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ViewSonic V3D231 3D Monitor Review

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AkG

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Active stereoscopic displays come with two significant downsides: their price and reliance on bulky battery-operated glasses. This combination along with high pricing is enough to dissuade many consumers from dipping their toes into the 3D market. But what if you could enjoy the same three dimensional experience without heavy glasses that might run out of juice at the worst possible moment? And if this solution were more affordable, would it tempt you even more? These are the questions ViewSonic is seeking to answer with their V3D231.

The V3D231 is not based on active 3D technology but instead relies on a passive-style setup. This means it has been designed with dual polarizing fields that require only simple slip-on (or clip-on) “sun glasses” with special polarization filters. Furthermore, the monitor—in combination with your CPU—does all of the heavy lifting, so 3D gaming doesn’t require an especially powerful GPU to render additional frames. Since this monitor also ships with the required 3D software suite, the V3D231 can be considered an-all-in-one solution similar to the Asus VG278H we recently reviewed. However, its driver “wrapper” is vendor agnostic so it doesn’t require a certain type of graphics card to be used.

These advantages, along with the V3D231’s relatively modest $350 MSRP, could potentially make this monitor a serious contender for budget-conscious consumers, or gamers who have had bad experiences with active 3D displays. It might also appeal to users of AMD or Intel graphics, who do not have ready access to NVIDIA’s 3D Vision technology. However, as we shall see, passive 3D is as fraught with as many potential pitfalls as active 3D. Has Viewsonic been able to successfully navigate them and produce a display with wide appeal?


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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications



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AkG

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Passive vs. Active 3D Technology

Passive vs. Active 3D Technology


While there are more possible ways of achieving the effect, the two main approaches consumer electronic manufactures use to transform a two-dimensional image into what appears to be a three-dimensional one are based on one of the oldest methods known: stereoscopy. This technique relies on fooling the brain by presenting a different 2D picture to each eye and then having the brain perform the trick of turning them into one three dimensional composite image.

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The human eyeball is a remarkable organ, but by itself it actually does a poor job of creating a viable 3D image of your surroundings. Thankfully—or at least thanks to natural selection—we have two eyes mounted slightly apart on the same horizontal plane. The difference in perspective between the left and right gives enough visual clues for our brain to weave an accurate 3D image from the 2D images. This is why one-eyed people may have some depth perception but not all that much compared to those of us blessed with binocular vision.

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In the old days, fooling the brain into thinking it was seeing a 3D image was usually accomplished by placing two very similar yet subtly different images side by side and physically blocking each eye from seeing the other image. With traditional stereoscopy, 2D photographs are shot from slightly different angles so the viewer’s brain interprets the result as one 3D image. If you’ve ever looked at an aerial photo through a stereoscope, you may have been startled (and pleased) to find buildings poking up like tiny Lego creations from a perfectly flat piece of paper. Nowadays this effect is all achieved by electronics, and while the nuts and bolts differ the end result is the same: a 3D image from a 2D imaging device.

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The dominant solution for creating the 3D sensation on the PC is NVIDIA’s 3D Vision, an active 3D technology. The viewer wears a pair of LCD shutter glasses mounted in a typical eyeglass frame that rapidly opens the left lens while making the right opaque and vice-versa 120 times per second, all the while staying in synch to the unique left/right images being flashed on the screen. This works fairly very well, particularly since NVIDIA has been constantly updating their driver stack to support the latest titles. Unfortunately, the glasses are expensive so they need power to work and the solution runs directly off of the GPU, adding a substantial amount of performance degradation. 3D Vision is also proprietary technology, so you will need an NVIDIA GPU as well as a compatible 120Hz LCD monitor. In addition, first generation models suffered from halved refresh rates, halved perceived brightness levels, and crosstalk (ghosting) between the left and right sides. The second generation has overcome most of these negatives via increased refresh rates, backlight brightness boosting when in 3D mode, tweaks to the glasses, and other refinements. The end result is a much improved image that is no darker than a 2D image with almost no ghosting. Unfortunately, battery life is still an issue, and the glasses are still quite expensive.

