To 3D or Not to 3D
HP included a 3D Blu-ray copy of Disney?s new Tron in the box with the TouchSmart 620 (as well as a copy of the DiRT 3 racing game). Neither of these will be sold with the TouchSmart, so apologies, dear readers, but they did serve well to showcase the 3D movie and gaming experiences that the new 620 3D was capable of delivering.
I must confess at this point that I?m not really into 3D in its current form. All good three-dimensional movies and games are something of a hack that takes advantage of the very specific way in which the human brain processes vision. I don?t generally go to 3D movies, since the cost doesn?t seem worth it.
To be fair, the effect isn?t as grand as something that you?ll see in the theaters – but then, the TouchSmart only has a 23-inch screen. Even so, watching the stark glowing lines of the Tron landscape made the movie immersive in a way that some are not; the lightcycle scenes were especially enjoyable to watch.
Like the other most common 3D technologies implemented in the home theater and computer markets, HP uses a pair of active shutter glasses to generate the 3D effect. That means that each eye sees slightly different frames of content, cutting the effective refresh rate in half – which is why the vast majority of these displays use 120Hz panels, since cutting 120Hz in half gives you 60Hz, the standard LCD refresh rate.
The glasses themselves are little odd. There are no hinges or traditional frames involved; instead, the lenses and electronics are set inside of a sturdy rubber construction. It?s a clever design since it means that the glasses can fit a variety of head sizes (I am possessed of an unfortunately large head, and the glasses were comfortable) – you just need to be careful not to poke yourself with the ends, as they bend a bit inward.
What?s great about how the 3D is implemented is that, to borrow a phrase, it just works. Mostly. Pop in a Blu-ray disc, and the third-party movie player pops up to help you play it. The player itself is pretty ugly, and it makes you wish that HP would just go all-out to make their own – but it works.
A little button at the bottom of the player lets you switch back and forth between 2D and 3D, though you?ll have to dig within a complicated settings menu in order to move the ?distance? of the 3D effect (how deep it seems to dive within the screen – similar to Nintendo?s 3DS slider).
When the 3D effect hits, the screen automatically brightens – really smart on the part of HP since using 3D effectively halves your perceived brightness levels. The glasses turn on automatically; there?s no switch to press, or, actually, any button of any kind. Instead, a little IR sensor on the bridge of the glasses receives a signal from the desktop on what to do and when to do it.
It?s worth pointing out, too, that buying a 3D display works well for 2D effects, too. Even dragging windows across the screen is noticeably smoother, thanks to the 120Hz refresh rate. Scrolling, dragging, moving – it?s all that much prettier.
HP tried to make using the 3D capabilities really easy – and they mostly succeeded. What is questionable about the glasses, however, is how long the batteries will last. Unlike some traditional pairs offered by companies such as Nvidia, the glasses included with the TouchSmart 620 do not use rechargeable batteries. Instead, when the battery inevitably fades, you?ll need to open up the battery compartment and swap out a little battery.
The active shutter glasses do bring up another complaint with the technology – they?re not cheap. Granted, it?s unlikely you?ll want to gather a whole party around the 23-inch TouchSmart in order to watch the latest 3D film or game, but it?s not out of the question to consider having your best friend or significant other sit in on the action with you. HP hasn?t said if they?ll be selling the glasses separately for cases such as those or, if so, what the expected cost might be. Competing models often go for around $100.
The 3D Meh-cam
In order to handle 3D gaming, the TouchSmart uses AMD graphics and, therefore, AMD?s solution to 3D games. Namely, it implements technology invented by a company known as DDD that specializes in converting 2D to 3D content. The technology works well in many of today?s hottest games, so if you?re worried about the fact that it isn?t using the better known solution – namely, Nvidia?s – don?t be.
The least successful aspect of HP?s first 3D TouchSmart is the webcam. Like the aforementioned Nintendo 3DS, it uses an array of two physically separate computer webcams working in concert to produce 3D imagery and video. Unfortunately, it works about as well as that handheld does – which is to say, not very. It?s fun to play with, but there really isn?t any good way to handle consuming 3D images.
Don?t get me wrong – it?s a neat toy, and like most new toys, it?ll be fun to fool around with a few times, but it likely won?t last. If you do want to take advantage of it – to, uh, send grainy 3D photos and video to…all of those friends…and relatives with 3D computers – be sure to use it in very well lit rooms. It?s essentially useless otherwise. Additionally, the software is a bit hard to use on screen. The text at the bottom of the 3D webcam window is tiny and hard to read, especially if you?re wearing the dark 3D glasses.