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Toshiba Glasses-Free Laptop (Qosmio F755-S5219) – A unbiased, detailed review (and where to find it cheap)

Update 1/9/2012. Today my “Toshiba Service Station” popped up, and it looks like Toshiba has FINALLY added glasses-free 3D gaming support. They have the following drivers for download:

  • NVIDIA Display Driver V8.17.12.9039 for Qosmio F755 3D Models
  • TOSHIBA Blu-ray Disc Player V1.0.1.299 for Qosmio F755 3D Models
  • BIOS version 2.00 for Qosmio F755 (PQF75U)
  • Super-D IC Driver for Qosmio F755 3D Models

While I’m disappointed that it took over four months for them to deliver something that they’d promised on release date, I’m happy they finally delivered.

In other news, since the release date Amazon has also lowered its price to a more affordable $1200. As always, life sucks for us early adopters 🙂 With the exception of the battery life, this is still one of most advanced laptops you can get, with a lot of power packed in. I’m pretty much using mine as a desktop replacement.
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While this site is dedicated to answering questions about 3D on the Playstation, since the folks visiting this site are 3D aficionados, since my last post I’ve gotten questions about the laptop I mentioned in the post, the Toshiba Qosmio F755-S5219. I’m definitely happy to share my personal experiences with it. I’ll give my initial thoughts but then focus mostly on the glasses-free 3D experience.

The Deal

First things first, the laptop retails at a rather hefty $1699.99, and at this price, as of this writing it’s already sold out at Amazon. Personally, I would recommend getting it at Best Buy. There, the price is only $1499.99, and it goes even lower if you join Best Buy’s free Reward Zone loyalty program. I’m not sure if this is a price mistake or intentional, but grab it at this price while you can!

The Review

Now for the review. The laptop itself is a high-end machine with the following features:

Processor: an Intel Core i7-2630M processor, featuring a 6MB L3 cache and 2.0GHz processor (with Turbo Boost up to 2.9 GHz). In other words, this thing is fast. I’m surfing the Web right now at speeds I’ve never seen on a laptop before, and have hardly seen on desktops.

Memory: the laptop comes with 6GB of DDR3 memory, expandable to 8GB. (There are two slots, meaning that the laptop comes shipped with one 2GB and one 4GB SDRAM memory module, and to upgrade you need to purchase another 4GB one)

Blu-Ray Disc Reader and Writer: Yes, this drive does it all–reads and writes Blu-Ray (BD-ROM, BD-R, BD-RE) and DVD (DLD+R, DVD-R, DVD-RAM) discs. It even supports Labelflash which allows you to burn labels directly onto the CD.

15.6″ LED-backlit TFT-LCD screen: The screen has a native resolution of 1920×1080 and a glossy finish. The colors are really brilliant, so gaming or movie watching will be a true pleasure on this thing. I’ve had 15″ laptops before, but for some reason this one looked a lot bigger, perhaps because of the color fidelity. I tried to take a picture with my digital camera, but I don’t think it really does it justice.

Hard Drive: The hard drive is a generous 750GB Serial ATA drive (5400 rpm).

Graphics Card: The built-in video card is an NVIDIA GeForce GT540M card, with 1GB of GDDR3 discrete memory and up to 3826MB total available memory. There is an HDMI connector you can use to connect to a TV, so when your Playstation is available you essentially have another 3D Blu-Ray Player. There’s also a standard monitor connector for a traditional RGB monitor.

Webcam: The built-in Webcam is 1.3 megapixels. But the most interesting thing about the Webcam is that it’s not just there for Web chatting. It’s actively used by the glasses-free 3D system to detect your face and always give you the best 3D experience even if you shift. But we’ll talk more about the 3D below.

Operating System: The system runs on Windows 7 Home Premium Edition. It’s the 64-bit version, which allows you to run both old and new Windows software.

Battery Life: The battery clocks in at only about 3 hours. This was the one thing I was a little disappointed in, although it’s perfectly understandable given the punch that this laptop delivers. I will definitely be purchasing one or two spare batteries on eBay. For your reference, the Toshiba part number you’re going to be looking for is PA3757U-1BRS.