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The second method of accomplishing a stereographic image is passive 3D. In this method the LCD monitor has special polarization layers that take every other horizontal line and focus the light waves out at a certain orientation—usually 45° and 135°. When this technique is used in conjunction with specially polarized glasses, the left eye only sees the left image and the right only sees the right image. Since the active technology is in the monitor itself, passive 3D glasses are inexpensive and lightweight, and they don’t require batteries. When properly executed, passive 3D can create a seamless, flicker-free 3D field of vision thanks to the fact that both the left and right images are displayed at the same time. Furthermore, you are not tied into one GPU manufacturer: Intel and AMD video cards will work just as well as NVIDIA products.

The downsides are that there is still usually some crosstalk / ghosting / color halo’ing as the fact remains to keep the 3D “sweet spot” larger than a postage stamp the two polarizing angles can not be too severe. Also while there is indeed no flickering like with active NVIDIA first generation setups, the image is noticeably darker than 2D images (thanks to the polarization of the back light). It is also noteworthy that the side effect to this setup is you are in essence turning a 1080p image into what is seen by your eyes as a 1080i / 540p 3D image.

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For many consumers, the issues with passive 3D will be minor obstacles, but while this technology has the potential to be as good in games as NVIDIA’s active setup, the reality is quite different. NVIDIA has and still is spending enormous amounts of time and effort to make their 3D setup as seamless and user-friendly as possible. In other words, active 3D “just works” when it comes to games and other applications. The same cannot be said of passive setups because the software is not made by the hardware maker but by a third party, in Viewsonic’s case, Dynamic Digital Depth Inc. and their TriDef software technology. This means that results can vary from good to dreadful, with numerous issues from gun sights in FPS games not working properly to only half of in-game text or movie subtitles being displayed.

Of course, only you can decide whether active or passive 3D is right for you—or whether you prefer to stick with tried and true 2D displays. At present, neither technology is fully mature, and each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the ViewSonic V3D231

A Closer Look at the ViewSonic V3D231


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While the ViewSonic V3D231 may not be the smallest or thinnest monitor we have seen recently, this 23” display does have a surprisingly small footprint. Otherwise, it retains all of the nondescript qualities we like in gaming monitors.

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Aesthetically, ViewSonic’s V3D231 black-on-black color scheme is stylish, albeit in a conservative way. The only splash of color on the front is the ViewSonic logo, badges for the various standards it complies with, and the labels for the buttons clustered on the bezel’s bottom edge. This suggests a minimalistic design philosophy for the V3D231: ViewSonic wants this monitor’s abilities to speak for themselves and doesn’t want flashy Lucite coverings or red racing stripes to get in its way. The downside to this stylistic approach is that the V3D231 could be accused of looking dull and drab—but we believe the term “utilitarian” is a better fit. It may not be a conversation piece like the 23” Dell SM2330X, but the V3D231 is by no means unattractive.

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Happily, ViewSonic has abstained from using touch-sensitive buttons on their latest creation. Rather, they use good old fashioned physical buttons, which are both responsive and afford the user good tactile feedback without being sticky or overly stiff.

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It was also good to see a somewhat generous list of input options on this TN monitor. You may not get a DisplayPort, but you do get HDMI 1.4, analog VGA, and DVI which is a step up from some other sets on the market. This is in addition to the 3.5mm stereo-in port for the built-in SRS Premium speakers and a 3.5mm stereo-out port for headphones.

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The input options and real physical buttons are a nice touch, but the stand which accompanies the V3D231 isn’t impressive in the least. It may be above average in the looks department, but it affords the ViewSonic a rather minimal range of movement. To be precise, this base boasts zero swivel and height adjustment capabilities and only average tilt adjustment. This will make getting the perfect viewing angle—crucial for passive 3D displays—a difficult and imprecise exercise.

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On the positive side, where this is a passive 3D monitor meant to be an all in one solution so ViewSonic a pair of polarized glasses and - for us prescription eye glass wearing folk - a clip on lens set. These polarized glasses are extremely lightweight and while they do feel flimsy they are extremely comfortable to wear and will never go dead on you like battery powered 3D active glasses can.
 
