Everything You Need to Know about Nvidia’s 3D Goggle Gamble

Nvidia wants to reinvigorate the 3D stereoscopic market by developing its own glasses hardware and driver software, which they hope will avoid the pitfalls of previous efforts. Maximum PC talked to Andrew Fear, the product manager of GeForce Stereoscopic 3D, to get the full scoop on why this isn’t going to be just another fad.

How would you summarize stereoscopic 3D for someone who's never used it?
NVIDIA GeForce stereoscopic 3D technology is an NVIDIA software and hardware solution which takes standard Microsoft DirectX games and converts them to stereoscopic 3D for an incredibly immersive gaming experience. Now all of your games are have depth information that goes into and comes out of your monitor. One of the best things about this from a gamer’s standpoint is that we are using the standard 3D games they are playing -- we are not requiring special versions of games to get this experience.

How does it work?
The NVIDIA GeForce Stereoscopic 3D driver works at the lowest level by taking 3D game data and rendering each scene twice – once for the left eye and once for the right eye. Each eye image is offset from each other for the correct viewing. The GPU then sends this data to a 3D Ready display. These displays show the left eye view for even frames (0, 2, 4, etc) and the right eye view for odd frames (1, 3, 5, etc). NVIDIA 3D glasses then synchronize back to the 3D Ready display and present slightly different images to each eye resulting in the illusion of depth and an incredibly immersive experience for games.

What software and hardware is needed?
You’ll need a PC with the following:
- An NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT GPU or better.
- Windows Vista 32-bit (64-bit support coming soon).
- Standard Microsoft DirectX game that NVIDIA has preconfigured in our driver (to date NVIDIA has preconfigured over 350+ games).
- A supported 3D Ready display. To date we have announced support for ViewSonic pure 120 Hz LCDs and Mitsubishi DLP HDTVs.
- NVIDIA stereoscopic 3D active shutter glasses (coming soon).

How does the current generation of stereoscopic 3D tech differ from what gamers saw five years ago?
The new software technology we are working on has come a long way. Today our driver supports NVIDIA SLI, GeForce 8 series, Windows Vista, and DirectX 10. So it’s a cutting edge, terrific gaming platform to start with.

Our driver now supports the latest Zalman Trimon 3D Ready displays and will add support for new 3D Ready displays (ViewSonic and Mitsubishi) working with our new 3D glasses laster this year. The underlying technology works the same, but the experience has improved with support for more games, more graphics cards, and new hardware.

How does game integration work? Will patches or special game profiles be required? Is it compatible with both Direct3D and OpenGL?
NVIDIA GeForce stereoscopic 3D technology was designed to work with virtually all DirectX 7, 8, 9, and 10 games. The driver automatically converts standard 3D games to work with 3D Ready displays. There is no need for patches. In fact, more than 350 games work well with our technology out of the box. NVIDIA is also working with game developers to ensure that new titles work properly with our stereoscopic 3D technology out of the box. Right now, we do not have OpenGL support but will be working to release it soon.

We saw demos of the technology running in a real-time strategy, shooter, and racing game. How does the technology know how to differentiate between game genres to ensure that 3D looks right?
NVIDIA’s software team analyzes games and correctly configures the settings based upon the type of game you are using. So the great thing for consumers is that we’ve done all the work for you, so you can get gaming in minutes.

How will users be able to calibrate 3D?
One of the biggest limiting factors in previous solutions for gamers was that they required meticulous calibrating when setting up your display and glasses. With many advances in technology, a lot of that setup can be done automatically now since we can detect the displays, glasses, and games. That being said, end users still have full control over the amount of 3D depth (sometimes called eye separation) for all of their games. So end users can configure these settings directly in a software control panel. In our new solution launching later this year, we will also provide a scroll wheel on the back of the wireless emitter that lets you quickly “dial in” the level of 3D depth to your taste.

