Sony just recently announced their first 3D laptop, the VAIO F Series, and as the laptop is just about to start becoming available on the market I was able to get a hold of a sample for a few days to do a quick review, so here you can read my first impressions. As usual the review will focus mostly on the stereo 3D capabilities of the laptop and won’t cover every aspect or provide a lot of more general benchmarks, but you are welcome to ask about things that are not covered in the review as well. Some people may say that Sony is a bit late, considering that the company is pushing for strong 3D support with their different product lines, and although they may be right, Sony did a great job with the 3D capabilities of the VAIO F Series laptop, so that can fully compensate for the delay. I’ve already tested a few 3D laptops from other companies such as Acer, Asus and HP, companies that were able to push their products on the market earlier, but I was really surprised by the level of quality I saw with the Sony 3D laptop as compared to the other solutions I’ve tested so far. It seems that Sony was able to produce a laptop with a 3D-capable screen that can provide 3D quality and performance comparable to that of a 3D HDTV. A bit more expensive of course, however for everyone wanting to get the best 3D experience, the bit higher price of the Sony VAIO is well worth as compared to the other mobile 3D solutions offered by other laptop makers that may be slightly more affordable. One more thing that is very important is to say that the VAIO F Series 3D laptops are 3D-capable multimedia solutions, they are not intended as mobile gaming solutions, although you can also play games on them…
Sony VAIO F Series 3D Laptop VPCF21Z1E/BI Specifications:
Display: 16″ VAIO Premium LCD panel, Full HD
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M GPU, 1GB VRAM
CPU: Intel Core i7-2630QM, Quad-core, 2GHz, up to 2.9GHz with Turbo Boost
Chipset: Intel HM65 Express (Sandy Bridge)
RAM: 8GB DDR3 system memory, 1333MHz
HDD: 640GB 7200rpm SATA
Optical drive: Blu-ray Disc, read/write
Operating system: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Others: 1Gbps Ethernet, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, 2x SuperSpeed USB (USB 3.0), 1x USB 2.0, 1x i.Link 400 (Firewire), flash card reader Memory Stick / SD, HDMI, VGA, 1.31 Mpix webcam
These are the basic specifications of the laptop that I’ve tested, as you can see it is based on the new Intel Sandy Bridge platform, uses a fast quad-core processor, and the video card is GeForce GT 540M which is quite Ok, but not the best choice for gaming… most certainly not in stereo 3D mode and not in Full HD resolution. But hey, I said this is not a high-end gaming laptop, it is a mobile multimedia solution with 3D capabilities, still I did some tests with games, results of which you can find below.
Interestingly enough, Sony’s VAIO F series 3D laptop is the first one to use Nvidia’s 3D Vision technology, but instead of bundling it with Nvidia’s own shutter glasses, Sony has opted out to use their own Sony glasses. These glasses are the same that are used with the company’s BRAVIA 3D HDTVs, so if you have such a television set already, then you would be able to use the pair of glasses that comes with the laptop with the TV and the glasses used for the TV also with the laptop. And since the laptop ahs a built-in IR emitter for the Sony glasses, this means you can also use a pair of universal glasses that are compatible with Sony’s 3D HDTVs with the laptop as well – MonsterVision Max 3D or XpanD X103 for example. You can even connect an additional 3D Vision infrared emitter and make the laptop work with the 3D Vision shutter glasses, with some limitations however. I’ve already posted a bit more on using different shutter glasses with the laptop here: Trying the Sony VAIO F Series 3D Laptop With Different Shutter Glasses, so take a look if you are interested. I’ve mentioned it multiple times here on the blog that I’m considering Sony’s shutter glasses to be the ones with best design, features and performance available at the moment and using them with the VAIO F Series 3D laptop is making things even better both for the product and for the users.
A few words on what 3D capabilities does the Sony VAIO F Series 3D laptop offer. Apparently the laptop can be used for watching 3D videos and 3D movies, it has a Blu-ray drive, so you can also watch Blu-ray 3D movies with it on the Full HD screen. The gaming part is supported by the 3D Vision technology, so you can play games on the laptop’s display in stereo 3D mode, but you can also connect the laptop through the HDMI 1.4 video output to a 3D-capable HDTV and use the bigger screen in 3D as well, and not only for games, but for 3D videos, 3D movies and 3D photos as well. You also get the ability to watch 2D videos and movies with a simulated 3D effect as Sony calls it, or with other words with automatic real-time conversion of 2D video content to stereo 3D, just like on most 3D HDTVs.