Sound: The sound is provided by built-in harman/kardon stereo speakers. After my last laptop (a horrible Lenovo) which had speaker output that was barely louder than headphones, I was happy to be able to hear music and audio loudly and clearly. 

Other stuff: The other features of the laptop are pretty standard but comprehensive. There’s an SD card slot in the lower left hand corner of the laptop, there’s one USB 3.0 and three USB 2.0 ports (the USB 3.0 port enables you to charge USB devices even with the power off). There’s a built-in 10/100/1000 Ethernet port,  and built-in Wifi (802.11 b/g/n). It comes with 4G WiMAX built-in, which means that you can get always-on 4G WiFi to your laptop with the right plans from CLEAR or Sprint which support that standard.

How it looks and feels: This laptop is the “red Ferrari” of laptops. It’s got a bright and glossy red finish with little stylized indented “dots” providing it texture. It looks extremely stylish. Again, due to the power it packs, it’s a hefty 7.5 pounds.

qosmio u755 bright red glasses free 3d

Okay, this is the part I know you’ve all been waiting for. How does the glasses-free HD work? I’ve split my experiences into three pieces:

The Glasses Free 3D: YouTube 3D videos

My first instinct was to test it on YouTube’s 3D Channel. But when I went there and selected the option for “HTML5 Stereo View (including NVIDIA 3D Vision)”, YouTube tells me that “HTML5 Stereo View is not set up”. When I click the link to set it up, I get sent to a help page, which in turn provides me a link to go to NVIDIA’s site.

On the NVIDIA page it says “You have an outdated NVIDIA driver version. Please update your driver to Beta Release 275.27 or above”. The problem is, when I try to do that, the system then tells me this:

GeForce GT 540M Has been detected in your system. Compal%2FToshiba requires that you download the driver for your GPU from their support site.

At this point I’m getting a little miffed. I paid a lot for this laptop, mainly for the 3D experience, and I expected Toshiba would have done a lot better a job at quality control before releasing it (who in the world is going to buy this laptop and not visit YouTube?).

I called Toshiba tech support. The tech support specialist “Carla” was obviously someone in an Indian call center and very obviously had no clue how to troubleshoot this. I don’t blame her, it’s the product folks who built this laptop who really, really need to arm their customer service personnel with the right information. Without this information, poor “Carla” was left to try to troubleshoot on her own with obviously zero knowledge of how 3D works (much less glasses-free 3D).

I first told Carla that my glasses-free 3D was not working on YouTube. The first thing she said was to visit another site to try it there. She sent me to 3dvideoclips.net. Here’s the problem. 3dvideoclips.net is just a site that aggregates–you guessed it–3d YouTube videos. Worse, 3dvideoclips.net shows the default videos in anaglyph format, which is irrelevant for anyone with a 3D video card (glasses or not).

I tried to give her “hints”. I told her that on the NVIDIA site, I got the message above. But she plowed through and had me uninstall and reinstall the video driver. As I expected, it did nothing. The driver that was installed was still the same outdated 8.17.12.6807 driver dated 4/4/2011.

She had me go back to YouTube, and as I expected it still gave me the same error message. She told me to try different viewing modes, and I had to explain to her that side-by-side and anaglyph modes were irrelevant.

Finally, she told me that my laptop was broken and that I should take it back to Best Buy for a replacement. At this point, I had enough, thanked her, and hung up.

Long story short, as much hype as the Qosmio F755-S5219 got for being the “first glasses free 3D laptop”, it doesn’t look like Toshiba is thinking very much about its customers–nor its customer support–as far as viewing 3D videos online. I expected much better.

The Glasses Free 3D: 3D Blu-Ray Disc

Here, my experience was much better, although it took a little trial and error.

The first thing you’ll want to do is go to Toshiba’s support site and download a copy of the unfortunately named X-Tune (instead of being cute, why didn’t they just called it “3D adjustment utility”).  This is a utility from Toshiba that lets you configure your system for optimal viewing. I’m not sure why Toshiba didn’t mention this at all–I had to discover it on my own in the “Downloads” section. If you don’t use this first, you’re probably going to get unpredictable results.

