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NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround is Here
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Date: Jun 29, 2010
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Mathew Miranda
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Introduction

In January 2009, we reviewed the NVIDIA 3D Vision kit which brought the latest in 3D active-shutter technology to the PC gaming world. Since then, 3D has exploded on to the scene as motion pictures, games, and other video media all have support for the technology in a major way. Nowadays, when you go to a movie theater, chances are you'll have the option of watching new releases in either 2D or 3D. Moreover, HDTVs and Blu-ray players now offer 3D capable features that bring stereoscopic technology right into your living room. Of course, PC gaming is also on the bandwagon as hundreds of games support 3D out of the box. It's obvious we're heading toward a world where every facet of entertainment is available in 3D and its becoming more of a reality every day. 


In addition, the rise of multi-monitor gaming has given users another way to immerse themselves within games. Matrox's TripleHead2Go and ATI's Eyefinity technology provide gamers with single large surface that spans multiple monitors and produces colossal resolutions. For months, we've read about NVIDIA's implementation of this concept and expected to see it launched in conjunction with the release of their Fermi graphics cards. Although the hardware necessary to set up NVIDIA Surround is widely available, the drivers needed to run it have been missing in action... until now.  

Today, NVIDIA is ready to release 3D Vision Surround technology to the masses. With the release of their latest driver, users can connect three 3D Vision capable monitors to a pair of GeForce videocards to experience cutting-edge gaming that promises to provide a level of immersion never seen before on the PC. Of course, there are several differences between NVIDIA' technology when compared to other multi-monitor gaming solutions, and we'll provide you with those details on the following pages. Was it worth the wait? Read on as we test 3D Vision Surround and give you the information you need to figure out if its worth the upgrade. 

NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround Technology
System Requirements



Don't bring that weak stuff around here.  Without a doubt, the system requirements for 3D Vision Surround are demanding, but gamers who want the ultimate experience are used to paying extra for cutting edge tech. Surround mode requires any three monitors with a common resolution so adding one or two displays to your existing setup is the first step. But 3D Vision Surround asks for three 3D Vision LCDs or projectors of the same exact model. Add in the requirement for two current-generation GeForce cards in SLI and you're looking at a hefty investment for gaming nirvana. On the following pages, we'll take a closer look at the hardware you'll need to set up 3D Vision Surround, and provide some performance numbers comparing 2D multi-monitor gaming using NVIDIA SLI and AMD CrossFire. 

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Requirements

As we mentioned on the previous page, the minimum system requirements for 3D Surround are no joke. First of all, don't expect to run this system using Windows XP. Your operating systems needs to be either the 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows 7. Once you've got that, an SLI capable motherboard is required. For instance, the two latest chipsets from Intel, X58 and P55, both natively support NVIDIA SLI. If you plan on using a different product, check your specific board for this feature. You'll need that capability in order to run at least two GeForce graphics cards for the displays. This consists of the GF100 cards like the GTX 480, 470, or 465. In addition, the GTX 295, 285, 280, 275, and 265 are also compatible. Next, we need to figure out the type of displays to use. If you plan on using Surround in 2D, then any three displays will work as long as they provide matching resolutions. This pertains to both LCD monitors and projectors. But if 3D Vision Surround is the goal, all three must be identical, while also being 3D Vision Ready.


Acer GD235HZ 120Hz 3D Monitor

For 3D Vision Surround testing, we used three Acer 23.6" monitors. Each one goes for about $370 and is widely available online. There are a few options also available on the market today. Below, you'll find a list of monitors and projectors that are 3D Vision capable.




3D Vision ready monitors will cost more than 2D displays of the same size due to their 120Hz capability. Currently, they max out at 24" but as time goes by, we expect to see more models featuring larger sizes.




NVIDIA 3D Vision Kit

NVIDIA's 3D Vision Kit consists of one pair of wireless shutter glasses, IR emitter, and cables. The glasses come with a storage pouch, adjustable nose pieces, and a microfiber cleaning cloth. A quick look around the internet reveals that the kit can be purchased for about $180 at various websites. For more information, check out our review of the 3D Vision Glasses here:


NVIDIA GeForce 3D Vision Glasses




For 3D Vision Surround, you'll need at least two GeForce 400 series or 200 series videocards running in SLI. Although, there is one exception. A single GTX 295 can pull it off too, but only if you plan on using three projectors. It won't work with a single GTX 295 when using 3D Vision LCD monitors because they require three dual link DVI connectors on the graphics card.