The software for watching 2D and 3D movies on DVD and Blu-ray media you get with the laptop is Corel WinDVD, and you can use the hardware 3D button on the laptop to switch on the fly the stereo 3D effect simulation when watching 2D movie from both DVD and Blu-ray media. For watching 3D video clips you can use the 3D Vision Video Player, however you cannot do 2D to 3D conversion using that player and the built-in conversion technology in the laptop. For normal 2D videos that you want to watch with the simulated 3D effect you will have to open them with Windows Media Center, and apparently not all video formats are supported and can be converted in simulated 3D mode with it. And from the VAIO Control Center you are able to easily control the level of the “depth” you get when using the 2D to 3D conversion as well as some other functions of the laptop related to the stereo 3D support it offers.
The dedicated 3D button that the VAIO 3D laptop has is not only used for activating 2D to 3D video conversion, but it is also used to switch between 2D (plain 3D) and stereo 3D mode in games too. The default “CTRL + T” key combination used by 3D Vision is not working by default on the laptop, so you need to use the 3D button. Controlling the level of depth in games needs to e done with the use of the CTRL + F3 and CTRL + F4 as you don’t have a scroll wheel to rotate like when using an external 3D Vision IR emitter. All other 3D functionality of the 3D Vision technology for use in games is the same as when using it on a 3D PC for example, you have full control over the settings through the Nvidia Control Panel.
Before moving to the actual testing of the laptop I should mention one thing that I’m not too happy with, but that is becoming more of a trend lately in a lot of products. I’m talking about the use of glossy plastic for most of the outer parts of the chassis of the laptops as well as multiple other products. I know that the glossy surface looks much more attractive and nice and it is usually Ok if you don’t have to touch it, but it is also like a magnet for fingerprints and dust and unless you constantly wipe them out, the surface may look ugly. Most of top parts of the chassis of the Sony laptop are made using this glossy black plastic that really makes the laptop look nice, everything apart from the palm rest area, the touchpad and the keyboard keys. However when you start using the laptop you cannot go without touching it and that may leave nasty looking marks that need to be later cleaned, the good thing is that the pouch for the shutter glasses doubles as a microfiber cleaning cloth, besides working as a protective case. The good thing however is that the screen is not glossy as well, meaning much better handling of reflections, something that seems to be a kind of an issue for most other 3D laptops available on the market that come with glossy screens.
The 16-inch 120Hz 3D-capable Full HD display that Sony uses in this laptop is their top model form the Premium line, meaning that it should offer very good performance and capabilities, such as wider viewing angles, good color reproduction, higher brightness etc. These it does offer indeed, the screen leaves very positive impressions when looking at it even with “naked eye”, but measuring things just confirms that. The uncalibrated color reproduction results are quite good and the level of brightness is over 300 cd/m2 which is important for better 3D experience as when used the shutter glasses do block some light, so higher brightness means that darker scenes will still remain with good level of detail. Considering that most 3D LCD monitors come with such level of brightness it is very good that Sony were able to provide laptop display measuring at 317 cd/m2 as maximum level of brightness…
Doing a color calibration of the monitor, just to see if things can be further improved shows that a better color reproduction can be achieved, even without loosing too much of the maximum brightness level. Doing a calibration run while trying to preserve the maximum level of brightness improves color accuracy with further 50-60% leading to the loss of just less than 40 candelas, leaving the maximum brightness level at about 270 cd/m2. And even better color reproduction can be achieved if we sacrifice some of the brightness, going below delta of 1.0 is possible, meaning that we really have a good display in this laptop. Further confirming how good the display is are the rest of the tests that are related to the performance in stereo 3D mode.
With the black and white extreme test photos, the display of the Sony F Series 3D laptop starts showing how good it actually is in 3D mode as well. You can see that the test photo with the white has absolutely no leakage from the image of the other eye, and with the black there is very little. And considering that these 3D test photos are pushing things to the extremes, you can safely expect great results in normal use situations and almost no crosstalk/ghosting. The results that the laptop display shows in this test are comparable to that of a 3D HDTV and are much better than all of the 3D LCD monitors and 3D LCD panels that I’ve tested so far. And this kind of reminded me of the time when Sony was still making LCD monitors, as providing the same technology and level of performance in a desktop 3D LCD monitor would beat all the competition at the moment, although it would for sure be more expensive than the currently available 3D solutions. Unfortunately this will not happen from Sony, as they are not making monitors anymore. Still it is good to see that even with the current level of technology it is possible to get a monitor that can rival the great performance of a 3D HDTV in terms of low crosstalk/ghosting.
