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Multiple monitors - benefits and issues

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December 12, 2010 9:36:10 AM

I'm interested in setting up a multi-screen setup for the first time, as it seems to have various benefits over a single large monitor. For example: cost, availability of models, frequent upgrade of your main screen, etc. What all can you do with a multi-monitor setup? And what are some of the issues you might run into?

1) Obviously multiple screens increase your desktop space tremenduously. Not as convenient as a single screen with a very high resolution, but the total desktop real estate will be even larger. In Linux and BSD we've had virtual desktop for ages, which multiply your available desktop a few times, but you can't view all the applications at the same time and switching between the desktops is slightly less convenient as with multiple screens, so multiple screens is a step up with a bit of extra cost.

2) How do games handle multiple screens? Do you need support from the game itself for all the features? What can you do with multiple monitors for gaming? I know in some RTS (and FPS) games you can put the main screen on one monitor and say the map screen on another, lets you keep better tabs on the situation. Eyefinity from Ati apparently provides better immersion by extending the main view over multiple monitors.

3) Flexibility is an obvious advantage. You can upgrade the screens one at a time. You can attach some to a different computer if you need to, or even give them away if you don't need that many screens any more.

4) You can have your main screen in portrait mode and the aux screens in landscape, for better web browsing etc. and overcoming the limitations of today's widescreen monitors.

Some issues:

5) Physical desktop space can be an issue. I think 3 large monitors is the maximum you can usually go to, and to get 3x24" I'd probably need to get a new desk, which would be OK - don't think I'll acquire all the monitors until a few years down the road :) 

6) One guy I know goes with some 30" screen for the main and 2x24" for aux, but uses Linux I think - would Windows 7 run into problems with monitors being different resolutions, on the desktop or otherwise? I probably have some old 1280x1024 LCDs that I could add to my setup - some seem to have only VGA connection - would this work?

7) What features are required from your video card? In 3D games, FPS seems to go down linearly as the number of pixels goes up - so a powerful card is required, or you just don't run the game on all the screens.
a b C Monitor
December 12, 2010 4:31:22 PM

Here are some problems you might consider.

1. Bezel - Looks bad in eyefinity since there is a break between monitors. Different models of monitors will have different height and bezels and may not match up. You might consider a multi-monitor mount.

2. Calibration - Different monitors have different colors and white point. They won't look the same unless you calibrate with the exact same models. Some would look more yellow or blue than others. Colorimeters cost you $200-$400.

3. Support in games - Most games do not suppose pictures wider than 16:9. So instead of displaying a higher resolution image, they picture would simply be stretched which looks weird. Most games will never support insane wide resolutions because it gives too much advantage for players to be able to see so much of their surroundings.

4. Viewing angles. Cheap TN panels have terrible viewing angle, even worse for the verticle range. Portrait mode with a TN panel is the worst thing imaginable.

5. You need either two Nvidia graphics cards or a single current genetion ATI card but at least 1 monitor must have display port. All the monitors must be the same resolution otherwise it will crop the vertical space to match the lowest limiting monitor. If the game even supports ultra-wide resolutions in the first place.

Larger mointors are not that much more expensive than smaller monitors. However it is true that only professional grade IPS and S-PVA monitors are made with ultra high resolutions. If you want to get even a 24" H-IPS dispaly. The basic will cost at least $500, more if you want an intergrated LUT. The price per pixel between 24" and 30" IPS panels, isn't really that much.
a c 193 C Monitor
December 12, 2010 9:49:49 PM

1. The real estate helps if you tend to have a lot of windows open or flip back and forth between web browser tabs. I have two monitors, but my secondary monitor (Planar PX2611w) is off most of the time. I primary use the secondary monitor if I am working on my PC and I want to watch a movie / video. Or if I need the extra desktop space such as when I am researching multiple stocks / reading a lot of financial news and info.

2. Ummm...... I don't use my secondary monitor for multi screen games.

3. Yes you can upgrade each monitor one at a time if you wish, but as Rofl_My_Waffle mentioned in his #2 you will have calibration issues if this is important to you. Even monitors of the same make and model will have minor manufacturing variations especially with the LCD panel which means the settings or color profile you are using with monitor #1 will most likely not be the same for monitor #2 if you are looking for precisely the same colors.

