Here’s an announcement out of left-field: Acer has unveiled a prototype laptop with glasses-free 3D.

Years after the rise and fall of Avatar, the Nintendo 3DS, and the ill-fated LG Optimus 3D smartphone, Acer believes that stereoscopic 3D is ready for a comeback – but not for the likes of you and me.

Instead, the company’s new SpatialLabs 3D tech is destined for its ConceptD line, a series of products designed specifically for professional creatives. In this case, the target market is product designers, architects, and 3D modelers for videogames and animation, all of whom would now be able to assess their work in 3D in real-time.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Acer’s SpatialLabs prototype laptop – actual products are expected later this year – is that it really works. Well.

Acer SpatialLabs

The tech here is split into two parts. First of all, a liquid crystal lenticular lens is optically bonded directly to the laptop’s UHD display. That means it can function normally as a 4K screen, or render two 2K images side-by-side to create a stereoscopic image when the 3D mode is activated.

The second part of the tech, and the more impressive, is the way that it also leverages eye-tracking. Stereo cameras mounted above the display track the user’s head position so that the 3D effect can essentially be targeted, creating an unexpectedly wide viewing angle for the extra dimension.

The trade-off is that the effect will only work on one person at a time. That’s fine if you’re a designer wanting to inspect a model while you work on it, but a little more cumbersome when it comes to showing it off. There is also still a sweet spot to find in terms of distance from the display, and once there the eye-tracking takes a second or two to lock onto you, with a slightly disorienting effect in the meantime.

Acer SpatialLabs

So far, the SpatialLabs software package has three components. The SpatialLabs Player is a straightforward player for 3D video files, while SpatialLabs Go is a floating overlay that can convert side-by-side 3D videos from almost any source – including YouTube – into stereoscopic 3D on the screen.

The real heart of the tech is Model Viewer, which can import files from a variety of major 3D file formats and display them in real-time. Here the head tracking is taken step further, using information about your head position to adjust the model so that you can essentially move your head around it to take a look from a different angle.

Add-ons are being developed for the likes of Blender and Autodesk Fusion 360 that will allow one-click export to the Model Viewer, while new Maya middleware allows projects there to be viewed in 3D on-the-fly, cutting out extensive rendering time.

Acer SpatialLabs ConceptD

Acer showed me the tech at its London HQ alongside the new RTX 3050-powered Swift X ultrabook and slimline 16in Predator Triton 500 SE gaming laptop, also announced at today's Global Press Conference.

Right now it fits into a compact prototype 14in laptop with ConceptD branding, which Acer is also providing to developers keen to try SpatialLabs out for themselves. The company was coy about what products it might eventually launch, but monitors are the obvious next step.

In any case, don’t expect this to pop up in a mainstream consumer – or even gaming – laptop any time soon. Much like Google Glass’s consumer flop led to a new life in industrial applications, Acer is positioning 3D for productivity not play.

Then again, Avatar 2 is still set to release next year, so maybe SpatialLabs is simply ahead of the curve. 3D’s back, baby.