3D Gaming is Awesome!

After I watched Avatar in 3D, I became curious about PC gaming in 3D. So I did some research on the subject. There are three kinds of home 3D solutions on the market today (and a few more in theaters); active shutter glasses, and polarized LCD monitors are the two full color technologies. Each have their advantages and drawbacks, which I may blog about in more detail in the future (if you want more info, I suggest reading the xbit labs reviews of the various technologies).

I wanted to try to find a solution that did not require the layout of hundreds of dollars just to test out how well (or not) the 3D of these systems actually worked, so I wondered if there was a way to test these out, with minimal cost – sure enough, both available 3D graphics drivers support anaglyph mode to preview the tech. The third option anaglyph – you may remember this trick from super bowl half time commercials, and cereal box addins. First up is nVidia’s solution is slightly

For nVidia 3D Vision Discover, you’ll need to make sure you have a beefy enough nVidia video card – ATi users are out of luck. As luck would have it, I have a supported card, an 8800GT (the lowest end card supported!). To turn it on, follow the instructions on nVidia’s 3D Vision Setup page. Make sure you have both the correct version of display drivers, and the 3D Vision drivers.

If you don’t have the correct glasses colors (as I didn’t – I used magenta/green glasses backwards from Monster’s Vs. Aliens DVD – eventually I replaced one lense with a red one from a children’s spy kit I got from Friendly’s) it may be a little tricky to enable the affect in nVidida’s drivers if you don’t have the correct colored glasses, since they don’t actually let you turn it on without testing you first. Just guess at what the answers are and press back if you get it wrong – there are not that many combinations of answers, and you’ll eventually get it right.  Once you do that, you’ll have an option to turn this all on in the Stereoscopic 3D section of your NVIDIA Control Panel (right click desktop to get there), or use the CTRL + T shortcut to turn it on.

The nVidia drivers work amazingly well on Valve Source engine based games – like Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2. In some parts of Left 4 Dead 2, such as the sugar cane fields on the return trip level of Heavy Rain, it may even give you a bit of an advantage, since you can see the depth of the plants – it’s much easier to see where you are going. They did less well in older UT3 engine based games, like Bioshock, where you can see noticeable gaps around some objects where the fog effects just don’t line up correctly in both eyes (it’s shifted to the right or left, for each eye respectively), and certain shadows are lost. Newer UT3 games, like Batman .. Arkham Asylum, which claims out of the box support for nVidia 3D Vision, and Avatar, which has 3D support that must be enabled in game, look phenomenal. (For Avatar you need to set nVidia stereoscopic view on in the driver first and then the game to get it to work). Other Ubisoft games like Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia also look great.

Another option is to use the iZ3D 3D drivers – which work with any 3D card, including ATi Radeon. iZ3D sells a line of specialized monitors that actually polarize two images (similar to how many 3D movie screens work), and use passive glasses to filter out each image from the correct eye, thus presenting two different images to each eye. You don’t need a 3D monitor to use the drivers though, as they have a free anaglyph mode built in (among other modes). These drivers seem to incur a greater performance hit than the nVidia glasses – but despite many posts (seemingly little more than assumptions) I’ve found on forums and blog posts, I actually found them more compatible than nVidia’s drivers, especially in Bioshock, which is downright amazing in 3D (despite missing many shadows). These drivers don’t start out with the modest 3D settings as the nVidia’s more out of the box settings, but once you tweak these (there are more options for tweaking, and each game starts out with a tweaking guide overlay to help you out), you should be up and running.

The best part of the iZ3D drivers is that you can actually change the color settings of the anaglyph mode (apparently you used to be able to do that for nVidia, but they removed that ability). This is fantastic, because it means you can get all the colors, with less ghosting that you’d miss if you don’t use the correct glasses with the nVidia drivers. Most anaglyphs actually separate 3 colors, not just two – one channel (red) to one eye and the other two channels (green + blue = cyan) to the other. In my case, I am using green and magenta (blue + red). The fact that blue is being split to the wrong eye is why you get ghosting with the nvidia drivers and the Monsters Vs. Aliens (or Coraline) glasses.

Here’s a quick guide to change the anaglyph colors for iZ3D drivers. First find the correct config file – for me (Windows 7) it was:

C:UsersAll UsersiZ3D Driver

I can’t confirm these two, but they helped me find the location in Windows 7 - from the iZ3D forums:

XP: “Documents and SettingsAll UsersApplication DataiZ3D DriverLanguage”

Vista: “ProgramDataiZ3D DriverLanguage”

Once you have opened the Config.xml file in one of those folders, you can edit the following items to make it green/magenta:

<customleftmatrix m00="0" m01="0" m02="0"
m10="0" m11="1" m12="0"
m20="0" m21="0" m22="0"/>
<customrightmatrix m00="1" m01="0" m02="0"
m10="0" m11="0" m12="0"
m20="0" m21="0" m22="1"/>

In case you are interested, here is a quick key for what these values actually mean – or at least 3 of them – it’s matrix math which is hard ;-):

m00=”R” m01=”0″ m02=”0″
m10=”0″ m11=”G” m12=”0″
m20=”0″ m21=”0″ m22=”B

There are bugs and drawbacks with each solution – most games were not made with 3D in mind, so this can be a bit of a hack. Some games are missing shadows or have misaligned affects (like Bioshock), and I couldn’t get OpenGL games to work at all with either driver (despite settings for it in iZ3D). Other games seem to perform flawlessly (like Left 4 Dead, Batman or Avatar). Another big drawback of these systems is the cost – full color 3D setups can be pretty expensive $300-$400 for the monitor, and another $200 for the glasses (and an additional $150 for each pair you want to add for group movie watching). The iZ3D solution (and Zalman makes a compatible monitor) are getting cheaper, but are still quite pricey at around $300 for the monitor and cheaper passive glasses (with no other special requirements/costs, except some kind of reasonably strong video card).

The affect is pretty convincing for me though, and since I already have a nice 120Hz monitor, and a decent enough graphics card, I’ll be adding nVidia Shutter glasses to my birthday list. :-)