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Setting Up

For our 3D Vision Surround testing, we used a triple monitor setup with an LCD desk stand. Here, we'll go over installation details and share our experience in doing so. For those who plan on using projectors, we expect some similarities but unfortunately can't confirm specific details in this article.

One of the most important things to address is desk space. Any multi-monitor setup like NVIDIA Surround demands an astronomical amount of real estate. We can't stress this enough. Our specific setup measured over five feet wide and about 17" deep. If you're serious about this technology and plan on investing in Surround gaming, make sure you have enough room for three monitors to sit basically side by side.




Another option to consider is the use of an LCD desk stand. Ergotech makes a full line of multi-monitor stands that utilize VESA mounts and can expand based on your needs. Another advantage of the desk stand is the additional adjustment capability is provides when positioning the monitors. A three monitor stand that supports 23" displays will cost over $300 and requires assembly, but the space created beneath each monitor might be worth the additional coin.




NVIDIA Surround currently has a limit of three monitors, unlike Eyefinity which has shown expandability up to twelve displays from dual videocards. But an advantage of Surround is that it does not require DisplayPort monitors or special adapters to make it work. Dual link DVI cables are necessary but are affordable widely available. You'll not that portrait mode is not possible with 3D Vision surround.  This is not a technical limitation of the hardware, but rather a physical limitation of the displays and shutter glasses. All of the 3D vision-capable displays and NVIDIA 3D Vision glasses currently available have integrated polarization filters. When the glasses and displays are aligned, all is well. Turn one 90 degrees, however, and light can't pass though properly and you won't be able to see anything. To address this issue, new displays or 3D Vision glasses with rotatable lenses will be necessary.

With 3D Vision Surround, the maximum resolution possible is 5760 x 1080 due to the smaller sizes of 3D capable monitors (1920 x 1080 each). Note that portrait mode is possible when using Surround mode, but not in 3D Vision Surround.




To configure NVIDIA Surround, follow these steps:
  1. Open the NVIDIA Control Panel through the Windows Control Panel or by right clicking on the desktop
  2. From the NVIDIA Control Panel navigation tree pane, under 3D Settings, select Configure SLI, PhysX, Surround to open the associated page.
  3. Select Span displays with Surround, and then click the Configure button to launch the wizard.
  4. The Display status dialog checks the connectors on the cards to determine if the displays are connected properly.
  5. If the displays need to be moved, do it at this time. The interface will automatically detect the change and show it on the screen.
  6. Once all three displays are connected properly, press the Apply button to continue the setup procedure.
  7. Select the orientation of the displays (Landscape or Portrait).
  8. Click the Identify button to determine the number order of the displays.
  9. You should see number appear on all three screens.
  10. Arrange the Surround display order to match your displays by dragging the icons to match the numbers on the displays.
  11. After the icons are arranged to match the numbers on the displays, click Next.
  12. NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround includes controls that allow for the adjustment of the displays to compensate for monitor bezel gaps.
  13. Adjust the width of the pixels between the displays until the image spans the displays so that it looks correct (not stretched).
  14. Once Bezel Correction has been adjusted, click Next to finish the setup process.
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Test System

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEM: In order to provide comparable results, the graphics cards were installed on the same, high end X58 based test system. The components we used consisted of an EVGA Classified motherboard, Core i7 980X Extreme Edition processor, and 6GB of OCZ Blade memory. Within the BIOS, we configured the processor to an overclocked speed of 4.38GHz and memory to 1857MHz. These settings will minimize the occurrences of performance bottlenecks during benchmark runs and allow the graphics cards to show their true potential. Furthermore, our Crucial M225 solid state drive entered the testing process with a clean copy of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit installed. Once installation was complete, we fully updated the OS and installed the latest drivers and applications relevant to the review article.

