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Stereoscopic 3D gaming is nothing new. Those of us old enough to have played on Sega's Master System might remember the woefully unsupported 3D glasses accessory produced for it, not to mention Nintendo's disastrous Virtual Boy 3D goggles or the range of wretched shutter goggle systems that arrived with the early crop of 3D graphics cards. However, there's a sense that it's a technology that's finally coming of age.
Maybe it's the case that there's now a hardcore games market that's become about HD graphics and is looking for something new. Perhaps it's the publicity 3D is getting with Hollywood's renewed interest in stereoscopic film. Or it might just be that the technology is finally ready, or that it needed a player as big as nVidia to champion it. Whatever the reason, we saw the seeds of change with the Zalman Trimon 3D monitor last year, and those seeds have now taken root with nVidia's 3D Vision gaming system.
It's possible to buy the core system - a pair of glasses and an infrared transmitter - for a mere £129, but most of us will need a new monitor to support them, which is why we're looking at the full system, which bundles in a 22in Samsung SM2233RZ display. The reason is simple, and all to do with the way that 3D Vision works. It's a variant of the shutter glasses system which seems to be gaining traction with consumer electronics manufacturers at the moment.
Basically, the monitor interleaves two images, one for the left eye and one for the right, at 100 to 120 frames per second, so that each eye gets a smooth, moving image of 50 to 60 fps. The monitor is synced via an infrared transmitter to the glasses, which use LCD shutters in each lens to close off each eye when the other eye's image is flicked on to the screen, again at 50 to 60 fps per eye. The result is that the left eye sees only the images designed for the left eye, while the right eye sees only the image designed for the right eye, and as the two images are subtly different, in much the same way that the real-life view perceived by each of our human eyes is different, we get an impression of stereoscopic 3D.
One limitation of this process is that you need a display capable of operating at a 120Hz refresh rate, and at the moment there is a grand total of two available in the UK; the Viewsonic VX2265wm and the Samsung SM2233RZ bundled here. Both are 22in panels with a 1,680 x 1,050 resolution, and both require a dual-link DVI cable (and a dual-link DVI output on your graphics card) in order for the 120Hz refresh rate to work. nVidia provides such a cable in the box, and any graphics card capable of driving 3D Vision at a decent frame rate should have the required connector. A 9600GT is your practical minimum, though you'll need something with a little more beef to get good detail levels/frame rates at the monitor's native resolution.
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