Moving to the sailboats test 3D video, again results that are comparable to that seen on 3D HDTVs. No ghosting at all is visible and the scene is with contrasting objects and higher separation, providing all the requirements to exhibit some crosstalk/ghosting if the monitor is not able to switch the pixel state fast enough, but apparently with the Premium Sony LCD panels used in this laptop it is able to.
Moving to some game testing for crosstalk/ghosting and more specifically one of my favorite tests which is the game Tomb Raider: Underworld. Looking at the top of the screen with high separation and contrasting objects and there is none visible whatsoever, the same pretty much applies to the bottom ghosting as the Sony display apparently does not suffer from the issue we call top/bottom ghosting as pretty much all other desktop and laptop panels with 3D capabilities do. Again similar great performance as a 3D HDTV such as BRAVIA 3D offer, but packed in the form of a 16-inch laptop screen.
And moving at the bottom part of the screen with TRU, looking are a more contrasting area we can see a very slight crosstalk/ghosting trail. Again this has nothing to do with the top/bottom ghosting issue we have on other 3D-capable monitors, but is related to the presence of very bright white on very dark blue to black objects next to each other. If you take a look at the black/white test photos you will see that the black part is showing a bit of leakage, so some slight ghosting is expected to e present is some cases like this one here. But even when there is some crosstalk/ghosting present ot this display it is hardly noticeable for normal users and it is still significantly less than on pretty much any other 3D-capable monitor I’ve tested so far, again comparable to the very little crosstalk/ghosting present on a 3D HDTV.
Time for some game benchmarks with the laptop in both 2D (Plain 3D) and stereo 3D mode to give you an idea on what you can expect if you want to play games on the laptop. Starting with 720p resolution all of the tested games provide more than comfortable framerate in 2D mode and even comfortably playable fps for stereo 3D mode. Of course we are talking about the games running at 1280×720 resolution with medium and some on high level of details, so not pushing it too much and of course not with the most demanding games like Metro 2033 for example that will hardly be playable on this laptop. Just a note, the fps results in stereo 3D mode are showing the framerate per eye with only Civilization V slightly on the edge with high settings for details, but lowering just a bit of the extra effects things can get into 25 plus fps per eye as well. The game Civilization V is also the only one that does not support 720p resolution, so the test was performed in the 1280×768 which is just a bit higher, but also a bit more demanding for the GPU as well.
Moving to the native resolution for the display of 1080p (Full HD), the same games as above need to be scaled down a bit to low details level and with some that are not so demanding at medium in order to get a framerate for comfortable gaming in 2D (plain 3D mode). But even with the minimum level of details at 1080p resolution in stereo 3D mode most of the games can’t provide really good framerate (again listed is the fps per eye in stereo 3D mode) for comfortable gaming. This of course is due to the presence of a great GPU for multimedia use, but not the most powerful mobile gaming video card that can really offer you the top performance you would need to play games in stereo 3D mode at Full HD resolution and with the maximum level of details. But you can still play comfortably in lower resolution with a bit of a decrease in the extra details even in stereo 3D mode, and playing in 2D mode (plain 3D) is possible with even higher details or at a bit increased resolution. Still a reminder, the Sony VAIO F Series 3D laptop is a multimedia solution and not a high-end gaming laptop and as such the level of gaming performance that it offers is more than decent enough.
So what is the final verdict? The Sony VAIO F Series 3D laptop is a great mobile multimedia solution for 3D, providing really great stereo 3D experience with almost no crosstalk/ghosting at all. What Sony did with this laptop is to provide a mobile 3D experience comparable to that of their BRAVIA 3D HDTVs, and surpassing all competitive 3D laptops already available on the market in terms of 3D performance. The laptop can also be used for gaming in stereo 3D mode, but as it is not a gaming laptop, you should not want to play the most demanding games with maximum details, Full HD resolution and in stereo 3D mode, because the GPU is not the fastest mobile solution that is able to provide the adequate enough performance for that. But then again this laptop is not being advertised as a high-end gaming solution, so you should not expect things from it that it wasn’t mean for, although still at the moment gaming in stereo 3D mode is among the things that are preferred by most 3D users. The reason for that is simply because the 3D content other than games is still lacking in high enough quantities to satisfy the big demand and as most older and newer 3D games work good to excellent when converted in stereo 3D mode it is clear why people want to be able to play games on their 3D hardware. So a high-gaming laptop with a faster GPU with the same other hardware and at a bit higher price from Sony would be something really worth buying as well, although even this F Series 3D laptop is really great for multimedia 3D use. I was really pleasantly surprised from the laptop and its capabilities and performance, and although there are a few minor things that can be further improved, the general impression is very positive and I really liked the product and especially the 3D capabilities and 3D experience it provides.