Hands-on review: Acer ConceptD 7 SpatialLabs Edition
Image credit: Acer
Premium laptop performance with the added attraction of glasses-free 3D display.
The way we see in three dimensions is fascinating: our eyes see two slightly different images and our brains combine them to get stereopsis: a 3D view of the world. Around one in twenty people don’t have stereopsis, but most still use two eyes – the brain comparing the two images – to perceive depth, they just don’t combine the two into a single 3D image.
To be effective, 3D TVs and cinema screens must present your eyes with two different images. So far, they’ve done this with glasses. One popular sort uses polarised lenses; these are the lightweight, battery-free glasses you get in cinemas and with some TVs. The other sort - ‘active shutter’ 3D glasses - use liquid crystal to opaque each lens, alternating so fast you can’t perceive it, in sync with the screen displaying two different images.
Neither is satisfactory and when cinemas reopened after Covid lockdowns they stopped 3D screenings, ostensibly because of the need to sanitise the glasses. Most haven’t resumed yet and it’s possible they never will.
Tech companies have wowed trade show crowds for years with glasses-free 3D televisions, but they’re not in homes yet. The technology is too expensive for big screens and the sweet spot (the area where you could see a good 3D image) is too small for a family living room.
On smaller screens for one person, where your face position is more predictably in the sweet spot, it’s a different matter. The tech to make 3D phone and laptop screens exists. It’s still pricey (and needs the processing power to render 3D content in real time) but it’s entirely possible.
Enter SpatialLabs, the new glasses-free technology from Acer. This laptop is the first product to feature a SpatialLabs screen, but there are also monitors coming soon (see 'Alternatives' below).
The screen uses an interlaced picture (thin vertical stripes) with a lenticular lens bonded on top (again, thin vertical stripes). Lenticular technology is nothing new; it’s what gives novelty cards and other memorabilia a basic 3D effect. The Acer, however, uses the lenses and picture to cleverly display two images at once, directed at different eyes.
The final piece of the tech is a pair of eye-tracking cameras that allow the computer to serve up the optimum two images for the user. Hence the laptop needs to be powerful enough to render 3D in real time.
Note that only one person can use the display at a time, because it displays one pair of images at a time, optimised for you to see in 3D. To a colleague looking over your shoulder, it won’t look quite right. Worse still, their face could confuse the eye tracking. If you want to show your work to a colleague, cover your face!
The Acer ConceptD 7 SpatialLabs Edition laptop is marketed to creatives: 3D designers, CGI artists, architects, engineers working in CAD and such like. You could, for example, view your creations in three dimensions, on screen and in real time, rather than having to 3D print prototypes. The Acer SpatialLabs View monitor (see 'Alternatives' below) seems to be marketed more broadly: everything from gaming to premium point-of-sale displays in a sneaker store.
We tested the CN715-73G model. The laptop initially feels like any other. In 2D mode, it’s a powerful Windows 11 Pro laptop with a 4K display. Build quality is great, but it mostly feels just like a premium laptop.
However, enter 3D mode and you can see the technology’s potential. That premium display really would sell sneakers. If the tech can track your eyes, it can surely track gestures, too, allowing for Tony Stark-style manipulation. Turn your hand to rotate the virtual sneaker intuitively.
Is the tech just a gimmick or a showcase for now? That depends on your line of work. The technology really does unlock a new experience for designers.
The model on test had premium specs for 3D rendering: an Intel Core i7-11800H processor, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 graphics, 32GB RAM and a 15.6” 4K display (interlaced to deliver two 2K images for 3D).
It comes loaded with a suite of SpatialLabs software. The best showcase is SpatialLabs Model Viewer, a real-time visualisation tool that lets you import and convert 3D files in supported formats from CAD and CGI 3D software and present them in stereoscopic 3D.
SpatialLabs Model Viewer comes pre-loaded with a selection of 3D models. There are just 11 objects, ranging from half an avocado to an Apollo command module, but it’s enough to showcase the technology. They’re displayed in front of a 3D grid background that feels a bit like being in Tron. Use the mouse to manipulate the object in real time, but also notice that, when you move your head around, the 3D illusion is maintained. You really can look around objects. You can also add textures and change the lighting instantly.
The models are lifelike and seem to project out of the screen towards you: reach out and you can run your finger through them. This needs to be tried to be believed; words and 2D videos can’t do it justice. Again though, the technology feels like it needs to go one step further. It needs gesture control, so you can turn the models with your hand.
Some models are static but others, like ‘Skeleton’ and ‘Morigesh’, have a little movement. You can see the gaming potential. Game engines, such as Unreal Engine, already render objects in real time, including textures, shading and lighting. Doing this from two slightly different perspectives at once, to create the illusion of 3D, isn’t much of an ask.
The laptop would be a great tool for a designer and while the hardware is expensive, the software doesn’t have to be. Blender 3D creation software is free and open source. Unreal Engine 5 is free to download and royalties are waived unless your game earns more than £1m. Put simply, you can have a lot of fun in 3D without paying a bean for software.
The hardware needs to be more affordable for the rest of us. Gaming will be the killer app for this technology in the home. Its future for premium point-of-sale displays is certain, but right now it’s a great buy for design creatives. The price tag is comparable with a top-notch Apple MacBook Pro - and that only offers two dimensions.
Asus ZenBook Pro Duo, from £2,489.99
A powerful laptop with a 2D OLED display (14.5” or 15.6”) plus a secondary touchscreen display below, above the laptop keyboard, which can be angled up. Devote the main screen to creative work, use the small one as your tool palette. Or work on the big one, watch Netflix on the little one.
From £2,489.99 asus.com
Razer Blade 17 4K
The biggest and best laptop in Razer’s range, with a 1.8GHz 14-core Intel i9-12900H processor, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Ti 16GB graphics and 32GB RAM. The 17.3” display is 2D but more power means better performance, whether you’re a 3D designer or gamer.
Acer SpatialLabs View
The same Acer SpatialLabs glasses-free 3D tech, but in a 15.4” 4K display. This slim monitor lets you work or play in 3D using any powerful computer. Games that support it include God of War on Steam. Meanwhile the Pro version is designed for everything from presentations to head-turning, high-end shop displays.
Price TBC acer.com
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