OXCGN’s 3D Gaming Comparison
Part IV: PC
©2012 Alex Baldwin
And yet, until recently, our games have only fed us one.
Part 1: Nintendo 3DS
Part 2: PlayStation 3
Part 3: Xbox 360
Part 4: PC (Nvidia 3D Vision)
Let loose the rigs!
While 3D gaming on PC pre-dates Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo’s efforts, it is only recently that it has gotten any attention. While several formats are available such as Tri-Def and AMD-3D, I will be focusing on Nvidia‘s 3D Vision which offers the widest game support and is the most prominent.
Unlike console-based 3D gaming which is limited by HDMI to a maximum of 60 frames per second (per eye) at 720p for 3D, Nvidia 3D Vision uses a dual-link DVI cable to connect any mid-range and above Nvidia graphics card from the past few years to a compatible 3D monitor for gaming at 1080p (1920 x 1080) in 3D at 60fps per eye.
This makes the experience incredibly sharp and smooth on 3D monitors, but is reduced to 720p when using HDMI to a compatible TV.
Only DirectX-compatible games can be played in 3D which includes almost all major releases except a select few such as Rage. Games that were specifically designed with 3D in co-operation with Nvidia are branded as ’3D-Ready’ and include major releases such as The Witcher 2, Batman: Arkham City, Crysis 2 and Battlefield 3.
While others such as Skyrim were not developed with 3D in mind, they also make for some amazing 3D experiences with Nvidia’s drivers providing support.
However, due to the huge variety of games and engines on PC not all provide an optimal experience.
Nvidia provides a list in the Nvidia Control Panel for any Nvidia-equipped PCs of all major PC games with a 3D compatibility rating alongside as a guide to how well the game works in 3D, as well as green text that appears onscreen while starting a game that may provide additional information on graphics settings for the best 3D experience.
There are many reasons a game might be rated low, but some of the common issues are related to how a game renders certain graphical effects. For example, some games do not actually render shadows as having any spatial (3D) depth.
When playing in 2D it is impossible to tell, but switching to 3D can result in an extremely confusing image. Reflections on water or surfaces can also be an issue, as well as the HUD elements such as aiming crosshairs being rendered at screen-depth.
Luckily some custom-made tweaks are available for games such as Mass Effect 2 and 3, Prototype and more that have problems with 3D to fix the issues thanks to an active community around Nvidia 3D Vision.
For an idea of how a 2D HUD would affect playing in 3D, hold a finger about a foot in front of your eyes so you can comfortably focus on it. Imagine this to be a crosshair or ironsight on a weapon. Now attempt to ‘aim’ at an object several meters away.
You are only able to focus on a specific distance with your eyes, resulting in either your finger being in focus but the object further away appearing blurry, or looking past your finger at the object and your finger appearing as double-vision.
Luckily Nvidia has provided a solution for any games that allow the crosshair to be switched of by assigning a keyboard hotkey to enable Nvidia’s own 3D crosshair instead that will automatically move to the depth of any object you aim at, allowing the same degree of accuracy as playing in 2D.
Well played, sir
Other hotkeys can also be assigned to allow more fine-tuned control of 3D settings while playing a game. In addition to standard depth settings that can be pushed far past the limits imposed by console and Nintendo 3DS maximums, convergence is also able to be adjusted for those who prefer a more in-your-face experience.
Another hotkey allows these settings to be saved and enabled every time you launch that game, allowing individual settings for each game.
As an example, when playing Mass Effect 3 I adjusted the settings so the back of Shepard was in line with the depth of the edges of my monitor, whereas in The Darkness II I preferred the Darkness tentacles at the sides of the screen to actually appear to be coming out of the screen at me.
Combined with the flawless 60fps per eye at 1080p, this gave the very real impression that I could reach out and touch the Darkness tentacles, and made me flinch whenever a rocket zoomed past my head in Battlefield 3.
It’s an extremely immersive experience that had the effect of making me forget where the edges of my monitor was and begin to feel far more within the game than anything I had experienced before.
Make no mistake, this is nothing like 3D movies that will only appear to pop objects slightly out of the screen.
When observing others test 3D gaming on my PC, I noticed far more physical reactions to on-screen events such as flinching or jerking back in the chair when being shot at in games, as well as the impression they could reach out and try to grab invisible objects as close as a foot from the player’s face while viewing games approximately 3 feet from a 27-inch monitor.
PC undoubtedly provides the best and most customisable experience, but has some significant costs both in money and time.
3D monitors retail for approximately twice their 2D counterparts, while also requiring some background research to ensure the monitor is compatible with Nvidia 3D Vision (current Samsung 3D monitors are not, for example), while an Nvidia graphics card is also required for Nvidia 3D Vision. Keeping drivers up to date is also crucial for new games to be recognised and supported.
Additionally, much the same consoles, playing games in 3D on PC require twice the frames to be rendered, resulting in framerates as much as half that you would get playing the game in 2D (although not always).
As a general guide, use any software that can display framerate in some of your favourite games with ‘vsync’ switched off and note the framerate. If it records about 80fps or over you should be fine to play that game smoothly in 3D.
Three dimensions of… bad puns?
All this results in an experience that requires far more tweaking and attention for the best results. If you are after a solution that just works without needing to think or adjust anything, this is not for you.
However, if you have the initial patience and budget, the results are above and beyond 3D gaming and movies on any other platform. Yes, even Avatar.
That concludes OXCGN’s 3D Gaming Comparison series.
Did we do something wrong? Could we have done something better? Think we missed something? Let us know in the comments below.