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TekSpek GPU - Graphics
NVIDIA 3D Vision

NVIDIA 3D Vision

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One of the most interesting technologies in 2010 promises to be 3D TV. Pushed by the likes of Samsung, Sony and Panasonic on their high-end sets, 3D TV will gain traction once broadcasters - such as Sky and the BBC - and movie studios increase 3D content.

In the PC world, NVIDIA, designer and manufacturer of a wide range of graphics cards, has been promoting 3D gaming for nearly two years now. Branded under the 3D Vision umbrellas of technologies this TekSpek examines how it works and what you're likely to see in the months to come.

3D Vision - how?

NVIDIA's 3D technology aims to provide a three-dimensional image - width, height, and, most importantly, depth - by using four components.

Active shutter glasses

The most distinguishable part of NVIDIA 3D Vision is the stereoscopic active shutter glasses. These special glasses connect to the PC via wireless infra red and process images sent by an NVIDIA graphics card and special display.

Slightly different images, compiled by the NVIDIA card and software driver, are delivered from the monitor to the left and right eyes on alternate frames. Your brain then meshes these slightly different images together to form a single image that appears to have depth. In other words, it's this stereoscopic effect that provides 3D.

An easy, but oversimplified, method of understanding how it works is to put your hand over one eye, look in front of you, and then put a hand over the other eye. Both single-eye images are slightly different, and it's the compiling of these two images that gives you depth information.

120Hz monitor or projector

As we know, 3D Vision requires that separate images be sent to both eyes in quick succession. In order to have seamless, judder-free gaming each eye needs to be presented with a 60Hz signal. However, using regular monitors, equipped with a 60Hz scan rate - meaning that they scan images at 60 frames per second - each receives a 30Hz signal, so whilst the 3D effect is remain intact, you'll perceive the monitor flickering.

This is why NVIDIA 3D Vision requires a certified monitor or projector to operate at 120Hz, thereby providing each eye with a smooth, flicker-free 60Hz. NVIDIA has a list of 20 or so monitors/projectors that are deemed 3D Vision-ready.

Interestingly, because the monitor is displaying slightly different images, intended for the left and right eyes, on a rapid basis, looking at a 3D-ready monitor without the active shutter glasses presents a blurry image.

3D software driver

Working backwards, there's little point in having active shutter glasses and a 120Hz display if the game or Blu-ray title cannot be programmed into sending specific images intended for the left and right eyes.

The 3D software driver is built into the ForceWare driver updates that are released on a regular basis by NVIDIA. It is tuned to ensure that the application can correctly send the required left and right images which are then processed by the stereoscopic glasses.

It is the effectiveness of the driver that ultimately determines just how well the 3D effect works, and the 3D driver is refined on a continual basis.

3D-ready GeForce graphics card

The last part of the 3D Vision jigsaw is the NVIDIA GeForce graphics card. At the time of writing, NVIDIA supports 3D gaming on GeForce 8-series cards onwards.

What's important to note is that gaming performance will drop when running in 3D Vision mode. The reason for this, as you will probably gather by now, lies with the need to provide two sets of images for 3D, thereby reducing performance by up to 50 per cent when compared with a non-3D setup.

3D Blu-ray playback, achieved by using third-party software from companies such as CyberLink and Arcsoft, is supported on the newer GeForce 300-series and GeForce 400-series graphics cards. For a full list, please head on over to here.

3D Vision Surround

The latest development in NVIDIA's 3D Vision program is called 3D Vision Surround. As the name implies, the technology enables the user to view 3D images on more than one screen.

3D Vision Surround works in exactly the same way as one-screen Vision. The obvious difference is that the 3D image is rendered over multiple screens, usually three matched monitors, providing an ultra-wide resolution of up to 5,760x1,080.

As 3D works best when in a front-facing position, NVIDIA recommends that all displays in a VISION Surround setup be placed alongside one another, as opposed to pulling the outer monitors in by 45° and providing a wraparound effect.

NVIDIA's graphics architecture is such that a single card can only output to a maximum of two displays at once. This means that users contemplating a three-screen VISION Surround system need to have two GeForce graphics cards run in multi-GPU SLI mode.

When one considers the massive power needed to drive a 5,760x1,080 resolution on three 120Hz displays at acceptable frame-rates, the need to have two cards is more of a necessity than obvious hindrance.

NVIDIA certifies the GeForce 400-series and GeForce 200-series as being capable of running 3D Vision Surround, and one will need to invest in some expensive hardware to ensure that multi-monitor 3D gaming on the latest titles runs smoothly.

The technical difficulties in qualifying 3D Vision Surround setups means that NVIDIA hasn't provided a publicly-available driver just yet; the company promises that it will be released by July 2010.


NVIDIA's 3D Vision technology seeks to embrace the nascent 3D trend adopted by the major TV manufacturers and movie studios. It works by using special active shutter glasses and special monitors/projectors to provide depth to various computing applications, be they games or movies.

Totting up the expense, the glasses cost around £125 and a 22in, 1,680x1,050-resolution monitor, capable of running at 120Hz, costs some £250. Entrance the world of 3D isn't cheap, and the very fact that you need to invest in special glasses and monitor(s) is a large drawback that will deter many.

The barriers for 3D gaming may be high but, once used, most people are impressed with just how well NVIDIA's 3D Vision works.