Will this work with someone who wears glasses or contact lenses?
Users who wear glasses and contact lens should have no problems with our 3D glasses. In fact, our glasses were designed from day one to be easily worn over most types of glasses frames, so you can comfortably wear both. In addition, we will provide different nose piece attachments when the glasses ship so you can select the nose piece that’s most comfortable for you. We tested our design among scores of eyeglass users leading up to and including NVISION, and every glasses wearer had no trouble wearing our 3D glasses over their prescription ones. Contact lens users won’t be affected and can wear our 3D glasses with no problems.

Is the effect nauseating after prolonged usage?
The experience of playing a game in 3D can be so convincing that those new to it may feel slightly disoriented at first. This varies considerably, because everyone is different. Some people get car sickness and others don’t. It’s the same thing with 3D – some people can feel disoriented while others aren’t affected. Typically most people have a negative experience with stereoscopic 3D gaming for two reasons: low refresh and too much 3D depth.

Our new 3D glasses solve the problem of low refresh rate because they are designed to work with LCDs and DLP HDTVs which operate at a higher refresh rate. Most gamers are extremely comfortable at these settings.

Too much 3D depth can also cause eyestrain since your brain needs time to adjust to dimensionalized data on your monitor. If you think about it, all of your life your brain has been trained that it only has to focus at the depth of your monitor, even when you are playing 3D games. However in the real-world, your brain in trained to change its focus on objects at different depths all of the time and you do not experience any problems.

So if you think about it, we are just retraining your brain to now be able to focus on your monitor knowing that objects go into and come out of the screen. To help ease this transition for users, our software always starts off with a lower depth amount. We tested this level with end users and found it was a good value for people experiencing stereoscopic 3D for the first time. We also found that most people’s eyes adjust fairly quickly after about fifteen minutes and generally want to turn up the 3D depth after that.

We’ve done extensive testing with our new glasses and 3D Ready displays, and we’ve found that experienced users can easily play a game for 4 hours or more without feeling eyestrain or disorientation.

What are the technological limitations of stereoscopic tech? Will more than one person be able to see the game in 3D at once?
Absolutely, that’s one of the things that’s so cool about it. If you’ve gone to a 3D movie recently, you’ve seen how the audience reacts when characters and objects appear to jump out of the screen. You can also enjoy the same sense of amazement playing games with your friends or family. It definitely makes games more interesting to watch. At NVISION, we demonstrated stereoscopic 3D gaming on Mitsubishi DLP HDTVs and we had more than eight people using our 3D glasses at once, all watching the same game. Our 3D glasses use a wirelress IR receive to synchronize back to the monitor and PC, so the amount of users that can game at once is literally how many people can you fit in your living room!

What kind of GPU processing power is required to render stereoscopic images? How are framerates affected?
We recommend a GeForce 8800 GT-level GPU or faster for a good stereoscopic 3D experience because our 3D technology must calculate two versions of each frame to render it correctly. For this reason, there will be some performance impact running in a game in stereoscopic 3D mode. With a suitable GPU, the gameplay experience is still fast and immersive.

Can you talk about the shutter glasses hardware that NVIDIA is working on and planning to bring to market? Release date and price range?
These glasses are a new design from NVIDIA: they operate wirelessly to an IR transmitter that connects to the back of your PC via USB. They have a rechargeable battery that lasts about 40 hours on a single charge, and they turn off after 10 minutes of non-use to save battery charge. A small indicator light will blink red when the battery needs to be recharged. Simply connect it to the (included) USB cable to recharge.

We expect to release the glasses in a package with the emitter by the end of this year. The retail price hasn’t been set yet.

Is NVIDIA working with any publishers or developers to promote 3D stereoscopic technology?
Absolutely. We have shown the glasses to the majority of PC game publishers and developers. They love the effect, and they like the fact that they don’t need to do anything special to support it. Most developers just say “When can I get one?” That being said, game developers can always work with us to ensure that game is optimized out of the box and delivers an even more immersive experience.