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AkG

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Menu Layout & Observations

Menu Layout & Observations


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The V3D231’s onscreen display doesn’t have the best design and layout we’ve seen, but it gets the job done. When you press the menu button a small pop-up window displays with a submenu list containing all the options available to you. Although each submenu must be selected to find out the full extent of its options, these are labeled in a straightforward manner. Unless you are looking for some of the more advanced features, you will have a good idea what you will get when you select one. With that being said, it can be mighty difficult figuring out how to access the 3D settings (which are buried under the “Manual Adjust” option) or tweak the color output of the screen (which is hidden under the “Color Adjust” heading but only accessible via the “User Color” selection).

Overall, the onscreen display feels a bit limited and outdated by modern standards. This monitor may be frugally priced for the 3D niche, but when TN monitors that cost significantly less than the V3D231 can be configured much more intuitively, it signals that it’s past time to update your menu design.

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A perfect example of this outdated menu limiting tweaking abilities is its rather anemic 3D customization. This is the V3D231’s claim to fame, but other than turning 3D on and off or specifying Top and Bottom (TaB) or Side by Side (SbS) configurations there is not much you can do. It is also worth noting that you will not find gamma adjustment under any of the submenus, as this monitor doesn’t support gamma adjustment. This may be par for the course for non-business class monitors, but this too is another missed opportunity that could have allowed the V3D231 to be better than just average. If we had been able to increase the brightness in 3D mode this would have gone a long way to overcoming some of the limitations endemic of passive stereoscopic setups.

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Overall, we may be less than awed with the advanced features boasted by the V3D231’s menu, but it should be more than adequate for most consumers. This goes double when you consider it comes with six default color profiles—including sRGB, cool, warm, native and custom—and should help mitigate most of the non-3D issues we have with it. It is fairly easy to use and is laid out in a fairly straightforward manner, but it may leave you craving more if you like to tweak and fine tune your monitor’s output to the nth degree or simply want to customize the 3D output in any depth.
 
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AkG

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3D Software

3D Software


The software that accompanies the V3D231 consists of the TriDef package. This is where the magic happens. The TriDef suite is responsible for converting 2D images to 3D as well as interpreting 3D content in a manner that can be displayed on a passive 3D monitor.

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The software suite consists of three main sub programs, all of which can be accessed via this one main “TriDef Portal”. The first program here is responsible for displaying 2D and 3D pictures on the V3D231. It may be basic in its layout and features, but it does a decent job of converting 2D pictures into virtual 3D ones. Depending on the input, the end result varies from quite believable to unconvincing. As with any passive 3D setup you will notice a degradation in the detail, as the image will be an interlaced 1080i picture. This is perfectly fine with those 540p shots you took with your phone but not so much for high quality photos taken with your camera.

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The second program, dubbed TriDef Ignition, is responsible for transforming 2D games into 3D games. At this time it supports 590 games, and this list is growing constantly. To play a supported game in 3D, you must first set up a shortcut and configure the various options. If it is one of the 590 games supported, this basically means selecting it from a dropdown box and telling the program where the game executable is stored. If you want to play a game that isn’t on the list, all is not lost: You can use a default configuration and tweak the settings as necessary. The end result will vary, but it is usually acceptable.

Another key feature of this program is its two modes. The first “standard 3D” mode is the default which create separate and distinct frames for both the left and right eyes. This means it needs to render at least 60 frames per second in order to create the minimum 30 frames per eye required for smooth motion. In modern games, this places serious demands on a GPU. This is also how active 3D does things.

However, for customers who don’t have a high performance video card that can generate a constant 60 fps the V3D231 has another trick up its sleeve.“Virtual 3D” mode differs from the standard mode since it doesn’t demand unique left and right eye frames from the GPU. Rather, it calls for only one frame for both the left and right eye, and, using some fancy algorithms—along with distance data in the Z-buffer—it creates the other eye’s frame. The end result is a significant reduction in required horsepower along with an equally large hit in the quality of the 3D image.

