Thursday, October 25, 2012

NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround, 120hz and 3-Monitor Gaming: One Man's Incredible Journey and Credit Card Bill to Seek the Truth

There is a of confusion (and opinions) around 3D Gaming, 120hz vs 60hz, 16:10 vs 16:9 aspect ratio, and three monitor gaming. Being an avid PC-Gamer and wanting the best possible gaming experience, I put over 3 grand on a credit card to test out these technologies for myself (with almost no intention of keeping them) all to answer the big question: which technologies are worth my (and your) hard-earned cash?

Federal Warning: May cause awesomeness...or bankruptcy. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2012)

The Setup:

NVIDIA had just released their 3D Vision 2 monitors which were supposed to be a vast improvement over the previous generation. I sincerely wanted to know if this new technology was worth the hefty price tag. I've had a myriad of PC gaming hardware and monitors in my past, and at the time, I still had my beloved 30" HP ZR30w 2560x1600 resolution monitor, but I wasn't sure which was better: one massive monitor or three smaller? I decided to go all the way with three 3D monitors. 

There was no way I could afford all of this hardware, but I wanted to know if it was something I wanted to save up for (and I would have had to save for a very long time) and obviously, it would be ridiculous to drop this chunk of change without actually testing it first, so I did the only thing a sane person would do: I used (maybe abused?)'s and's very generous return policies to test the hardware. In the end it only cost me $50 in return-shipping, which was well-worth the experience and ability to test it for over a month.

I had a nice gaming rig, but I was still worried my two GTX470's in SLI wouldn't cut it so I bought two EVGA GeForce GTX580 3GB CLASSIFIED's off of Amazon for $1,060 (which anyone could have easily gotten off eBay for much cheaper). I then bought three ASUS VG278H 27" monitors for $700 each off of which have NVIDIA's 3D Vision 2 technology.

NVIDIA 3D Vision Discover vs. NVIDIA 3D Vision vs. NVIDIA 3D Vison 2:

And you thought he couldn't get any creepier. Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

The first 3D technology I ever tried was NVIDIA's 3D Vision Discover which can be used with any monitor and any graphics card past the 8800GT. All it requires is a pair of red/cyan anagylph glasses and the latest graphics drivers. I had NVIDIA's official pair of glasses and was excited to use this as a gauge to see if 3D gaming could work. The problem is that it was painful to look at the screen, it hurt my eyes, it hurt my brain, and most importantly, it did't offer a valid 3D experience. It's a cheap way to get a very sub-par look at 3D gaming but don't make any decisions based on what you see.

I had actually tested out NVIDIA's 3D gaming a year earlier on the Acer GD235HZ 23" which I found on Craigslist. I was very underwhelmed by the technology because 1) it was  23" screen and 2) I couldn't stand how dark the screen was so I ended up selling it back on craigslist a month later (while making a hefty $20 in profit). NVIDIA 3D Vision 2 was a huge improvement, solving the problem with bigger screens, bigger glass lenses and "LightBoost technology" which address any issues regarding brightness. If you choose to do 3D gaming, make sure it is with this second generation technology.

Well, at least you don't look like a total nerd when wearing the glasses...(sigh)

3D Gaming:

Tested Games: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Left4Dead 2, Battlefield 3, Just Cause 2, Crysis 2, Dragon Age: Origins, Fallout: New Vegas, Mass Effect 2, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Need for Speed: Undercover.

NVIDIA's solution uses Active Shutter Glasses which offers a better 3D experience than Passive (which to be fair, I've never tested). Overall, I really liked gaming in 3D. Some people have complained of eye-strain and there is more eye-strain than regular gaming but I was able to do it for long-enough periods of time as long as everything worked properly. Sometimes UI elements didn't quite work, menus or indicators such as a health bar, text or cross-hairs would appear to float in front of the screen which was very distracting. There some fixes to these problems but it didn't always work perfectly. It was also a lot harder to use scopes, especially when sniping I had to turn off the 3D effect which luckily only takes a click of a button to do.

The point of 3D in my opinion is to add to immersion, and to be fair, it did. There were some moments which would take my breath away and were incredibly enhanced by the 3D effect. I played through the opening of Skyrim thinking that the dragon crashing down would be awesome, and it was, but what made me stop and stare was a banner hanging from the ceiling which I could walk around and view in 3 dimensions. The most-impressive moment in all my testing was in Fallout: New Vegas when I was crouching by a fence post and I could see the barb-wire around the fence in 3D; I kid you not: It was stunning.

