Toshiba Tecra M3

1.86GHz Intel Pentium M, 512Mb RAM

When it comes to the technology that brings us our data and content, huge fortunes are being sunk into screen R&D. The most exciting change in laptop screens lately has been the SSV technology that’s quickly becoming the standard.

Its glassy, bright finish takes you back to the Crystal clear CRT days with none of the associated radiation or global warming. Go back to a plain LCD display and you’ll suddenly notice just how fuzzy it is.

Toshiba have taken screen technology in a new direction again with the Tecra M3. It’s called VACF, but you’d think they’d have come up with something with a bit ore marketing pizzazz like ‘SecureGuard’ or ‘Priva-Glass’.

As you’ve probably guessed, it’s a privacy feature. Taking the extra layer of the Diamond View technology, VACF (Viewing Angle Control Filter) is literally another layer again over the screen. Toshiba don’t give away any clues about how it works, but polarisation is somehow involved.

Turn VACF on, and anyone not directly in front sees only a chequerboard pattern of small squares that completely obscures the display.

It’s a very good idea and one that will no doubt catch on in some form. Unfortunately, it needs refinement. Either that, or a long take-up time as people get used to it.

The magic certainly works, and the difference between viewing angles is marked — it would indeed be impossible for anyone looking over your shoulder or sitting next to you on a plane to see what you’re doing. The chequerboard never completely hides from you, even when you’re directly in front.

And the ghost of it adds another level of detail that niggles at your vision like dead pixels. Some users will undoubtedly love it when they get used to it, but the goings-on on a computer monitor are too small and busy for the filter not to affect them.

If you do graphics or editing work of any sort, you’ll have little use for it. If you’re just writing letters or working with spreadsheets where colour and shade aren’t an issue it’s more suitable, but the extra messiness makes your eyes work that little bit harder to make out what you’re typing.

It can be turned off at the click of a shortcut, but you have to ask yourself how much use you’ll get out of it, as it makes us a good part of the price. Even with a dual layer DVD burner and some pretty good specs and brand name technology in the Tecra’s innards, there are better prices around for similar machines without VACF.

As a nascent technology, the idea is sound. The execution needs work, either in improvements to the filter as it stands, or a fresh approach altogether.

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