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The third software is responsible for movies and is aptly called the TriDef Media Player. This media player can be used for still images, but its main job is movies. While Blu-Ray is not supported, 3D DVDs are. However, the software package which comes “free” with this monitor can’t actually support 3D DVDs. When you select the “watch DVD movies” option you are directed to a website where for $4.99 you can purchase this add-on. To us, this is truly distasteful.

Luckily, with some judicious use of simple ripping programs you can indeed watch DVD and Blu-Ray movies with theTriDef Media Player, as it supports most major video file formats. Caveats aside, the truly unique feature of this program is that it can take 2D movies and create virtual 3D movies from them in real time. It certainly requires a few CPU cycles, but it does open up the list of entertainment possibilities.
 
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AkG

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Image Quality (Uniformity / Gamma)

Please remember that the settings below have been calibrated for our specific environment and your viewing conditions may differ from ours.

Mode: User Control Color Mode
Brightness: 39%

All other settings left at standard defaults.

Notes:
- All tests done at default settings at 120 cd/m2.
- Unless otherwise noted, the tests were carried out via DVI.

This monitor is first and foremost a 3D monitor and everything not directly related to providing the best possible 3D experience takes a back seat. Unfortunately, this makes for a very conflicted experience that produces results which are impressive in certain areas yet disappointing in others. It appears that all of ViewSonic’s resources were so tightly focused on tweaking the V3D231’s 3D experience more mundane aspects of this display have suffered.

One example of this single-mindedness is the brightness of the panel itself. With a maximum output of 239 cd/m2, the V3D231 shouldn’t have any trouble creating 3D images that can pierce through the polarization of the glasses. Since this monitor is designed from the ground up for 3D viewing, it came as no surprise that the default brightness level was 100%. However, the potential negative aspect to such a luminous default setting is that in 2D scenarios,100% may in fact be too bright for all but the most well-lit environments.


Panel Uniformity


In a perfect world a screen’s brightness output would be equal throughout the entire panel. This is not a perfect world, but the lower the variation the less chances you will notice overly bright or dark sections on the screen. For the consumer LCD marketplace a variance of 10% is our gold standard but anything below 15% can be considered excellent as we doubt anyone will notice a -7.5 to +7.5 variation. A variation above 15% but below 24% can be considered adequate, but anything above this does not meet our basic minimum standards.

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This is easily one of the best, most uniform panels we have ever seen let alone reviewed. There wasn’t one section of the entire screen that provided results noticeably darker than panel’s center, nor are there any overly bright spots. To be precise, the V3D231 panel varies by only 11% from extreme to extreme. With a mere 5% bright spot directly in the top center and a -6% directly in the bottom center, it may have a slightly uneven uniformity pattern, but the variance is so small as to be unnoticeable to the human eye. This will certainly help make viewing movies and games in 3D as positive an experience as possible.


Gamma Performance


Gamma correction is one of the hardest terms to explain. However, for our purposes the gamma correction of any electronics device is how bright or dark an image will be displayed on a screen.

All PC devices now use 2.20 gamma as the default. Any variance from this will result in an image being either underexposed which will create black crush and underexposed shadow detail or washed out with too little black level detail (aka being over-exposed).

While 2.20 is the gold standard, a minor deviation of 0.10 will in all likelihood never be noticed by anyone other than professional photographers. Higher levels of deflection however will be noticed by just about everyone.


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While the uniformity of this monitor’s panel impressed us, the same can’t be said of the default gamma levels. With a default this low, darks are going to appear grey and washed out when in 2D mode. Since the V3D231 is first and foremost a 3D monitor, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as in 3D mode the halving of perceived brightness should compensate for the low gamma by increasing the black levels back to their normal range. We would still prefer a 2.2 result and strongly recommend you take the moment needed to correct this issue, but for many consumers this may not be as intolerable as it normally would be.
 
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AkG

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Colour Saturation Levels / Default RGB Levels

Colour Saturation Levels


While there are numerous colors the human eye can’t “see”, the human color space confined to three primary colors and combinations thereof. To make things easier for manufactures (and not waste resources displaying colors we can’t see) a color space was mathematically described and while various models do exist, the CIE RGB color space is the de facto standard.

