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Two Compelling 3D Solutions With Strengths And Weaknesses

Nvidia 3D Vision Vs. AMD HD3D: 18 Games, Evaluated
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Before we draw any conclusions, let’s see how 3D Vision and HD3D stack up when it comes to usability:

Game
Nvidia 3D Vision
AMD HD3D & TriDef Ignition
Native HD3D Support
StarCraft II
Excellent 3D result
Excellent 3D gameplay result,
but slight anomalies in cut scenes

Civilization V
Excellent 3D resultExcellent 3D result in DirectX 9;
DirectX 11 does not work

Bulletstorm
Excellent 3D resultExcellent 3D result
Crysis 2
Excellent 3D resultNot Recommended
Just Cause 2
Excellent 3D resultNot Recommended

Lost Planet 2
Excellent 3D gameplay result, but slight anomalies in cut scenes
Excellent 3D Result in DirectX 9;
DirectX 11 does not work


Aliens vs. Predator
Not Recommended
Good 3D result in DirectX 9 with Virtual 3D mode;
DirectX 11 does not work


Left 4 Dead 2
Good 3D result with lowered details
although water artifacts are unavoidable

Good 3D result with Virtual 3D mode

F1 2010
Good 3D result with lowered details
Good 3D result with Virtual 3D mode
Need 4 Speed: Hot Pursuit
Not Recommended
Good 3D result with Virtual 3D mode
DiRT 3
Good 3D result with lowered details
Good 3D result in DirectX 9 with Virtual 3D mode;
DirectX 11 does not work

Excellent 3D result
World of Warcraft
Excellent 3D result with slight setting reduction
Good 3D result with Virtual 3D mode
Lord Of The Rings Online
Excellent 3D result with slight setting reduction
Excellent 3D result in DirectX 9 with TriDef setting adjustment; DirectX 11 is problematic
Star Trek Online
Good 3D result with lowered details
Good 3D result with lowered details
or with Virtual 3D mode


Mass Effect 2
Not Recommended
Good 3D result with Virtual 3D mode
Dragon Age 2
Not Recommended
Good 3D result with Virtual 3D mode
Metro 2033
Excellent 3D resultExcellent 3D result
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Not Recommended
Not RecommendedGood 3D result on the HUD, but no apparent depth in the game world


This chart gives a fairly good impression of how 3D Vision and AMD HD3D/TriDef Ignition stack up. In general, Nvidia’s solution is simpler to use, but sometimes requires in-game settings to be compromised to minimize artifacts. On the other hand, TriDef Ignition is often capable of doing its job with in-game effects left on. However, it requires more tweaking to tune. When that happens, you'll find yourself messing with the launcher and settings, sometimes shifting down to DirectX 9 for compatibility reasons.

From a visual quality standpoint, given the choice between de-tuning detail like shadows or reverting to DirectX 9, we’d choose the older API every time. DirectX 10/11 effects are still relatively subtle. Because of this, we’re fans of TriDef’s Virtual 3D mode, as it generally allows us to leave shadows and lighting effects at their highest settings, even if it does require stepping back to DirectX 9.

Virtual 3D mode isn't perfect, though; because the depth buffer is given priority, interface elements like HUDs and menus are often distorted by the geometry behind them. Objects near the camera (like a weapon in a first-person shooter) are usually surrounded in a blurry halo of pixels, a result of the driver extrapolating a 3D image from a 2D frame. In some cases, this halo is almost impossible to see. In others, it's quite distracting. Because of these problems, the Virtual 3D mode never earns an excellent rating, but it almost always deserves a good one. Despite its issues, this mode can become the best 3D solution in some titles, as 3D Vision sometimes encounters even more distracting anomalies.

On the other hand, Nvidia’s 3D Vision is easier to work with, and it delivers a smoother experience in a more tightly controlled package. There’s less to worry about when using 3D Vision, it is more consistent, and there is a fair number of AAA titles that boast excellent 3D Vision support: World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, and Crysis 2, are but a few. Nvidia's stereoscopic option scored twice as many excellent ratings as the competition. Then again, the TriDef solution was only unplayable with three of the 18 games we tested, while 3D Vision displayed significant problems with five of the games.

The bottom line is that both options can be viable from a visual quality standpoint, but it depends on the game. AMD's HD3D might not offer as polished of an experience as Nvidia's 3D Vision, but it has certainly reached the point where we consider it a valid alternative.

Of course, we can't deliver a blanket recommendation because everything changes on a game-by-game basis. If you want to play Crysis 2 in 3D, you'll want to use 3D Vision. If you want to play Deus Ex: Human Revolution in 3D, HD3D is your solution of choice. Having said that, we should mention that TriDef 3D Ignition unofficially supports Nvidia graphics cards, and we were able to get it to work with the GeForce GTX 570 over HDMI when 3DTV Play was installed. Nvidia was both surprised and dismayed that the TriDef driver worked with their graphics cards when we went to them for feedback. So, without the company's official blessing, we’re not confident that the TriDef driver will ever consistently work with GeForce cards.

Now We Know About Visual Quality, But What About Performance?

If you're putting together a 3D gaming rig, it's best to skip low-end hardware entirely and go with a high-end CPU and graphics card. During preliminary testing, we noticed that a decent Phenom II X4 had some trouble providing smooth frame rates, and mid-level graphics cards were cut down to their knees. Using a Core i5-2500K overclocked to 4 GHz and a Radeon HD 6970 or GeForce GTX 570, we experienced much more acceptable frame rates (aside for DiRT 3 in native HD3D mode). The moral of this story is that you can't go cheap if you plan to game in stereoscopic mode.

That's a seat-of-the-pants assessment though, and we can't deliver a more definitive recommendation until we get our hands on a 3D-capable DisplayPort monitor that will allow us to fairly pit Nvidia's 3D Vision against AMD's HD3D on even turf at 1080p/60 FPS. Until then, we hope this cursory evaluation of 18 different games gives you a much better idea of what you can expect from competing stereoscopic standards.

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