You don't have to have seen the current December issue of Stuff to know that the buzz alphanumerics this Christmas are '3' and 'D'. Everywhere you look, manufacturers are pushing you to into the third dimension, with TVs (Philips WOWvx), movies (Avatar) and gaming monitors (Zalman ZM-M220W).

There's no practical way around getting 3D without some form of eyewear, but thanks to Acer's latest Aspire laptop, the Aspire 5738D, there may be a way of avoiding the cost.

Excellent value

At under £600, this is the best value way of getting hold of a 3D screen we know of. The laptop itself is okay – a capable but not inspiring machine with a middle-of-the-road processor, good-size 500GB hard drive, three-hour battery life and solid build quality.

It's chunky for what it is, but by no means unloveable, and has a multitouch mouse pad and decent set of speakers.

The real attraction, of course, is the screen. It's a little low resolution for the panel size, at a 720p-friendly 1366x768, and the two polarising filters do leave a faint grid over the desktop in normal use. But it's 3D – and that makes it all worthwhile, right?

Passive processing

The 3D effect is created by wearing a pair of polarised glasses that work with the filters to block out alternate pixels to each eye. The glasses are lightweight and unpowered, so relatively comfortable.

A piece of third-party software – TriDef 3D – sends the left and right images to the correct parts of the screen for the corresponding eye.

The 5738D comes with a handful of 3D trailers preloaded from Yabazam's library, which quite literally leap out of the screen at you.?On such a small screen the 3D effect is even more pronounced than on a larger one – at times it's genuinely brilliant.

3D your games

Even better, the TriDef 3D software can add a 3D effect to any game which uses DirectX 9 for its graphics rendering, and has an upscaler-style DVD player bundled that adds an adjustable stereoscopic effect to normal movies.

The latter is a bit more miss than hit, though, and creates more viewing issues than it's really worth.

It's in game worlds that 3D is most effective but, as clever as the TriDef 3D engine is, there's a glaring problem with the 5738D. The graphics card simply isn't powerful enough to handle many modern games as it is.


Processor problems

Adding the 3D effect increases the processing demand even further, and slows framerates to a crawl. Even for movies, the lack of a Blu-ray player means it may be difficult to get mainstream 3D content for it once it becomes available.

The 5738D is a stunning proof of concept, though. It shows that 3D doesn't have to command a massive premium, and is the nearest to making it mass market we've seen. If it hadn't been for its limitations in games, it would have been a no-brainer.


Stuff says... 

Acer Aspire 5738D review

Proof that 3D doesn't have to cost four figures, but doesn't quite deliver on the gaming potential