We've managed to get our eyes stuck into NVIDIA's latest diversion from its graphic card empire, 3D Vision. As yet it's unclear how NVIDIA is going to sell the system over here in the UK, where 120Hz monitors are as rare as dog eggs.
Given this, it's unlikely that it will be selling the 3D Vision glasses separately straight away, probably going down the bundling route with panel manufacturers until the 120Hz screens are more commonplace.
But we've got one of said screens, the necessary goggles, a PC harnessing the raw power of the sun and a clutch of games waiting to go 3D. So it's time for us to get some 3D hours under our belt and give it a good going over. So then, how does this first generation of 3D Vision stack up?
Well, everything about it shrieks pain. From the potential mind-splitting ache it can induce in your head to the wallet-splitting system specification required to get it to work. It's the proprietary of the proprietary; requiring specific drivers, games, displays, graphic cards, Windows Vista and of course glasses; all that even before you can consider trying it.
It's like buying a car and then being told the petrol can only come from one garage, washing it with the wrong water will make it explode and using the wrong air in the tyres will make it ride like a drunken bucking bronco. Who would put themselves though all of that pain to experience something you can get by poking your head out from under the duvet each morning? Nvidia fans, apparently.
But enough whining, does it work? Well of course it does – this technology is technically years old, ELSA (a now defunct Nvidia partner) was offering 3D i-glasses back in the 1990s and there were even some insane anaglyph-based attempts on the Spectrum requiring the traditional red and green-lensed glasses.
The run-down of required equipment shapes up as Windows Vista, a Nvidia GeForce 8800 or better graphics card, the stereoscopic 3D driver from Nvidia, a compatible 100Hz+ display, the glasses and a compatible DirectX 9/10 game. If you've got all of that then you're sitting pretty.
The weakest link in this house of cards is the gaming element. Despite Nvidia's ability to have more than 300 directly supported games, if the game's not listed then it's not going to work. Take a peek here (opens in new tab) for a list of games Nvidia likes to claim have good compatibility, though it lacks the larger 'Not recommended' list found within the driver.
Pumping on your Stereo
Nvidia does need to be given credit for designing a near foolproof installation and set-up. Testing with a basic 8600 GT (despite the minimum requirements) and then a GTX 285, the 3D Glasses install wizard asks you to run through a couple of basic display checks to make sure the stereoscopic vision is working.
The final step offers alternative 110Hz and 100Hz modes to help remove the effects of any lighting flicker for 50Hz power supply countries like the UK. Once that has been completed, whenever a compatible game is launched, the 3D trickery kicks in automatically. A number of hotkeys enable you to toggle the effect, tweak it and enable an embedded laser-sight.
It's surprising how instant the effect is – millions of years of evolution have created a beautifully adaptable stereoscopic viewing machine: us. Pop on the correct glasses, look at a 120Hz screen and the brain is fooled into seeing depth. But is it any good?
Initially, there's definitely a sense of euphoria and wonder, as this new 3D realm is revealed. 'Looking into' your favourite game is a great new experience but once you start to play around with different games, it's quickly apparent this isn't a level playing field.
At its best with Left 4 Dead, some primal instinctive part of the brain lights up as you realise you now have depth perception. Zombies flailing towards you suddenly have a natural order and a beauty as they spiral in space with a well-placed shotgun to the head. Blood spurts in awesome Jackson Pollock-esque fashion onto your virtual camera lens that views this apocalyptic world. This is the 3D at its best; it works straight out of the box complimenting the gameplay, even enhancing it.
The crosshair is solid, the effects inhabit real space, the feeling of tangible depth is palpable. Another showcase game is Burnout Paradise. While the immediate sense of space is perhaps less impressive – possibly for the lack of flying zombie corpses – it's intriguing how your eye begins to take new visual cues onboard, focusing on 'distant' junctions, objects and other landmarks seems to make timing turns and strategies easier.
My eyes! My eyes!
At its worst, though, it's a frustrating mess. A crosshair that makes you feel you've drunk five pints, constant ghosting from lights and effects, while struggling to make the stereo effect work at all without inducing eye-strain. Somewhat akin to magic-eye pictures, it's an effect that you gradually get more and more used to or not at all.
But the title we tried that should win a special award for being most migraine-inducing is perhaps Fallout 3. We staggered from Vault 101 euphorically looking towards what we expected to be some soul-lifting panorama of post-apocalyptic destruction, to be greeted by the same old flat view with a 'scenic overlook' sign poking out in the foreground. Hardly awe-inspiring compared to the first time we gazed around that view on a 2D screen. While at other times it feels like you're watching Chinese shadow theatre with cutouts held at different depths.
You feel this is the last trick Nvidia has to pull out of the 3D hat. As with SLI and physics processing it's another wait-and-see technology. There's promise in there, but little currently really delivers. The best description of it is as a £150 novelty, it's cute for half-an-hour and then…
Perhaps if there was head tracking, like we've seen created with the reverse Wii controller hack, that would add the extra immersion that these glasses are crying out for. As it is, until games are directly written for the system they're not much more than an expensive novelty. A shame: as they do a good job of oozing great potential.