The Case for PC 3D Gaming • Page 2

Is NVIDIA 3D Vision the best choice for 3DTV owners?

NVIDIA's commitment to 3D Vision is such that, just like Sony, it has a dedicated team of engineers who work with developers to ensure the quality of the experience. Developers can use the driver-level "automatic mode" and tweak that with NVIDIA support, or else they can build their own direct support for the system using the available APIs.

"If the developer wants to get more involved with the creation and use our API, our developer relations team also supports them during the process, providing them with sample code, on-site visits, access to test drivers, and in-house testing," Fear adds.

In its traditional form, 3D Vision operates at the 1680x1050 or 1920x1080 resolutions of its supported 120Hz LCD screens using dual-link DVI. This connection type offers big bandwidth advantages over HDMI, allowing for faster refresh rates and higher resolutions compared to console 3D. It has other advantages over console too: you can easily upgrade your GPU for better performance or more effects, plus the strength of the 3D effect is tweakable by the user - something offered by Nintendo 3DS, but quite rare on the PlayStation 3D games seen thus far.

While 3D Vision is currently seen at its best on the range of 120Hz desktop LCDs, the recent release of NVIDIA 3DTV Play is hugely significant, because now you can hook your PC up to your new 3DTV and use it not only as a 3D-capable media centre (and Blu-ray player, if you like) but you can also get the full stereoscopic gaming experience. While the existing dual-link DVI solution outperforms HDMI 1.4 in terms of resolution, big screens aren't available in these configurations.

Supporting HDMI 1.4 opens up a large range of big-screen TVs from 40-inch all the way up to 65-inch, and with 50-inch plasma screens available for well under 1000 now, prices are becoming reasonable for the these higher-end displays. Field of view is hugely important in 3D gaming, and some might argue that a game running at 1280x720 on a 50-inch plasma could be significantly more impressive than the same title operating at 1920x1080 on a 24-inch monitor.

For its part, introducing the support necessary for HDMI 1.4 didn't prove to be especially onerous for NVIDIA.

"There aren't many engineering challenges to support HDMI 1.4. For our 3D driver, we already support multiple 3D rendering techniques/displays: frame sequential (120Hz monitors), checkerboard pattern (DLP TVs) and anaglyph red/blue," Andrew Fear explains.

"For 3D Vision, we simply create new timings in our driver to handle HDMI 1.4 and it's another output for us. The good news is we then do not have to rewrite our core engine. Therefore, all of the rich experiences, games, and applications that work on 3D Vision will also work when you connect to an HDMI 1.4 3D TV using 3DTV Play software."

The clear distinction between the dual-link DVI monitors and the new HDMI 1.4 3DTVs can be a bit of a pain, however. Let's say you play on both your PC and PS3 in your bedroom or study: the two different 3D standards mean you'd need two different displays. Not only that, but right now the HDMI 1.4 screen would need to be at least 40-inch in size. It's clearly not ideal, but the good news is that the display manufacturers are slowly moving towards offering both standards in one product. At CES this year, Acer announced new HN274H 27-inch and GN245HQ 24-inch monitors that support both formats in one 1080p screen.

For many, gaming is a living room activity and for 3D gaming that means using the larger HDMI 1.4 standard screens. 1080p 3D gaming on HDMI 1.4 screens is supported, but frame-rate is limited to a disappointing 24 frames per second. The best gaming option is to switch to 720p, which offers full-fat 60Hz per eye. This is the format mandated by Sony for PS3 3D titles. While resolution is obviously compromised in this configuration compared to the desktop 3D Vision solution, the upside is that a considerably cheaper graphics card will produce some phenomenal results.

We have seen with PlayStation 3D that performance, resolution or both can be impacted by adding stereoscopic support. NVIDIA's solution is essentially to throw more GPU power at the problem in order to overcome these issues. But the question is, just how much money do you need to spend on a graphics card to get decent performance for a 3D Vision or HDMI 1.4 setup?

One of our favourite sites is Russian offering GameGPU.ru, and it has already run an exhaustive series of tests with 3D Vision across over 20 different NVIDIA graphics cards (!), from the lowly GeForce 8800GTS all the way up to the latest, state-of-the-art GTX 580. The tests are at 1080p, so significantly beyond the requirement of the 720p 3DTVs, and often at extraordinarily high graphics settings, but regardless the results are enlightening.

The NVIDIA GTX 460 in the 768MB configuration is often available via UK e-tailers at around 120. The tests show very high frame-rates for the likes of James Cameron's Avatar and Far Cry 2 (both using Ubisoft's advanced Dunia engine), while the card blitzes Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2. All of these games can exceed 50FPS at 1080p, and H.A.W.X 2 sustains 1080p60 from start to finish. That's 50 or 60 frames per second, per eye.

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