HotHardware's Test System
Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 980X Extreme Edition
Overclocked 4.38GHz

EVGA Classified 760 Motherboard
X58 Express Chipset

Gigabyte Super Overclock HD 5870 1GB CrossFire
EVGA GTX 480 1.5GB SLI

6GB OCZ Blade DDR3-1857
(3 X 2GB) 7-8-7-20 1T


Crucial M225 128GB SSD
Firmware 1916

Displays:
Three Dell 3008WFP LCD Monitors
7680 x 1600 Resolution

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Professional 64bit
NVIDIA GeForce Driver Release 258.69 Beta
ATI Catalyst Display Driver 10.6 (6/16/2010)
ATI Catalyst CrossFireX Profiles 10.6 (6/18/2010)

Benchmarks Used:

Dirt 2 DX9
Just Cause 2
Batman: Arkham Asylum
FarCry2 DX10
H.A.W.X. DX10

For clarification, this test system was used for 2D gaming benchmarks only. We wanted to see how well the SLI and CrossFire configurations performed with an overclocked Intel 980X Extreme Edition processor and three 30" monitors offering a 7680 x 1600 resolution. A different configuration was used during our subjective 3D Vision Surround testing shown in the videos on the following pages, which maxed out at a resolution of 5760 x 1080. 

GTX 480 SLI vs HD 5870 CrossFireX
Toe to Toe


2 X Gigabyte Super Overclock HD 5870 In Crossfire

In order to compare the performance of two GTX 480s, we wanted to find suitable competitors. A pair of ATI HD 5870s would easily be up for the challenge, but we raised the ante by using two Gigabyte Super Overclock models. These cards come factory modified to 950MHz core clock with a 1250MHz memory frequency. As a result, they command a higher price point than reference models, and match the $500 asking price of the GTX 480.



2 X EVGA GTX 480 In SLI

The GTX 480 is NVIDIA's flagship videocard. It features a 700MHz core clock with 1.5GB of GDDR5 rated at 924MHz. Alone, its widely regarded as the fastest single GPU on the market. Pairing two of these cards in SLI gives you an enormous amount of pixel pushing power. Let's find out how they compare to the overclocked HD 5870s when run in 2D at maximum resolutions.

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Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2
DX10.1 Gaming Performance


Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 was released in March 2010, from developers Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive. The game makes use of the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the original. It is set on the fictional island of Panau in southeast Asia, and you play the role of Rico Rodriquez. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article using one of the built-in demo runs called The Dark Tower.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions and settings.

 

In our previous tests, we've found Just Cause 2 to be one of the most graphically demanding games we use. One again, it proves to be a videocard punisher. Even with image quality settings set to their minimum levels, we recorded barely playable frame rates at 7680 x 1600. Nevertheless, the Surround setup came in 57% faster than our Eyefinity configuration.


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FarCry 2

FarCry 2
DX10 Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date.  Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the Ranch Map.  The test results shown here were run at 7680 x 1600 resolution, no AA, and ultra high image quality settings.

The built in benchmark utility found in FarCry 2 is one of the best we've seen, and we continue to use it in many of our reviews. With resolution cranked up, we find the GTX 480s in Surround mode averaged to be 17% faster than the HD 5870s. Keep in mind, the 5870s are factory overclocked and are about the same price as the GTX 480s.


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H.A.W.X.

H. A. W. X.
DX10.1 Gaming Performance


H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. is an aerial warfare video game that takes place during the time of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.  Players have the opportunity to take the throttle of over 50 famous aircrafts in both solo and 4-player co-op missions, and take them over real world locations and cities in photo-realistic environments created with the best commercial satellite data provided by GeoEye.  We used the built-in performance test at a resolution of 7680 x 1600 and high image quality settings, utilizing DX10.1

HAWX has been around forever, but is still a fun game. It looks awesome in a multi-monitor setup and we highly recommend trying it out using NVIDIA Surround. At the same time, we look forward to the sequel due out this fall. Here, our 2D testing provided us with almost identical performance in both configurations. The GTX 480s in SLI did manage to beat out the HD 5870s by 2 fps.


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Dirt 2

Dirt 2
DX11 Gaming Performance


Dirt 2

Dirt 2 was released in September 2009 and provides a sequel to the original Colin McRae: Dirt racing game. Codemasters delayed the PC version of Dirt 2 so that they could enhance their Ego engine with DirectX 11 effects. The engine displays certain bleeding-edge rendering technologies like hardware-driven tessellation, which is used for a more detailed audience, tessellated clot as well as a more realistic water that has lifelike ripples, waves and splash effects. DX11 also affords the game more impressive post-rendering motion blur, filtered soft shadows and lighting effects. Dirt 2 is also a solid benchmark for multi-core processors since DX11 is designed to take advantage of multi-threaded system architectures.

