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Widescreen Notebooks: More Than Just Expensive DVD Players?


We tested three large-screen notebooks from Gateway, Dell, and Acer. All three use ATI graphics and can display HD video. The bad news is that you'll want to be near an electrical outlet because you'll end up watching a very short video.

Watching videos aside, you'll appreciate these notebooks for everyday work when you have several windows and applications open at once. Of the three, we liked the Gateway the best.

Why Buy A Notebook With A Widescreen Display?

The specifications alone do not tell the whole story of widescreen notebook display qualities.

NotebooksScreen resolutionNumber of pixelsSize (mm)Aspect ratioDiagonalsResolution
Acer Travelmate 8031400 x 1050 SXGA+1.4 MP30.4 x 22.81.3315"117 dpi
Acer Travelmate 8100
Dell Inspiron6000
1680 x 1050 WSXGA+1.7 MP33.2 x 20.81.615.4"129 dpi
Gateway M460XLb1280 x 800 WXGA0.97 MP33.2 x 20.81.615.4"98 dpi

If you look at how viewing area sizes are calculated, you can see that Acer's 15" display with 107.4 in² /693 cm² is even a bit larger than that of its 15.4" counterpart at 107.1 in² /691 cm² . A 15.4" display with an aspect ratio of 16:10 or 1.6:1 (width to height) thus offers no more viewing area than a standard 15" display with an aspect ratio of 4:2 or 1.33:1. The display's greater resolution also has the disadvantage that fonts and symbols look smaller. You can compensate for this however by setting the DPI value to 120 by adjusting display properties under "Advanced Settings".

The real advantage of notebooks with a widescreen display - which is not immediately obvious at first - is that they make widescreen formats with ratios of 1.6:1 or greater correspond better with users' natural field of view. DVD movies, for example, can be played on displays with an aspect ratio of 1.6:1 without an irritating black strip going across the upper and lower sections of the screen. Movies are produced in formats with aspect ratios of 1.85:1 (widescreen) or 2.35:1 (CinemaScope). Since the display area is wider, however, users get to see more of the movie using a 15.4" device. With a 4:3 display, the outer edges would just be cut off.

How well the latest generation of devices is able to play high-definition (HD) videos without any snags is thus a major component of this review. As HD video has a much higher resolution compared to NTSC or PAL-resolution coded films, it is likely the video format of the future. The greater amount of decoding involved due to the higher resolution obviously places substantially greater demands on CPU and graphics processor quality and performance, which varies from machine to machine.

But also in everyday usage, you soon learn to appreciate the benefits of display width when working with spreadsheets and text documents. When working with spreadsheets, for example, you can view more cells at once, and it's just a lot easier to get two windows to fit next to each other. Individuals who work a lot with graphics will quickly see the utility in having a wider display screen, as toolbars no longer constantly get in the way of graphics and windows, but rather can be "parked" over to the left or right of the screen.

Before we get to our discussion of the group of devices tested supplied by Acer, Dell and Gateway, it is first worth noting that the first notebook featuring a widescreen display was not developed within the Windows/PC world, as you might think. No indeed - here too, as so many times in the past, Apple was the pioneer. Apple's PowerBook G4 dating back to 2001 was the first massed-produced notebook with a wide display screen.