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NVIDIA 3D Vision 2 Kit Review

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SKYMTL

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Like many of you out there, stereoscopic 3D and I have had a love / hate relationship since it became the latest cultural meme. Even though Hollywood, HDTV manufacturers and everyone in between is contently occupying themselves by jamming all things 3D down our collective throats, positive experiences have been few and far between. Most blockbuster movies have done nothing but drive viewers away with shoddy stereoscopic editing (there are few noteworthy exceptions though) while HDTVs are a long ways off from eliminating their own set of highly publicized issues with this technology. So all intents and purposes, the current state of stereoscopic 3D is languishing simply because good examples of it are few and far between.

NVIDIA has arguably been a pioneer in this area since their original 3DVision was actually one of the first stereoscopic kits available to the mass market. Due to the issues mentioned above they’ve been waging an uphill battle against the stigmas associated with 3D. However, through a tightly controlled set of certification guidelines, this solution has remained a high quality, viable option for PC gamers who are looking for a more immersive experience.


Even though it was originally released more than two years ago, 3D Vision has been evolving on a number of fronts. The supported game list was at first an impressive 125 titles but that number is expanding at a rapid pace and now holds about 550 games. NVIDIA’s progression has been constant on the support structure as well by introducing Youtube3D compatibility and the 3Dvisionlive.com site where a wide variety of user generated stereoscopic content can be viewed and uploaded. 3DTV Play may have passed under many people’s radar but it has proven to be a significant milestone since it allows a PC’s 3D content to be displayed on most HDTVs.

As 3D Vision has matured, the technology within the supporting monitors and active shutter glasses has stayed at a relative constant but the display industry itself has been moving forward by leaps and bounds. Now NVIDIA is ready for the next logical step and by working closely with their partners, 3D Vision 2 has finally become a reality.

This new version of 3D Vision shouldn’t be considered a revolutionary leap into some magical world of stereoscopic viewing. Rather, NVIDIA improved things on two basic yet very important fronts: the way certified monitors push 3D content and the design of their glasses. New panels will sport “LightBoost” which is a feature that implements for a more lifelike picture while the new glasses sport larger lenses and a rugged material selection. When both are combined, the experience should be more refined than it was in the past while offering tangible benefits over the older system in terms of usability, comfort and lasting appeal. We’ll get into the specifics later in this review.


For the time being both the original kit and 3D Vision 2 glasses will be sold in parallel with the new design eventually taking over. So if after reading this review you want to stick with the new glasses, the time to buy is now.

NVIDIA has certainly started their 3D Vision 2 campaign off on the right foot by ensuring this new improved kit doesn’t cost a penny more than the current one. While a pair of glasses will be included with every LightBoost-certified monitor, the wireless kit (with the active shutter glasses and emitter) will retail for $149 and the wireless glasses will cost $99 if bought separately without an emitter. In our opinion, this continues 3D Vision’s tradition of being one of the more affordable stereo 3D technologies on the market.


In terms of compatibility things are looking great for those of you who already have a 3D Vision kit. The original glasses are forwards compatible with and will be able to take full advantage of new monitors that sport 3D LightBoost. Meanwhile, 3D Vision 2 can be used on older 3D Vision Ready products like the Samsung 2233RZ and Acer GD235HZ.

When taken at face value, it really does look like NVIDIA has hit all the right buttons with 3D Vision 2 but as we all know, sometimes change isn’t a good thing.

 
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SKYMTL

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The New 3D Vision 2 Glasses

The New 3D Vision 2 Glasses



Upon first glance, the new 3D Vision glasses may look the same as the outgoing model but there are a number of changes built into their design. Nonetheless, NVIDIA has retained their iconic profile and black and green colour scheme while the underlying technology itself hasn’t changed one iota; these are still active shutter glasses which receive their signal from an infrared emitter. Their range has remained the same at around 40 feet provided a clear line of sight between the emitter and glasses is retained.

