LCD adds a dimension to the desktop

If you work with 3D images, but red-and-blue-lensed glasses don't fit into your dress code, take a look at Sharp's LL-151-3D. With the push of a button labeled "3D," this 15-inch LCD monitor switches from regular to stereoscopic display, letting you view 2D or 3D images. Be warned, however, that even if the display's multidimensional capabilities don't make your eyes bulge, its US$1499 price tag just might.

With its 2D and 3D options, you may think of the LL-151-3D as two monitors--and that's not too far off. This display achieves the 3D effect by using two LCD panels in a single thicker-than-average monitor (it's still much slimmer than a CRT). Only one panel is visible, but when you push the 3D button, the second panel angles the light from the backlight into right-eye and left-eye columns. The human brain picks up the slack, interpreting the images as something between 2D and real. Although stereoscopic images don't give the same impression of depth that holograms do, they look more rounded and realistic than 2D images.

The LL-151-3D's stereoscopic mode works with most NVidia Corp. Quadro or GeForce graphics cards (for games, you'll also need NVidia's Consumer Stereo driver). You need to install the included drivers, connect the monitor to the PC with an included USB cable, and--of course--plug in the DVI-digital cable. The USB port works only for the 2D-to-3D switching; you don't need it in 2D mode, but you can't use it to connect other USB devices, either.

In my informal tests of a shipping model, the LL-151-3D produced bright colors and acceptable text in 2D mode. DVD video showed handsome still images with minimal ghosting, but motion artifacts roughened the waters in Pirates of Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The absence of anti-glare screening helps improve crispness and color saturation, but the bright, glassy screen may suffer for it in brightly lit areas. The speakers sound fairly good for monitor speakers.

Entering the Third Dimension

Before using 3D apps, you'd better get comfortable. Really comfortable, because the sweet spot for the 3D effects is very small. To get it right, you sit 23 inches from the screen and position your head so that the center of the red line at the bottom of the screen gets dark. Once in position, you don't want to move your head because viewing the screen from anything other than that precise spot bewilders by adding thin red and blue vertical lines over the images. No one's asking you to ruin your sitting posture, though; the LL-151-3D helps out with more than the usual tilt adjustment, offering physical adjustments usually reserved for larger-sized LCDs. For example, the screen swivels about 45 degrees, and you can raise or lower the display 2.4 inches.

It's easy to see the advantages 3D imaging adds to certain professional tasks. I rotated 3D models with Actify Spinfire CAD viewer and peered inside a human skull with the Amira medical and molecular modeling program. Alas for poor Yorick, Sharp doesn't include these professional apps; only the drivers, basic 3D viewing software, and stereoscopic photo software arrive with the monitor. Sharp's SmartStereo photo editor and Slide Show viewer allow those of us in less specialized careers to make our own stereoscopic images from two JPEGs.

As for the impact of 3D on purely recreational tasks, the EA Sports NHL 2004 demo benefited from the added depth. Reflections appeared to float on the surface of the ice instead of looking like movement within it, and the crowd looked more like individuals than like a shifting background. Sharp and NVidia maintain a rated list of 3D-compatible games available. Entertaining as the stereoscopic effect is, gamers may sniff at the sluggish 25-millisecond response time.

My informal tests became our informal tests when a DVD started playing and passersby stopped to see how DDD's TriDef DVD Player would translate Pirates of the Caribbean to 3D. Using the app (which doesn't ship with the LCD), we saw a slight rounding of figures, but it was less dramatic than in the images specifically developed for 3D viewing. Motion artifacts and pronounced red and blue lines at the edges of figures detracted from the image. We preferred the original 2D version, especially for human faces.

If you need stereoscopic viewing for your job, the LL-151-3D can report to work now. The LL-151-3D may be very useful for engineers, architects, and others who use 3D images at work. The price carries a professional premium, too--it may be two monitors in one, but it carries the price tag of three to four standard 15-inch LCDs. Until entertainment content translates better to 3D, that cost is nothing to play around with.

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Laura Blackwell

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