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Sharp Actius RD3D review

Verdict

Some stunning technology at a reasonable price. It's not perfect yet, and 3D gaming isn't what it could be, but early adopters will be tempted.

Review Date: 21 Apr 2004

Reviewed By: Ross Burridge

Price when reviewed: (£2,462 inc VAT); Delivery £20 (£24 inc VAT)

Sharp's RD3D claims to be the world's first autostereo 3D notebook, which means you don't need special glasses to reap the 3D benefits. While the panel acts as a standard 2D screen when necessary, press the 3D button and Sharp's technology (see diagram below) leaps into action.

The technology is already available in standalone panels, but this is the first time it has been integrated into a notebook. The good news is that it has reached a point where it's genuinely useful, and not just another gimmick; there are very real engineering and scientific applications, such as CAD and molecular modelling, in which the extra dimension can make all theÊdifference.

Much of the effectiveness with moving and still images is down to the original stereo encoding, which can be a somewhat hit or miss process. When it works, it's quite disconcertingly realistic, and something that needs to be seen to believed. The more ineffectual images simply appear doubled, while others appear like miniatures placed in a box behind the screen. At its most effective, objects actually come out at you, appearing to hover somewhere over the keyboard. They start to break up 6in or so from your face, but that's close enough to achieve some stunning effects.

The 'sweet spot' is around two feet directly in front of the screen, and while you only have a few inches of movement in any plane before the 3D effect fails, it's not uncomfortable in normal use. In fact, it's similar to being in front of many notebooks, which often suffer with poor viewing angles or uneven contrast.

Thankfully, the screen itself doesn't suffer in 2D, although there's a very slight fuzziness to the definition. Colour handling is impressive, and the excellent contrast results in bright whites and inky black. It's brightly and evenly lit too, but the 1,024 x 768 native resolution is disappointing for both imaging and multiple application use. If the 3D effect doesn't give you eye strain, then the slightly reflective screen might. That said, we didn't find it distracting during 3D use.

As for the machine itself, it's based around a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor, coupled with 512MB of DDR SDRAM. We weren't able to obtain a 2D benchmark score from the machine, but this combination will be enough to deal with most tasks easily.

Disappointingly, the graphics chip inside isn't a particular selling point. Although real 3D gaming is a tantalising prospect, the RD3D only comes equipped with nVidia's 64MB GeForce4 Go440 graphics chipset. It's over two years old now, and will struggle with today's more challenging games at playable frame rates. Nonetheless, there's support for the 3D effect in several hundred older titles, and three are bundled: Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2, James Bond Nightfire and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003. As with both the movies and still images we saw, these vary in effectiveness, but it adds an extra dimension - literally.

Other bundled software includes a utility to turn 2D images and film into 3D, which meets with occasional success, as well as movie and still image viewers. There's also some molecular modelling software, though it's only of actual use to petrochemical engineers.

The RD3D is fairly media savvy, with card readers on the front of the chassis and even a floppy drive tucked into the side. Gigabit Ethernet would have been more appropriate, given that 3D projects are more often than not large and network based, but only 10/100 is offered. There's no WLAN built in either, although that can be easily remedied through the Type II PC Card slot. Four USB 2 ports, FireWire, a 56K modem and a VGA output complete the line-up.

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