I still remember back to when Matrox launched its Parhelia. The single-slot card included provisions for connecting up to three displays via an adapter. As its name implies, the Surround Gaming feature let you play across the trio (the GPU even supported adaptive polygon tessellation way back in 2002). Unfortunately, Parhelia wasn’t really fast enough to make gaming on one screen all that enjoyable, so three was pretty much out of the question.
The launch of ATI’s Radeon HD 5870 gave us enough 3D performance that, even at 2560x1600, we had graphics muscle to spare. Although gaming at 5760x1200 in Eyefinity mode exacts a substantial load on the Cypress GPU, it’s still completely feasible—and in fact enjoyable.
Nvidia runs into a similar situation with GF100, a GPU expected to wield significant graphics horsepower. Turning on GeForce 3D Vision helps spend some of the budget, since rendering stereoscopically effectively halves frame rates. But Nvidia undoubtedly felt the pressure to counter Eyefinity, giving way to 3D Vision Surround. Supporting displays with resolutions of up to 1920x1080, the technology facilitates stereoscopic rendering across up to three 120 Hz LCDs. The addition of bezel correction takes into account the fact that you’ll have fairly sizable gaps between each display, hiding that part of the game behind the bezel to provide an experience Nvidia describes similar to looking through a cockpit window’s frames
If you aren’t prepared to spend money on a trio of 120 Hz displays, Nvidia will also enable vanilla Surround—the same technology across a trio of up to 2560x1600 LCDs, similar to Eyefinity. But there are two important distinctions here. First, both capabilities are being exposed through “a future driver” that will reportedly be made available by the time GF100-based hardware ships (and not only on GF100; GT200-based boards will pick up 3D Vision Surround as well). Second, all three-display configurations will require SLI, since GT200- and GF100-based GPUs only include two display outputs each.
Pro: you’re looking at solid performance potential in applications pushing three 1920x1080 displays (5760x1080) in stereo.
Con: Even at known prices on the GeForce GTX 285, you’re looking at $780 worth of graphics cards to achieve what a $650 Radeon HD 5970 can beat, if you’re looking at Nvidia Surround. And if you want to go stereoscopic, you’ll probably want to wait for Acer’s upcoming G245—today you’re largely limited to smaller 1680x1050 panels from ViewSonic and Samsung.