Instead of plastic these are fabricated out of a durable composite nylon which makes them very, very durable while minimizing on weight. The matte finish also prevents any unwanted scratches and ensures that finger prints become almost invisible. Unfortunately, the material NVIDIA used causes a few small squeaks when the glasses are manipulated but I’m going to guess our pair just needed to be broken in a bit more.

Note that in the picture above and those below, it appears the lenses are different colours but that is just an effect of the polarization at certain angles.


Starting off at the front of the glasses, NVIDIA has included a small return at the top and bottom which acts as a baffle to prevent light from entering around the frames. The previous design used a completely flat frame and in daylight viewing conditions, light tended to seep in and diminish the contrast and brightness of on-screen images. Hopefully, this small but significant addition will all but eliminate that issue.

Above you can also see a glossy finish around the outer lens which looks good but as we will discuss in the Initial Impressions section, it does cause some significant issues as well.

Instead of a mini USB connector of yesteryear, the 3D Vision 2 glasses use a micro USB connector that can accept power from most cell phone chargers. This should allow for a complete recharge from any power outlet provided you have a micro USB charger. Battery life has remained constant at 60 hours of continual use and roughly three months of standby time.


Along with a brushed black chrome cover, the area directly over your temple includes a small on/off button with an integrated LED. Personally, I found the button nearly impossible to hit once the glasses were on my head and it will take several minutes of fumbling around before you find it in a dark room.



The changes continue onto the sides which have been slimmed down and shaped in a way that will have minimal impact upon headphones. Also, instead of the frames resting only on your ears this new design lightly clasps the back of your head for additional security. Coupled with the glasses’ feather-like weight, this addition allows 3D Vision 2 to steamroll the older generation unit when it comes to long term comfort.


Much like the older glasses, interchangeable nose bridge “adaptors” are included to ensure perfect fitment.



When placed next to the outgoing glasses, 3D Vision 2’s differences really become apparent. The new version looks much larger due to the installation of light baffles but also because NVIDIA increased the lens size by a good 20% for wider viewing angles. In addition, the infrared receiver has been moved from the right hand side to a central location between the lenses.

Along with the increase in lens size, the polarization has been slightly changed as well. These new glasses are supposed to let a bit more light through the active shutters which should increase in-game contrast and brightness.

NVIDIA claims they listened closely to gamers’ feedback when it came time to redesign their 3D glasses. From what we have seen, it looks like most of the changes will indeed benefit the in-game stereoscopic experience but most of 3D Vision 2’s differences come from the supporting monitors. That’s exactly what we’re going to look at next.
 
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SKYMTL

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Introducing the ASUS VG278H 3D LightBoost Monitor

Introducing the ASUS VG278H 3D LightBoost Monitor


With backlit, high output, high efficiency LED panels quickly replacing their CCFL brethren, it was only a matter of time until they made a jump into the stereoscopic 3D gaming world. HDTV manufacturers have already taken advantage of the LED’s natural ability to eliminate crosstalk (also called ghosting) by transitioning to this technology for most of their current and next generation 3D televisions. NVIDIA’s monitor partners have also begun moving towards LED panels in order to realize these same benefits but they have incorporated a number of new features which further play to the strength of LED backlights and improve 3D Vision performance.

In a 3D Vision 2 environment this new generation of monitors plays a leading role since the core technologies housed within the glasses hasn’t changed.


One of the main complaints many users had about NVIDIA’s 3D Vision was the loss of brightness when wearing their polarized shutter glasses. In order to counteract this, all 3D Vision 2 certified monitors will include something called 3D Lightboost technology. NVIDIA’s own explanation of this is far clearer than anything we could possibly achieve:

3D LightBoost works by adjusting the LED backlight in the monitor to pulse twice as brightly in unison with the LCD lenses in the 3D Vision glasses, making the resulting images 2 times brighter than previous 3D products. In contrast, older 3D monitors and laptops without 3D LightBoost have constant backlights where half the light is wasted.

