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Nvidia 3D Vision Surround: Is This The Future Of Gaming?

3D Vision Surround In Depth

The concept of “surround” anything is new to Nvidia. In the past, SLI was limited to a single display, so you could have as many as four GPUs in a single PC, but only one monitor served as the output device for all of that horsepower.

Then AMD launched its Radeon HD 5800-series, and by all accounts caught Nvidia flat-footed. For the desktop productivity types, Eyefinity represented a way to expand desktop real estate to three displays from one graphics card. Fans of widescreen 3D gaming saw Eyefinity as an answer to years of wishing. A reference Radeon HD 5870 could viably game across three screens—a situation that improved drastically once AMD enabled CrossFire in Eyefinity mode.

Nvidia’s GF100 GPU employs two display pipelines, so it’s limited to a pair of monitor outputs right out of the gate. Thus, the company makes it possible to support triple-monitor setups through the use of two graphics cards in SLI, giving you a total of four outputs with which to work.

Now, you can use three conventional 60 Hz LCDs like the Dell U2410s on my desk right now, facilitating Surround 2D mode. Or, you can use 120 Hz 3D Vision-compatible displays and projectors to enable 3D Vision Surround—the evolutionary follow-up to 3D Vision, which we reviewed more than a year ago.

How Two Cards Render To Three Displays

Nvidia employs Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR), whether its cards are rendering to one display or three.

Rendering to a single display

In single-display mode, GPU 1 renders the odd-numbered frames, while GPU 2 renders the even-numbered frames. The PCI Express bus and SLI link connector are responsible for getting the result from GPU 2 back to the board where the lone display is connected, yielding a single output.

Surround (2D) with two GPUs

The inner-workings are similar in Surround 2D mode: GPU 1 renders odd-numbered frames, while GPU 2 renders even-numbered frames. The difference, of course, is that a single frame across three LCDs is much larger—5760x1080, for instance, instead of 1920x1080. Nvidia remains fairly elusive when asked how the engine then outputs to displays attached to two cards, but again, it relates to PCI Express-based transfers and the SLI connector.

3D Vision Surround mode

Of course, enabling stereoscopic output literally doubles the workload, since each frame now has to be rendered twice (once for each eye). In this case, the first GPU renders odd-numbered frames for the right and left eye, while GPU 2 renders the even-numbered frames for the right and left eye. According to Nvidia, in this way, each GPU is fully saturated at all times.

3D Vision Surround also overrides your v-sync settings, shooting for a constant 120 Hz so that each eye gets 60 frames per second. As a result, the highest frame rate you’ll get in 3D mode is 60 FPS. There is some overhead associated with Nvidia’s AFR technique, and you’ll see evidence of that in our benchmark results that hover around 52 FPS. That’s still plenty playable, though.

Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • killerclick
    What are those lines between the screens? Oh yeah, it's the black plastic the monitors are made of! Three monitor gaming = FAIL.
    Reply
  • meat81
    Without sounding ignorant like killerclick, they do need to start producing mainstream monitors that have little to no bezel. If not then i might as well buy a 32-40 inch TV that does 120-240hz and go with that.
    Reply
  • liquidsnake718
    Hell you might as well go all out and connect 3 32 or 42 inch samsung series 6-8led tvs and tri sli or crossfire 5970's..... one would definitly need watercooling systems and core i7 6 core chips, with an ROG x58 board with ssd's max RAM, win 7 64bit, and 1000watts... this machine would then have to played in full airconditioning and with crazy sounds with some amps and extra lighting effects.....

    You would then have total fun playing games like Crysis, Resident evil, left for dead, Dirt, and Cod MW2..... one can imagine
    Reply
  • liquidsnake718
    all for the cost of around $7500... this would last you for about 3years of fun.... then after, youd have to get rid of it
    Reply
  • gxpbecker
    better yet, a single fold out (nearly bezel-less) display.
    As the article says, this is all nice and dandy but the costs are high, to say the least. However as time passes this technology will be more affordable for us average joes. Good too see GRFX companines are pushing new toys
    Reply
  • gxpbecker
    liquidsnake718Hell you might as well go all out and connect 3 32 or 42 inch samsung series 6-8led tvs and tri sli or crossfire 5970's..... one would definitly need watercooling systems and core i7 6 core chips, with an ROG x58 board with ssd's max RAM, win 7 64bit, and 1000watts... this machine would then have to played in full airconditioning and with crazy sounds with some amps and extra lighting effects.....You would then have total fun playing games like Crysis, Resident evil, left for dead, Dirt, and Cod MW2..... one can imagineAnd will cost as much in power to run that machine as an Air COnditioner during the Houston Summer.
    Reply
  • Onus
    The scales are way too big. Too much money, too much power needed (which means more money), and way too much physical space. Cost and power usage may come down, but space? In the mainstream, I'd sooner expect the VR headset to make a return.
    Reply
  • Reynod
    I wish I could afford all of that hardware ... alas not.

    The Samsung 120HZ 24" monitor, glasses and GTX card cost us arond $780.

    Played it for a few days and got sore eyes.

    Gave it to the kids.

    They played with the glasses for a week.

    Now the glasses are in a drawer.

    Not much more to tell really.

    The whole experience with the glasses reminded me of:

    The yoyo
    The pogo stick
    The hat with the beer cans on top of it and the tubes
    The Bling "Gaming" case with neons that I disconnected
    The Superfloppy
    The external CD Burner
    The ex-wife

    All terribly short experiences of delight (dynamic quality) followed by a feeling of bewilderment and a sense that I had been played by a consumerist market.

    C Wright Mills please save me ... from myself.

    Chris ... is there a cure ?
    Reply
  • ravnoscc
    I have a question:

    Could you explain how the bezels are compensated for in 3D Surround mode? I am trying to imagine how having 2-3 inch spaces in between each projected image would look in 3 dimensions... Having difficulty, but maybe a short explanation?
    Reply
  • theroguex
    So long as there is a bezel, there is no point to having surround in games. None at all.

    Well, racing games could get away with it.
    Reply