4. Yep.

5. Two monitors are enough for me. Although there are a few people who use 6 to 8 monitors at a time in the financial industry to monitor stock/bond/commodities prices and various financial news and data.

6. Should not be a problem with Windows, but I prefer all my monitors to be the same size.

7. What features? It needs to be a powerful card. If I want Eyefinity then I would go with nothing less than the HD 5970 (or perhaps the slightly less powerful HD 69xx series card whenever that comes out). If I want 3D, then it would be at least the GTX 480.
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December 13, 2010 8:25:05 PM

I have been running a 4 screen setup using triplehead2go for the last year and a half.

for gaming everybody assumes bezels are a big deal but actually they matter very little for most types of games. the center monitor is still the primary screen and the side monitors are just bonus peripheral vision. there are no angled viewing issues with tn panels if you have it properly setup with the side monitors angled.

as for mix matching and buying at seperate times:
i ended up having 3 different brands of monitors due to incompatibility with the tripleheads 57hz refresh. without getting into too much detail on why (eyefinity has made the th2g system i used obsolete), while its best to get 3 of the same for looks, in a practical sense all you have to do is raise up the shorter monitors screen to the height of the taller one. in my case i used a hardcover book since i dont care about looks.

the bigger issue with mix matching was the color settings but after a couple days of tweaking they dont bother me at all.

i wouldnt mix and match sizes as you will create more issues than its worth.

graphics cards: to run games at the highest settings you will need a nice video card so dont cheap out too much on that aspect as it will end up being more important than any other part of your setup.

other notes of interest:

triple monitor setups dont age as well as single screen rigs (due to the large amount of pixels), to run the latest games at highest settings you will need a video card upgrade much sooner than normal.

most games do actually support triple wide resolutions, some out of the box and others require tweaks or workarounds to function properly. i would assume eyefinity has better compatibility than my setup.

do your research, don't buy anything impulsively or it may cost you in the long run.

check out widescreengamingforum.com to see a lot more information on the subject
December 24, 2010 10:54:24 AM

1+6) Seems a no-brainer. I actually loaned a 22" 1080p screen from a relative and made a dual monitor setup where the main is a widescreen. No hassle and even changing the configuration on the fly is straightforward with Catalyst Control Center. I'm able to run 3 browsers side by side - or just put some h/w or system monitoring windows on the little screen when gaming, etc. This is a big selling point for me so this is what I'll at least be going for as the baseline. Just tried World of Tanks and Bad Company 2 so far, which don't seem to offer an option to make use of the 2nd screen at all.

8) Eyefinity is always 3 screens or more, as given in http://www.widescreengamingforum.com/wiki/Eyefinity_FAQ - I take this is the main method for supporting multiple screens in games. Taking a quick look at the supported games list, it seems indeed that most games support it, some with a bit lacking features though.

9) In the above FAQ, one of the listed configurations is 3xportrait. This would give a rather natural aspect ratio I think, so could be a good route to go? One could go with smaller monitors, for example 3x22", because the increase in screen estate would be huge anyway. Even with just 1680x1050 monitors, one would be able to run 6 browser windows, 2 stacked on top of each other on each screen. A 22" screen costs some 200 eur, so even buying all 3 at the same time would not totally break the bank. (Even IPS screens are available at this range.) This would avoid the issues with mix matching screens (unless one goes with a better and bigger main screen later) and also help a bit with 5) physical space issues. Ergonomy might suffer though, tilting your neck back to read the upper part of the screen is a bit bad.

7) Could still be a big issue speaking against Eyefinity. Not sure I really want to spend money on frequent upgrades of my system to something that sports the latest high-end video cards (+the other issues/costs than just money that are involved). 3 smaller 1050p screens are still 5.4mpx compared to a singe 1080p widescreen that is just 2.05mpx - a simple mid-range card on the latter would give you better performance than a dual high-end crossfire on the former.

December 28, 2010 6:04:57 PM

wondering if i can tag one here...

