HP Envy 17 3D: 3D Movies on the Go

I took a close look at HP's last September and found a lot to like, plus a few issues that bugged me. So it goes with most products--there's no perfect laptop. Now HP's refreshing the Envy 17, adding a new display and stereoscopic 3D capability.

In fact, the unit HP shipped to PC World had only one minor difference, other than the display, from the earlier version. The new Envy 17 with 3D had a single 500GB hard drive rather than a pair of 320GB drives. The CPU, RAM, Blu-ray drive, and GPU were all the same. So I'm not going to dwell on features like USB ports, processor, or networking--those are all pretty much the same. The carryover AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5850 GPU, though, is a key component in enabling stereoscopic 3D; it may also be a weak link, as we'll see.

One thing that did drop a bit was the performance score on PC WorldBench 6. That's because the battery life of the Envy 17 3D seems significantly shorter--1 hour, 27 minutes, versus 2:19 on the original. That could be because the display's 120Hz refresh rate, needed for stereoscopic 3D, sucks more juice. A single hard drive, instead of two drives in a RAID array, can also impact WorldBench scores, as some of its benchmarks scale well with storage performance.

Let's talk about that display before we dive into stereoscopic quality and performance. The display for normal 2D work is every bit as good as on the original Envy 17. Viewing angles are far better than most laptop displays, color fidelity in digital photographs and videos look accurate; and even black levels in video are surprisingly robust for a notebook PC. About the only thing I'd wish for is a matte finish--the glare from the glossy finish on the LCD panel gets quite distracting at times. I played several standard, 2D Blu-ray movies, including Serenity, Star Trek, and Kick-Ass, and they all looked pretty sweet.

Now let's turn to stereoscopic 3D. The new LCD panel offers refresh rates up to 120Hz, which makes stereoscopic 3D a much more pleasing proposition. The chance of headaches and eyestrain is reduced at higher refresh rates, though if you're like me, long viewing periods may still be hard on your eyes.

HP enables stereoscopic viewing with third-party hardware and software from . The 3D glasses use the same type of LCD shutter technology as the competing 3DVision products from Nvidia, but the glasses are a little bulkier. That's an issue if you don't wear glasses, but I found them better than Nvidia's glasses in my case, because they fit a little better over my normal eyewear.