Acer just reinvented the 3D laptop with this new prototype

(Image credit: Acer)

Today Acer unveiled a smorgasbord of new laptops and monitors, including the Acer Triton 500 SE gaming laptop and an exciting new SpatialLabs Stereoscopic 3D laptop prototype designed to promote the company's new SpatialLabs initiative.

The SpatialLabs prototype is especially intriguing because it's an Acer ConceptD notebook modified to afford users the option of switching between 2D and 3D viewing modes, a neat trick that Acer is pitching as a game-changer for anyone who works with 3D models.

The laptop is pitched as the first example of what Acer hopes to accomplish with its SpatialLabs technology, and the prototypes will be handed out to developers who enroll in the company's new SpatialLabs Developer Program for Unreal Engine.

It's yet unclear how or if this renewed focus on glasses-free 3D will manifest in Acer's other products, but the technology is clearly feasible enough — and potentially cool enough — to merit inclusion in other Acer laptops down the road. 

SpatialLabs: How it works

Acer's new SpatialLabs prototype laptop is a modified version of one of the company's ConceptD notebooks. Instead of a single webcam, two stereo cameras crown the laptop's display, and they work together to track your head and eye movements.


(Image credit: Acer)

That tracking is used to help display accurate 3D images via the laptop's special screen, which features a liquid crystal lenticular lens optically bonded atop 4K 2D display panel. The screen can be toggled between 2D and 3D display modes, and when in 3D mode the laptop creates a stereoscopic 3D effect by hitting each eye with a slightly different version of the image.

Ideally, Acer claims this will allow you to "pop out" 3D models and spin them around in front of your eyes in real time, potentially saving creators time while working on 3D objects.

SpatialLabs Experience Center

Acer's SpatialLabs prototype laptop will come with the SpatialLabs Experience Center, which is basically a dedicated launcher for the company's new SpatialLabs suite of apps. 

Alongside some tutorials the Experience Center will also include a SpatialLabs Model Viewer which lets you import most major formats of 3D object and view them in 3D. The Model Viewer also has add-ons which enable one-click importing of files from for extant 3D creation tools like Autodesk Fusion 360 and Blender. 

There's also a SpatialLabs Player for viewing side-by-side video in stereoscopic 3D, and Acer's own SpatialLabs Go tool for rendering side-by-side content into stereoscopic 3D. Here, Acer gives the example of using Blender to set up a fullscreen side-by-side view of a scene, then using SpatialLabs Go to render it as a real-time 3D image.

If you work in Maya, you may also be interested to know that SpatialLabs includes a PiStage for Maya tool that should allow users to edit content on a connected 2D monitor and see the changes rendered in real-time in stereoscopic 3D. If this works well, it could save 3D creators working in Maya a lot of time rendering out 3D scenes to evaluate their work.

SpatialLabs Developer Program

For now these prototype 3D laptops are only being given out to those who enroll in Acer's new SpatialLabs Developer Program for Unreal Engine, and even then only on a three-month basis.


(Image credit: Acer)

Those who enroll (applications close June 30th) are encouraged to use these prototypes while creating things in the Unreal Engine, which is already supported by SpatialLabs. Acer expects to use whatever they create as potential demos for up to one year afterwards, so it seems likely that we'll see further iterations and releases of SpatialLabs technology down the road.

SpatialLabs outlook

This isn't the first time we've seen 3D screens in a laptop, but they're incredibly few and far between — and Acer's new SpatialLabs prototype appears to deliver the best glasses-free implementation yet. 

Right now it's targeted primarily at Unreal Engine developers and other content creators, so if it ends up being underwhelming it's likely that we won't see more interesting integration of SpatialLabs technology into Acer's array of laptops. However, if Acer sticks by SpatialLabs and works out some compelling examples of how it enhances everyday laptop use (sure there's 3D movies and games, but how about 3D navigation or interfaces?) this could be a game-changer for the company.

Alex Wawro
Senior Editor Computing

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.