On the old monitors with CCFL lamps that are on all the time, both lenses were forced into a dark phase while the image shifted from left to right. Now that the LED backlights switch off quickly in-between frames, refreshing at 120 times per second with a 2ms response time, the open timings of the glasses can be stretched. This lets in more ambient light so gamers can see the keyboard better. 3D LightBoost technology is a giant leap in the visual quality of 3D gaming on a PC.


In plain English, this will allow LightBoost-certified monitors to appear up to 200% brighter than older models like the Samsung 2233RZ and Acer GD235HZ when a 3D application is run. On the flip side of this coin, when running in 2D mode, the monitor will remain at its user-set backlight ratio so you won’t have to worry about a retina searing Windows desktop or word document.

Since Lightboost allows the glasses' LCD lenses to stay open longer, users are able to realize a secondary benefit as well: increased environmental light. Finally, wearing 3D Vision glasses won’t entail fumbling around in the dark for your keyboard and mouse.


3D LightBoost is actually one of three features which are built into these new monitors. Naturally, they all still sport 120Hz refresh rates for a more fluid 2D gaming experience but advanced reduction of 3D ghosting has also been built in.

Now on its third generation (the first was rolled out with the first generation of monitors while the second was included with later units like the aforementioned Acer GD235HZ), NVIDIA’s so called “ghost busting” takes advantage of the fast pulse width modulation of LED panels to increase the internal refresh rate of their glasses to virtually eliminate 3D ghosting. In my testing, there was a noticeable difference between the Acer panel and the new ASUS VG278H in this respect.


Speaking of the VG278H, here it is in all its glory. This 27” gaming monitor is one of the first products with complete support for NVIDIA’s 3D LightBoost technology and comes bundled with a pair 3D Vision 2 glasses. It uses a TN-based 120Hz panel with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 while cutting one hell of an imposing figure.

Unfortunately, 3D panels haven’t quite progressed beyond the 1080P category yet but expect higher resolution panels to be available in the next year or so….at an astronomical price of course. The VG278H isn’t inexpensive either at $699.


Most 3D LightBoost certified monitors will have an integrated IR emitter and the VG278H is no exception. As we already mentioned, NVIDIA chose to stick with a simple, yet effective and stable infrared connection rather than transitioning to the esoteric Bluetooth link some HDTV manufacturers have chosen.



Within the screen’s OSD menu, a number of 3D Vision specific settings can be modified. The NVIDIA LightBoost section sets the LightBoost’s backlight intensity while the 3D IR Mode allows for either one or multiple sets of 3D Vision glasses to be run from the same integrated emitter.
 
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SKYMTL

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Initial Impressions & Conclusion

Initial Impressions & Conclusion


Let’s start this off with an admission: ever since 3D Vision’s release, I’ve been using NVIDIA’s solution whenever possible. My original kit has seen well over 1000 hours of use and is the go-to device whenever I want something “more” out of a game. Naturally, the experience hasn’t been without its fair share of minor annoyances over the years but for the most part NVIDIA rolled out support for new titles quickly and the technology was infinitely more user friendly than its current implementations in theaters and HDTVs. So when I first heard about 3D Vision 2, the back of my mind was asking why they were changing something that worked perfectly well.

So how does this new iteration of 3D Vision compare to the outgoing version? Well enough that my “don’t fix what ain’t broke” apprehensions were quickly brushed aside. After using the new kit and its accompanying ASUS VG278H monitor for the better part of 16 hours over the last few days, I couldn’t be happier with most of the changes. But this isn’t to say the experience was completely flawless.