I am sitting with some money to put into my computer and i'm thinking of upgrading my gtx 280ftw to two new gpu's (to gtx 460's perhaps) and wondering what resolution i can run at with a dual monitor setup. that's probably a loaded question, but i guess why i'm asking is that i have been running on a 30" since i bought the card (2560x1600) but it's a hassle to move a 30" monitor if i go to a lan party or to a relatives for a weekend etc.

thanks for any thoughts.
a c 99 C Monitor
December 28, 2010 6:50:49 PM

other things of note:

if you decide to fullscreen a game in only one monitor it tends to lock the mouse to that monitor. the easy fix is to maximize the window but not fullscreen (shows titlebar still). I know this is a hassle when fullscreening for a mmo and trying to surf a website for info.

you will want either 1 or three screens if you play fps games. two screens will split the reticle on the bezel making the game very hard to play. can overcome the ultrawidescreen limitations by having 3 monitors in portrait mode instead of landscape.

three screens might sound good for fps but might not work very well for rts/mmo/other games depending on setup. also the bezels can get irritating.
----------

my thoughts... (opinions)

i use a dualscreen setup at work every day and it works out great. at home for gaming my impressions were mixed.

1 screen seems to work better for fps games as your attention is all in one area. twitch reactions seem to be quicker. see ultrawidescreen comment above.

2 screens are nice for mmo games if you need to access the internet. however, splitscreening or window mode on a largescreen is just as easy

2 screens are nice for rts like supreme commander but not as nice for starcraft II. at least in my opinion.

2 screens in landscape are better for generic web browsing and computer work. I like the extra real estate and window locking in win7 is great. a single large monitor is a close second.
December 28, 2010 7:31:56 PM

ssddx said:

three screens might sound good for fps but might not work very well for rts/mmo/other games depending on setup. also the bezels can get irritating.


I guess that's the last nail on the Eyefinity coffin right now. I'm actually like 50% MMO/RTS and 50% FPS when it comes to gaming, I think. And not high-end & hard-core nowadays.

I think in my case, it boils down to triple monitor/Eyefinity not being worth the hassle - too little benefit so it doesn't warrant further research. Dual screen would be just nice for me, only for the desktop use benefit. And there is great flexibility with that option.
a c 99 C Monitor
December 29, 2010 12:47:01 PM

keep in mind that with dualscreen most of your games will end up being played on a single screen with the other left open for vent, web, etc. as i rarely use such things, and since they can get distracting in the corner of my eye i turned off said monitor. eventually i ended up scrapping the idea for gaming.

if you're after lots of real estate one of the 30" large format displays would be perfect as they are about double typical lcd resolutions. keep in mind that you still need a decent video card to get decent framerates.

all depends on how much you multitask or if you put your full concentration into a game. give it some thought.
February 26, 2011 11:02:54 PM

I've actually been using a triplehead setup with EyeFinity now. It brings some benefit to FPS games (Bad Company 2 in this case) - more situational awareness in general, not just a higher chance to spot hostiles, but in effect higher immersion is a bigger selling point there. Bezel, different sizes (one of my screens is 22") etc seem to be of little issue to me, not to mention colour settings - the extra screens are basically just some peripheral vision so they could be way cheaper than the main screen. In games that display a lot of tactical information on minimap etc but don't arrange it nicely with EyeFinity, it actually can be a hindrance (World of Tanks as the example).

A single 6850 seems to handle 3 screens quite easily with today's games, though I lowered settings from high towards medium. Point stands that the performance might be different 2 years down the road :) 

2 screens can be nice as well - 1 only for the game but I often run some hardware monitoring and ventrilo on the other - it's handy to see who's speaking etc. MMOs that involve multitasking could benefit from a browser window being open on the other screen, or you could even say run World of Tanks on one screen and Eve Online on the other... killing time while waiting something to happen in the other :) 

For the desktop, the extra space is a nice boon. 3 screens feels like a luxury and is obviously good feng shui or whatever your favourite aesthetic discipline is - just because it feels very balanced having monitors all around in a panoramic view and not a shining monitor on one side and the other being empty. I think I'll go for a 3 screen setup sometime later down the road again.

A cheaper alternative solution to desktop clutter is to use the advanced desktops available on Linux for example, with large virtual desktops, multiple virtual desktops, tags etc. depending on the chosen window manager.
February 28, 2011 9:05:31 AM

Larger/dual monitors are also an easy way to reward employees for performance - in our experience users are very excited to go be given upgrades like monitors or nicer speakers / keyboards / mice - it actually goes a long way towards improving morale.


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