3D may have first gained popularity in the cinemas of the 1950s, but -- like it or not -- it's also a part of your future. The technology is enjoying a comeback in the realms of TV, handheld games consoles and now laptops. Asus is among the first manufacturers to take the plunge into the latter pool, with its 15.6-inch G51J gaming laptop. On top of its high-speed Intel Core i7 CPU, ample 4GB of RAM, Blu-ray reader and 1TB of storage, it includes a 120Hz, 3D-capable display-- as well as the 3D goggles required to take your brain to another dimension.
The G51J is available now for around £1,600.
The G51J has a somewhat unusual design. Its lid, which sports a bold, blue-flame motif, is as garish as we've come to expect from machines of this class. Open the lid and things look rather more grown-up, however. The majority of the laptop's inner surfaces are finished in glossy black, the 'chiclet' keyboard is backlit, and the palm rest is coated in a rubber-like material that makes the machine very comfortable to use for long periods.
3D hertz so good
Crucial to the G51J's 3D capability is its 120Hz display. This provides a couple of key benefits over standard 60Hz screens, including a reduction in motion blur when viewing fast-moving scenes. More importantly, however, the fast-reacting display is effectively capable of displaying two images at once -- something that's crucial for the creation of 3D pictures.
Hit the Republic of Gamers shortcut button above the keyboard and the 3D mode is activated. Now the laptop begins showing two images of the same scene from slightly different angles, using a technique known as alternate-frame sequencing. With the naked eye, it looks like a blurry mess, but that's where the accompanying 3D glasses come in.
The specs, which are finished in Nvidia's hallmark green and black, are of the liquid-crystal-shutter variety. Each lens has a clear liquid-crystal layer that becomes dark whenever voltage from its internal battery is applied. In 3D mode, each lens is darkened in rapid succession, ensuring each of your eyes only ever sees the image intended for it. Your brain does the rest, stitching the two images together to form a single 3D picture. It's all rather like a flick-book animation, but with more dimensions and fewer paper cuts.
It's an impressive solution that works superbly with many games, as well as films, and photos shot with 3D cameras. It provides an increased sense of depth that's akin to watching content through a virtual window. The perception of 3D is very pronounced when objects pass each other, with those in the background appearing more distant than those in the foreground. Often, objects appear so close that you feel you could almost reach out and touch them.
It ain't all good
Impressive as it might be, the 3D system is far from perfect. The rapid opening and closing of each lens reduces the amount of light reaching your eyes, so wearing them is rather like watching TV while wearing sunglasses. In some games, particularly those with night scenes, it can be difficult to make out what's going on.
The 3D glasses rely on an external infrared transmitter inside a USB dongle to keep the flickering in sync with the screen's refresh rate -- hardly an elegant solution. Then there's the fact that the 15.6-inch display runs at a paltry 1,366x768-pixel resolution, which is pretty rubbish for a gaming machine -- we've seen 11-inch netbooks with the same amount of screen real estate.