASUS G51Jx 3D. You'll get 6GB of memory instead of 4GB, a single 500GB, 7200rpm hard drive instead of the two 320GB drives, and an nVIDIA GeForce GTS 360M graphics card with 1GB of DDR5 memory. The better graphics card, with its faster memory, will give you slightly better graphics performance, especially for gaming applications. Both notebooks are otherwise identical. The ASUS G51Jx 3D comes with a B&H $100 instant savings. 

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This computer is for games, when they will make this without glasses in 3D because

it was with glasses in the 50 can they improved the technologies were in 2010 and still with glasses. Get with it and improved.  I write this letter in 2D with reading glasses which will be bulky with a another pair of glasses.  B.Maranda 

For what it's worth, any monitor/computer combination capable of a fast refresh rate can be used, and the technology has been used for years in education and science, for example to visualize protein structure in three dimensions, to see a more realistic computer simulation of motion, or to view astronomical images.

Also, using polarizing filter and glasses for 3D goes back many years. The first 3D film I ever saw, back in the 1970s, used them. Red-cyan anaglyph glasses are still in use because they're cheaper and they work with normal television images.

Finally, while I'm being pedantic, it might be worth noting that Jaws 3D was not Jaws in 3D but a much inferior sequel.

I think I'll wait awhile until there's a standard between the competing Real 3D and Dolby 3D. It's like Beta/VHS and BlueRay/HD-DVD again! I just don't want to end up with a "boat anchor".

While the idea of having a 3D capable laptop is neat, I really don't see a justifiable need for it unless you use it as a portable DVD player and watch a lot of 3D movies. I think I will wait some time before I plunge money into something like that. I'm sure in 5 years from now all laptops will be 3D capable just like all laptops today have DVD/CD burners. For now, it's the sheer novelty that will appeal to consumers. I, on the other hand, am a practical buyer.