Since 3D Vision 2’s success hinges on the monitor and new eye wear delivering a seamless image, let’s break each down starting with the new active shutter glasses. Nearly all of the changes made here are cosmetic in nature but as a longtime user of NVIDIA’s solution, I feel they have taken a step backwards in some respects but surpassed expectations in others. The lightweight composite nylon along with a new frame design improves comfort by leaps and bounds, particularly for gamers who use headphones or wear prescription glasses. Even the new upper and lower baffles come in handy by offering up vastly improved luminosity between the monitor and your eyes when gaming during daylight hours. Meanwhile, the larger lenses won’t be particularly useful on smaller monitors but there is a huge difference when used in conjunction with a 27” 3D LightBoost-equipped display.

Unfortunately, the many changes have led to a departure away from the original kit’s sleek looks and have replaced them with a somewhat bulky (albeit more comfortable), less "cool" design. The Oakley-like style may be gone but the improvements between past and present are nonetheless tangible.


The change in design also leads directly towards the one major SNAFU. By increasing the glasses’ depth NVIDIA was left with a large, boring expanse of plastic between the outer frame and the lenses. Their solution: cover it in a glossy finish. It sure looks great but the reflective coating projects a mirror image of the screen directly into your peripheral vision (see image above). Luckily, this isn’t too distracting most of the time but move your head a fraction of an inch and be prepared to a light show where there shouldn’t be one. Hopefully NVIDIA will address this in the near future because it can become very annoying when gaming.

If you already have a 3D Vision kit, there are obviously very few reasons to upgrade the glasses but the LightBoost-certified monitors are drool worthy. Even when using the original kit, the VG278H’s improvements over the Samsung 2233RZ and even Acer’s GD235GHZ were almost indescribable. Games were bright, sharp and ghosting-free instead of dull, slightly fuzzy and filled with blurred high speed movements. Even lower quality Youtube3D videos retained their natural coloration and luminosity qualities. I found the Depth setting could be also increased without causing the onset of stereoscopic 3D’s telltale headaches. This reduction in eyestrain bodes well for first time users and people who have adverse affects when viewing 3D images.

NVIDIA’s monitor partners have taken advantage of LED backlighting’s ultra quick pulse rate to improve ambient lighting conditions when seen through the 3D Vision glasses. With previous generation monitors, it was nearly impossible to see your keyboard in most cases. This was due to the glasses completely switching off with each left / right shutter cycle in order to keep pace with relatively slow CCFL-based panels. LEDs have changed things and even in lower light environments, I had no issues seeing my black keyboard and mouse.


While a price of $699 is certainly steep considering the VG278H’s mere 1080P resolution and TN panel, I personally think it is one of the best gaming monitors out there. It strikes a good balance between size and accessibility while its resolution limits the amount of horsepower you’ll need to drive the resource heavy 3D Vision. Plus, ASUS has included a “free” pair of 3D Vision 2 glasses along with a handy integrated emitter so there really isn’t anything here to complain about.

If anything, NVIDIA’s development of 3D Vision has proven that sometimes “closed” architectures can work wonders. While direct control hasn’t been applied over the way developers code their games for stereoscopic 3D, a tight rein upon monitor certification and driver maturation has allowed for some serious quality control. The result is what we feel is the only worthwhile 3D experience on the PC.

My short time with 3D Vision 2 has proved itself to be an interesting rollercoaster ride. It is great to see NVIDIA actively listening to their customer base and the improvements to the new glasses have really taken them to the next level. I just don’t think I’ll be making the switch away from my well-worn first generation pair until the aforementioned reflection issue has been resolved. But what allows this new generation of 3D Vision to really shine is the monitor technology. The ASUS VG278H is an spectacular example of a gaming monitor which has obviously been designed from the ground up to provide the absolute best stereoscopic 3D experience. Forwards compatibility with existing 3D Vision glasses is just icing on the cake.

It is great to see NVIDIA striving to make PC gaming stand out in some way and they deserve kudos for taking stereoscopic 3D on the PC this far. If you haven’t at least tried 3D Vision, this second generation pairing is definitely worth a long, hard look.


 
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