Dirt 2 is a handful at the 7680 x 1600 resolution. Even with AA turned off and all settings at low, we could not achieve playable frame rates using DX11. Fortunately, we were able to force the game into DX9 mode by modifying the configuration file in the game folder and allowed us to use this fun racing simulator. Although the GTX 480s in Surround mode produced higher minimum frame rates, they fell behind the HD 5870s in average fps by 6%.

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Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum
DX10 Gaming Performance


Batmat:Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person action game developed by Rocksteady and is arguably the best comic book videogame of all time. Cast as the Dark Knight, you track down the Joker and bring him back to Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. However, the Joker escapes and takes over the asylum filled with hundreds of villains, which you must battle in this dark and creepy world. Gameplay consists of fist fighting, attacking from the shadows, and exploration. We tested the game using the built in benchmark at various resolutions and settings.

To provide a fair comparison, we tested Batman with AA turned off and PhysX disabled in both setups. From a performance standpoint, the GTX 480s showed a noticeable improvement over the HD 5870s in CrossFire. The Surround configuration was 22% faster than the Eyefinity setup in this particular game.

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Conclusion

Performance Summary:  Going into this article, we wanted to find out how well NVIDIA Surround would perform in comparison to Eyefinity from ATI. In addition to the GTX 480s and HD 5870s, we had a a pair of GTX 295s on hand that we started testing, but there were several performance issues with the beta driver that did not allow us to benchmark the cards reliably. NVIDIA has notified us that they are aware of these problems and will support GTX 295 SLI for Surround gaming in the future driver release.

At any rate, our gaming results show that on average, NVIDIA Surround in 2D mode is 18% faster than Eyefinity when comparing stock GTX 480s to overclocked HD 5870s. That's a notable mark for the first release of the NVIDIA Surround driver. Keep in mind, this number would be even greater if we had used reference model HD 5870 videocards. The GTX 480s in SLI notched substantial leads in most games we tested, with the exception of Dirt 2 where it trailed the HD 5870s by 6% and HAWX where the two setups showed similar performance.

Also note that there are a myriad of factors that will determine the ultimate performance of a game running in 3D Surround mode, including the speed of the graphics cards, refresh rates, the CPU, image quality settings, etc. However, a good rule of thumb is that a game that runs with acceptable framerates, should play well in 3D stereo mode. If a game chugs along on your PC in standard multi-monitor mode, it's only going to get worse in 3D stereo mode.

  

We mentioned earlier that 3D Vision Surround is an expensive upgrade. Throughout the article, we noted certain price points of products to give you an idea of how much it would be to implement this technology. But now, we'd like to bring it altogether. Let's assume for the sake of discussion that you have an up-to-date system sitting on your desk, sporting Windows 7, an SLI capable motherboard, one GTX 480 graphics card, and a 24" LCD monitor. In order to upgrade to a Surround gaming system, you must purchase another GTX 480 at $500, along with two more 24" displays that will cost about $250 each, depending on the model. That's about $1000 in upgrades on top of an already powerful system, in order to play games using Surround in 2D.

If we were to juice up the same base system mentioned in the previous example to a 3D Vision Surround configuration, we would still require another GTX 480. This time, a trio of 3D capable monitors are needed and they cost approximately $350 a pop. Toss in the NVIDIA 3D Kit for $180, and we're looking at spending over $1700 to achieve 3D Vision Surround. Even for cutting edge enthusiasts with a powerful system already in use, the road to true 3D gaming is an exorbitant one. Of course, if you're starting from scratch and want to put together a brand new system, the cost will be considerable.

In the final analysis, our experience during this short week of testing has been rewarding. Its great to see a formidable option to AMD's Eyefinity and we look forward to driver revisions that will improve performance and address some of the bugs we ran into. If you enjoy 3D and want the best possible gaming experience, it's worth looking into 3D Vision Surround technology from NVIDIA.


 

  • Excellent 2D Surround performance
  • 3D Surround adds new level of immersion
  • Expensive to implement
  • Requires two videocards
  • 120Hz displays needed for 3D Vision



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