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.
Perhaps the most significant problem with the G51J is the relative lack of 3D content available. There are plenty of games -- according to Nvidia's Web site, the laptop's 3D system is compatible with approximately 450 titles -- but that's about it. Compatible movies are pretty much non-existent and, while it's possible to create your own 3D photos with a 3D camera, doing so simply to look at them in a darkened room while wearing a pair of gaming shades strikes us as rather sad.
The G51J's low screen resolution is doubly disappointing considering it has a built-in Blu-ray drive. The laptop's 120Hz refresh rate means film playback is silky smooth, but movies are shown in 720p, rather than 'Full HD' 1080p. That said, you do have the option of outputting the image to an external display via an HDMI socket.
If optical storage isn't your thing, you'll be pleased to learn that the G51J has a massive amount of more traditional storage. It ships with up to two 500GB hard drives, providing 1TB of storage -- that's enough room for approximately 85 copies of Far Cry 2, or 20-odd backed-up Blu-ray movies.
As a gaming laptop, it's no surprise that the G51J has an impressive specification. Our test model was powered by a quad-core Intel Core i7-720QM CPU, 4GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M graphics card. Our test machine failed to run the PCMark05 and 3DMark06 benchmark tests, but it proved a willing worker in terms of everyday desktop tasks, and didn't miss a beat in our Unreal Tournament test, racking up 93.9 frames per second at a resolution of 1,280x800 pixels.
It's worth noting that, throughout testing, the G51J ran very hot -- to the point where placing a hand next to its main vent was uncomfortable. Also, its battery life was poor, but that's understandable given the machine's power. It lasted just 57 minutes in Battery Eater's Classic test, which runs the CPU at full tilt until it runs out of juice.
The Asus G51J lets itself down with its limited screen resolution, but its 3D capability makes up for this. Provided you can find compatible games to play, and you don't mind looking like a complete dork when wearing the glasses, you'll probably appreciate the added level of immersion afforded by the impressive 3D system.
Edited by Charles Kloet