Sharp Ships Notebook With 3D Screen

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Sharp Electronics has released the Actius RD3D notebook, which sports a special 15-inch LCD screen that switches from standard two-dimensional mode to a stereoscopic one that creates a three-dimensional perspective.

When Sharp previewed the Actius RD3D in September, it touted the notebook as a tool for scientific applications such as computer-aided design and medical imaging. But with its release, the vendor is also highlighting entertainment applications such as movies and games.

The Actius RD3D sells for $3299 from Sharp and through retailers. Key hardware features include a 2.8-GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of DDR SDRAM, a 60GB hard drive, and a DVD multidrive with DVD-R/-RW/RAM and CD-RW capabilities.

Sharp is bundling three titles with the RD3D: James Bond 007: Nightfire, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003, and Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2. It's also including trailers from 3D movie provider NWave, the Personal CAChe for Windows 3D chemical modeling application, and Sharp's Smart Stereo Photo Editor to convert digital photos into 3D images. The Actius RD3D runs on Windows XP Professional.

How It Works

Although other monitor companies have also produced 3D LCDs, Sharp claims its technology is unique in allowing the screen to switch into a two-dimensional mode comparable in quality to standard LCD monitors. Some other designs use a ridged screen surface to direct different images to the left eye and the right eye, but Sharp's screen is identical to a regular screen on its surface.

In its 3D mode, the LCD displays two overlapping images, one showing the right-eye perspective and one showing the left-eye perspective. At the same time, Sharp's monitor switches on an LCD filter behind the main screen that restricts the angle of light beams illuminating the screen. As a result, the light passing through pixels displaying the right-side perspective is projected toward the viewer's right eye, and the light hitting pixels displaying the left-side perspective is projected to the left eye.

The effect works well only if the viewer is correctly positioned in front of the screen. Ian Matthew, Sharp's 3D business development manager, says users have a fair amount of flexibility forward and backward but will see the best images when sitting about 21 inches from the screen. Left-to-right movement is more restricted, although Matthew says two people sitting side by side can view the same monitor.

In 2D mode, the main screen displays a standard image and the LCD filter behind the screen becomes clear, allowing light from all angles to illuminate every pixel, as with a standard LCD. Sharp's Matthew says good 2D performance was an important development goal for the Actius RD3D, since most PC applications use two-dimensional graphics.

Sharp expects to ship a stand-alone desktop monitor sometime in 2004, he adds.

What's to See?

Few common applications are designed specifically for 3D displays, though many specialty applications exist. But Sharp representatives say 3D video games should automatically work with the Actius RD3D. Graphics card maker NVidia says users also need NVidia's graphics and 3D stereo driver, and run games in full-screen mode.

The notebook uses NVidia's GeForce4 440Go graphics card, and NVidia's graphics engine has long had the capability to break images from 3D games into left and right eye perspectives for use with stereoscopic shutter glasses and virtual reality head-mount displays. The same process can be used to send the required two images to Sharp's LCD, the company says.

NVidia and Sharp representatives say they have already verified that more than 900 games will take advantage of 3D viewing when running on the RD3D, including such popular titles as Deus Ex, Everquest, Sacrifice, and members of the Grand Theft Auto, Half-Life, Jedi Knight, Madden NFL, Quake, Tomb Raider, and Unreal Tournament series. NVidia representatives say they are continuing to test games.

Rival graphics card maker ATI, however, says NVidia's stereoscopic method may not work with newer video games, notably those using vertex shaders supported in Microsoft's DirectX 8 and DirectX 9 graphics APIs. These games don't send clear information to the graphics card about the viewer perspective, according to ATI. Consequently, these newer games will, at best, appear on the Sharp LCD the same as they do on a regular 2D monitor, ATI says.

NVidia stands by its assertion that the stereoscopic effect will work with DX8 and DX9 games with vertex shaders.

For its part, ATI says it is working on its own way to implement games--including DirectX 8 and DirectX 9 titles--on stereoscopic screens.

"We are working with a Tier 1 [notebook manufacturer] to deliver the same functionality," says Alexis Mather, ATI's technical marketing manager for mobile graphics. Mather says ATI is also working with software companies, including game manufacturers, to ensure that the newest titles work properly in stereoscopic mode.

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