In the below image, the dark triangle which isn’t highlighted is the sRGB color space while the overall CIE color space is displayed as the background colors. Meanwhile, the white triangle with highlighted color represents the results of what a given monitor can display. No monitor can display the entire CIE color spectrum but a good monitor should be able to display the sRGB spectrum of possible colors as this is usually used as the standard for image encoding.

A monitor which uses the “wide color gamut” moniker can display more than the sRGB spectrum and is considered primarily for professional use. If a monitor cannot cover off the entire sRGB triangle, the resulting image will appear “off” to an observer. The end result is a picture displayed on the panel which won’t be as rich, vibrant or as correct as it should be.


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While the V3D231 is unable to hit all three corners—it just misses the red corner—these results are pretty darn impressive for a TN panel. We have come to expect less-than-optimal results from this technology, yet in this area the V3D231 exceeds our expectations. When properly calibrated, this panel should have no problems accurately displaying the color palette of any movie or game.



Default RGB Levels


An LCD or LCD LED backlit panel relies on accurately blending Red, Green and Blue pixel clusters to create an overall image so closer to each of these colours is to a “perfect” 100 output, the better and more accurate the default colors will be.

In this case, we have a low tolerance for anything less than perfection since any color shift can be noticeable even to untrained eyes and will require a color correction be applied at the software level to overcome a monitor’s stock output. We do however consider a minor variation of only a few points per color to be acceptable.


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Although the ViewSonic V3D231 has an impressive color gamut, it doesn’t have what we would consider an impressive default color profile. The colors are close to being accurate, but the forwardness of the red and blue defaults combined with a slightly weak green default hinder this monitor slightly. The result is a color profile which is close to excellent but not perfect. Thankfully, setting this right is nothing more than a quick and easy fix away.
 
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AkG

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Viewing Angles / Maximum Contrast Ratio / Power Consumption

Viewing Angles


Unlike CRT displays, the manner in which LCD panels create an image can result in one large weakness: the image can lose contrast when viewed off angle. While we do not recommend watching an LCD at anything besides perfectly straight on, the reality is this cannot always be done.

To help give you a glimpse of what a panel will look like when seen from either above the horizontal or vertical plane we have taken pictures at fairly extreme angles.


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Unfortunately, this is where the V3D231’s performance fell off the rails for us. The off axis viewing angles are fairly average. However, even when viewed face-on this monitor exhibits what is best described as suffering the dreaded “screen door effect.” This is a very common occurrence amongst passive 3D monitors and a symptom of how these monitors create 3D images.

For anyone who has never witnessed the screen door effect on passive 3D monitors, it is best described as small black lines running vertically and horizontally across the panel. This in turn creates tiny dark “wire outlines” overlaid on all images.

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In the bad old days this occurred because the pixel clusters on the panel were laid out far enough apart that the gaps were noticeable to the human eye. This isn’t what is happening here. Rather, the polarization filters, which have to direct the light in two different directions at the same time, are responsible. This creates an appearance very similar to the original screen door effect. While the cause may be different, the end results are the same: Images are grainy and have fine but noticeable striations running through them. The negative effects of the polarization film are exacerbated by solid blocks of color, where they can almost appear to be gradients of a given color.

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But all is not lost. You can alleviate this issue to a large extent by changing the angle of the monitor and sitting further away than you typically would. When properly positioned and from more than four feet away, the graininess and small black lines are almost unnoticeable. The problem will, however, still crop up on large swatches of monochromatic colors, especially with the core red, green, blue or white colors. More importantly, adjusting the angle of the screen means you are no longer at the perfect angle for 3D images and will have to constantly adjust the monitor when going from 2D applications to 3D and vice-versa. We do feel the need to point out that text—while in 2D mode, at least—was still easily readable even when this screen door like effect was at its most prevalent. This monitor certainly wouldn’t be our first choice for 2D use, but the issue might be tolerable assuming it has the 3D performance to make up for it.