When you run the program, you’ll be asked to verify that the laptop’s face-tracking technology is working (it’ll show your face with yellow lines superimposed over it identifying where your eyes are). Then, you’ll be shown a simple 3D image (the letters “3D” in the middle of the screen popping out, with four smaller “3Ds” on the corners sinking in). You use the arrow keys to reduce the amount of parallax (ghosted duplicate images) until you get a fairly crisp image. Then, you press Enter.

The only 3D Blu-ray I already had was The Universe: 7 Wonders of the Solar System, which I only had because it was on sale at Amazon one day (I’ll write another post to talk about the best Blu-ray documentaries you can buy to test your system). As poor as the reviews of the disc are, it gave me a good taste of what this laptop could do. Images really “popped” out of the screen at me, and unlike with 3D system that require glasses, there was nothing inhibiting my viewing of the full brightness nor color depth (something that happens a lot when I watch 3D with glasses, made worse by my own glasses).

I will say the experience is not perfect. When in 3D mode the image is decidedly “grainy” versus the 2D image. My guess is that in order to serve up the 3D image, resolution had to be sacrificed. This is something I’m sure will get better in future iterations of this technology as processors get more powerful.

One other gripe I have is that the “eye tracking” technology really left something to be desired. I’d have a pretty good experience when I moved my head to a point where parallax was minimized and then kept my head there. But when I moved my face slightly, the entire picture would shift, which after time became extremely disconcerting.

Despite the negatives it was overall a very cool experience, especially for first-generation technology. Some images were breathtakingly gorgeous, while others gave me a bit of a headache. I’m not sure if this is due to the laptops technology, the quality of the Blu-ray I was looking at, or both. I’ll update this post as I try different Blu-rays.

Even more amazing, I could play the Blu-ray in one window in 3D and keep my other Windows programs open in other windows in 2D. The eye-tracking was hit-or-miss. The way it’s supposed to work, the 3D image is supposed to be automatically adjusted based on the position of my face. I actually found it to be a bit distracting, as there’s be a noticeable lag as the computer tried to adjust the picture whenever my head moved. I think they probably have to work on that feature a bit more, but bottom line, as long as I kept my head relatively still, I could enjoy the 3D Blu-ray immensely.

The Glasses Free 3D: Conversion of 2D to 3D

Another feature which Toshiba touts is the ability to “convert” 2D DVDs (not Blu-rays) to 3D images on the fly. I was skeptical about this at first; after all, “true” 3D requires the original image to be shot with two lenses (mimicking our two eyes). If a movie was originally shot with one lens, even if they tell you it’s “3D”, it’s not really–they either manually or automatically separate “layers” of images in the 2D image to make it look like 3D. But as with the “colorization of black and white movies” fad that happened years ago, such conversion is done after-the-fact and doesn’t really do a good job of capturing the nuances of a true 3D environment, especially when the film was originally created for 2D. In other words, don’t trust a movie that says it’s in “3D” unless it was origially filmed that way.

That said, I popped in an old DVD. The Toshiba DVD player played it. On top of the window, there’s a little button that says “3D”. When I pressed it, I saw the screen split, and then lo and behold, I saw a grainy 3D-like picture. I have to say, the effect was a lot better than I thought it’d be. The images really seemed to pop out at you. That said, the resulting image is so grainy and the 3D effect is hardly clean, so I got a bit of a headache after a few minutes of trying to watch a DVD this way.

Bottom line, I think this feature is more of a gimmick than anything else–the Toshiba marketing department probably figured that people with large DVD collections and no 3D Blu-rays would still buy the laptop so they could see the DVDs that way. I can honestly say that it’s not worth buying the laptop for that reason–your old DVDs are meant to be seen in 2D, so keep it that way. That said, it’s a nice little trick to show off what your laptop can do.

In summary, overall I was impressed by the Toshiba Qosmio F755-S5219. It’s been years since I paid this much for a laptop, but it was worth the wait. As with all first generation products, over time you’ll see other laptops with better 3D and cheaper prices. That said, there’s something to be said about being the first one on the block with this great new technology, and the specs of the laptop are impressive enough that this machine should last you for years to come. Highly recommended.

 

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