The main problem with 3D is that us humans have something called 'sensory adaptation'. If there is a bad smell in the air after a while it will seem to go away, it doesn't, it's just that we've adapted to it and don't notice it any longer. The same principle extends to 3D gaming, I would forget that it was there and it didn't seem to add much beyond not being able to play as long and causing funny visual effects. That's why the 'stop and smell the roses' moments are most memorable. Don't get me wrong, I want 3D, but I want a glasses-free 3D that is as good as Active Shutter 3D at a much cheaper price. Until this occurs, I won't make the leap, and I can't recommend it to anyone else either. It's really something each user needs to try though to make an informed decision, and not just for a few minutes.

1 vs 3 Monitor Gaming:

Even though during my testing I had 3 monitors in 3D, I'm treating these as separate topics as you can purchase three 2D monitors and run them in Eyefinity or Surround just fine. Going from one to three monitors will change your gaming life. Being able to see around you offers a very compelling and immersive experience. Instead of moving the mouse you just glance your eyes over, just as you would in real-life, it also. The bezels don't bother me at all since both NVIDIA and AMD have bezel-correction software which works perfectly. Not all games work out of the box with 3-monitors but luckily there are some very talented people over at (widescreen gaming forum) who have easy-to-use tools and fixes to make most games work.

I ended up selling my 30" monitor and purchasing 3 27" Hanns-G HL272HPB monitors (I chose these as they were cheap and had thin bezels). I bought them on sale and they ended up costing less than a single 27" 3D monitor. I miss the resolution on the 30" monitor, there was a noticeable decrease in detail and clarity, but two more 30" monitors would have been too expensive and required far more GPU horse-power than I could afford. The most important sensory input is sight and it is well worth the investment in this area to get the best possible gaming experience.

120hz vs. 60hz:

Ghosting effect shown above. 3DMark03 (2008)

I've heard the argument that "even if you don't like the 3D, it's worth it for the 120hz." The hz (hertz) here translates directly to Frames Per Second (FPS). Active 3D technology delivers 120 frames per second but only 60 frames per second to each eye. When you turn off the 3D effect this means you can deliver 120 frames to both eyes which should give a smoother experience with less motion-blur or "ghosting" (shown above). This was a great test as I had 2 of the same monitors. I ran the Just Cause 2 benchmarks simultaneously on 2 different machines (I put one of the GTX580's in each and had FRAPS running). One I capped at 60hz and the other at 120hz. I also spent time in a few games playing in 120hz 2D.

When looking at the Benchmarks side by side I could tell a difference, but it was minor. In-game, I didn't notice any significant difference, but there are a lot of gamer's out there who swear they can see a big difference and have a tactical advantage because of it. I'm not doubting them, but I couldn't see a large enough difference.

It's also important to keep in mind that your machines actually has to be powerful enough to produce 120fps, and personally, if it came down to it, I would choose graphic-fidelity over super-high frame rates.

16:10 vs. 16:9 aspect ratio:

The aspect ratio refers to the ratio of horizontal pixels to vertical pixels. The standard monitors have a 16:9 ratio of 1920x1080 or 2560x1444. The standard 16:10 resolutions are 1920x1200 and 2560x1600. From a productivity stand-point 16:10 is much better, those extra 120 or 156 vertical lines do wonders in Microsoft word and side-by-side windows. For gaming it's not a simple answer. A 16:10 monitor has greater PPI (Pixels Per Inch) which is essentially a higher resolution and offers a sharper image but at the expense of narrowing the Field of View (FOV). Here, a picture is worth a thousand words:

Left 16:10, Right 16:9 (Note this is without a FOV fix). Battlefield 2 (2005)

The caveat here is that many games allow you to adjust the FOV. With those that do, you could actually have the best of both worlds with a greater PPI and the same FOV as 16:9.

If you have 3 monitors in it really doesn't matter as your field of view is increased three-fold and the extra space offers virtually no benefit while the 16:10 ratio gives a higher pixel-density. The problem is that they don't make many 1920x1200 monitors anymore as 1080p has become standard and the 2560x1600 monitors are very expensive.

  • In-person testing is the only real way of knowing what is important to you, if you can test it without paying much for it like I did, do it.
  • 3D: Great but the technology needs to mature and the price needs to go down.
  • 3-monitor gaming: Absolutely worth the investment and minor hassle.
  • 120hz: I couldn't tell enough of a difference but some gamers swear by it.
  • 16:10: Better for productivity and usually for gaming but harder to find and is more expensive.

I can't wait until we have 32" 4k 120hz Passive 3D bezeless monitors, hardware powerful enough to handle it...and me being in a tax-bracket where I could actually afford it. (Heck why stop there, let's have a single 100"48:10 aspect ratio with passive 3D 8k 240hz monitor and curved glass).

Right now though, the holy grail is three 30" 60hz 2560x1600 monitors (various) or three 120hz 27" 2560x1444 monitors (Catleap 2B extreme ~$550 each) which isn't a bad place to be at all.

Words by Trent

1 comment:

  1. hi..Im student from Informatics engineering, this article is very informative, thanks for sharing :)