Is this a technology that’s being targeted for the living room or more for desktop gaming?
That’s a good question. From our standpoint, we’ll feel we succeeded if users can have a great 3D experience at their PC or in the living room. It probably depends on the room and the monitor, because we’ve noticed that people like to be fairly close to the ViewSonic 22-inch desktop LCD, and they like to be about 8 feet away from the Mitsubishi 73-inch Diamond Vision DLP.

What are some other applications of 3D stereoscopic tech outside of games?
Simulations are an obvious area of great potential. At NVISION an engineer told us how he developed astronaut training simulations for NASA which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and produced a similar effect. Good stereoscopic 3D technology can be used for training pilots, doctors, technicians, and soldiers.

One of the other areas we are looking at for consumers is that wide array of 3D applications are out, such as Google Earth, Piclens, and Microsoft Photosynth. All of these applications utilize the processing power of a GPU to render their effects in 3D. Since our GPU can access that data, we can create a stereoscopic view of it and completely immerse you in it.

Home movies are also moving towards 3D. Consumers are eager to enjoy high-fidelity, immersive experiences in their home after experiencing it in the theater. If they can have immersive experiences at an affordable price, you’ll see nothing but smiles under those 3D glasses. 3D movies for the home is not quite ready yet, but we are working with the industry to help enable a new standard for the home.

We also chatted with Duane Brozek of Viewsonic to get a panel-maker’s perspective of 3D Stereoscopic tech:

What technologies do display panels need to have for 3D to be supported?
There are currently several types of 3D technologies available in the market. The two most common types being Stereoscopic with active shutter glasses, and autostereoscopic type without glasses. The autostereoscopic technologies include Barrier Type, Directional BLU, and Lenticular type LCD panels.

ViewSonic feels that clearly the best available solution in terms of performance, manufacturing complexity, and cost is the stereoscopic technology which we recently announced in conjunction with NVIDIA. In terms of panel design, the only requirements are the ability to run in native mode with 120 Hz data content input, and the ability to support a fast gray-to-gray response time in less than 1/120 of a frame (this equates to a gray-to-gray response time below 8ms).

While autostereoscopic technologies are improving, they are panel structure dependent and have a high cost of manufacturing and software development. Additionally, they can demonstrate a number of limitations in terms of performance criteria such as brightness, resolution, and viewing position. We don’t believe that a good quality stereoscopic technology without glasses is cost effective either now or in the foreseeable future.

Are there additional benefits to 120 Hz LCD panels?
There are three additional benefits of 120 Hz LCD technology for consumers:
- Enables full resolution stereoscopic viewing with active shutter glasses technology.
- Enables a wider viewing angle than current autostereoscopic solutions with active shutter glasses.
- 120 Hz LCDs are also terrific for gamers when not playing stereoscopic 3D games, because the higher refresh rate means you can display more frames per second running on NVIDIA GeForce GPUs.

How much more expensive will 3D-supported panels cost over regular displays?
Depending on the type of 3D implementation chosen, the additional cost on the monitor side could range anywhere from $100 to well over a thousand dollars. ViewSonic is targeting to launch our first “pure” 120Hz / 3D desktop product at an end user price range reflecting a premium at the lower end of that scale. For the performance improvement we will deliver, we believe that gamers, graphics professionals and enthusiasts will be excited to put one on their desktop. The Controller and Glasses will be sold separately.

What kind of market penetration and adoption rate do you expect for 3D-capable panels in the next couple years? What will be the biggest determining factor for consumers to get on board with this tech?
We believe that 3D-capable LCD monitors will certainly be one of the fastest growing segments over the next several years. We are essentially starting from a base of zero though, and do not expect to see market share greater than 5 percent within the period. However, the products that we introduce now will be laying the groundwork for the next generation of 3D displays, and providing a framework for the continued development of new 3D content. These new “pure 120Hz” monitors not only provide a crisp, blur-free 2D experience for a myriad of consumer and business applications, but also a truly immersive gaming experience that we believe will revolutionize the desktop and generate considerable demand and sales.

By Norman Chan, Maximum PC