Maximum Contrast Ratio



While manufactures love to throw around “maximum” contrast ratios in the millions, the fact of the matter is to get these high numbers they have to use "dynamic contrast" which -at best – results in an overly optimistic number. With DC turned off, the number of shades between purest white and blackest black a given monitor can display is usually in the low hundreds rather than thousands.

The higher the contrast ratio, the better the monitor will display shades of dark and light. For IPS monitors, anything below 450 : 1 is unacceptable with 500 : 1 or above being considered optimal. For TN anything above 120 : 1 will be considered more than “good enough” for most consumers.



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We have to wonder if the contrast ratio is being negatively impacted by the stereoscopic focus of this monitor or whether the panel hidden underneath is just subpar in this category. In either case, the results are fairly mediocre even by TN standards. They may not be the absolute worst we have ever seen, but they are not as satisfactory as some of the other aspects of this monitor.


Power Consumption


To obtain the maximum number we set the monitors brightness to 100% and the contrast to 100%. The Calibrated results are taken at 120 cd/m2 with the contrast set to the default level.

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Since the ViewSonic V3D231 is an LED backlit monitor, its low power consumption numbers shouldn’t come as any surprise. Good efficiency coupled with a relatively wide color gamut is very rare from an LED-backlit TN monitor. Unfortunately, this just compounds our disappointment with the actual images these panels tend to display.
 
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AkG

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2D / 3D Gaming Performance

2D / 3D Gaming Performance



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Pre-calibration

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Post-calibration

All of the picture quality factors we discussed in the previous pages result in an incorrect default color profile that creates both washed-out as well as “off” looking images. With a few simple tweaks to the colors, the end result is a good all-round experience but one that ultimately falls short of expectations.
Unfortunately, in 2D mode those thin black lines make for less sharp and crisp images than we are used to seeing from competing products. It rarely took away from our gaming, but the effect was noticeable and distracting at times. Luckily games don’t tend to use a very wide color palette, so it was a common occurrence to have solid blocks of color which as described previously accentuated the screen door effect.

In 3D mode, the halving of resolution coupled with noticeably darker images took away from our gaming enjoyment. Passive stereoscopic viewing was certainly a novel experience, but this setup is simply inferior to NVIDIA’s second generation active 3D setup. Making things worse is the fact that the 3D effect is accelerated via a software algorithm, and thus issues do crop up a lot more frequently than they do with an NIVIDA setup. The most extreme of these was the fact that in some fist person shooter games the aiming sights would be off, reducing the player’s accuracy. This was annoying to say the least, but there are some tweaks and fixes that you can do to correct it. So the end result is far from a seamless, plug-and-play experience, but on the whole it was still enjoyable—just less immersive than what active setups can now achieve.

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On the positive side, since this is a software-based solution with two distinct modes, you can game in 3D regardless of who makes your graphics card while using less powerful hardware. Active 3D setups require 60fps for a seamless experience. This is because in the standard 3D mode, both the left and right images have to be drawn one at a time via the GPU and then interlaced onto the screen via the software and CPU. However, in virtual mode the software simply calls for the image from the graphics card once and using the Z buffer information, uses the CPU to create a second stereoscopic partner image. Thus if you can play a game smoothly in 2D you can do so in 3D.

The downside to using the virtual mode a noticeable decrease in image quality and corners of images look jagged. Backgrounds also tend to seem blurry, almost as if you are looking at them through a mirage.

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Naturally, the results are much more believable via the Standard Mode. Unfortunately, the passive 3D technology makes text all but unreadable when viewed through the included glasses. If you are a first person shooter player, then this is a minor issue RTS and RPG players will have serious problems making ends meet. Even increasing the font size will only help to a limited extent, as half of the text will be “missing,” and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.

This issue is not the fault of the V3D231 per se, rather it is a major issue with passive 3D setups in general. So Viewsonic’s monitor does support 590 games (and counting), we wonder how many of them are actually playable. It is also worth pointing out that just as with active 3D setups, your game will have to make use of DirectX in order to be made into a 3D experience. If you are a casual gamer who likes to play java-based games, you won’t be able to use the software to create a 3D gaming experience. OpenGL-based titles have also been left out in the dark.
 
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