The State Of 3D Gaming
Nvidia launched its 3D Vision technology back in January of 2009, giving consumer-level 3D gaming the biggest endorsement it had ever received. The company's proprietary combination of 120 Hz active glasses, licensed monitors, and in-house driver solution enabled early adopters with all of the puzzle pieces needed on the hardware side. The only missing piece was software, and Nvidia's infamous ISV relations team went right to work on getting 3D Vision considered as games were being developed. To this day, 3D Vision is not perfect. But it's unquestionably the more comprehensive end-to-end solution for 3D gaming currently available.
AMD didn’t counter with an alternative until almost two years later, in October of 2010. The introduction of its Radeon HD 6800-series cards was accompanied by AMD’s HD3D initiative, a vastly different approach to 3D on the PC: instead of a proprietary system, AMD provides driver hooks to software developers and leaves 3D displays and glasses to third-party providers. Because of its more open environment, we've had to wait a lot longer for HD3D to become a viable angle. After all, other companies had to provide all of the hardware and software to support it. But now, roughly a year later, 120 Hz DisplayPort monitors are on the market, enabling a meaningful comparison.
We should also mention Intel’s HD Graphics 2000/3000 engines, built into all of the Sandy Bridge-based CPUs. Thanks to a lot of fixed-function decode hardware, Intel does a surprisingly good job playing back Blu-ray 3D content. The main focus of this article is serious stereoscopic gaming, though, and the HD Graphics hardware is far too weak to handle such a taxing workload. If you're a home theater enthusiast interested only in Blu-ray 3D, be aware that the Intel option is wholly capable.
We’re not getting into the fundamentals of stereoscopic 3D because we've covered that in a number of stories already. However, if you do want more information, you can start with Build Your Own: Wall-Sized 3D Gaming, Just Like Theaters Do It.
A Quick Comparison
The best way to illustrate the differences between Nvidia’s 3D Vision and AMD’s HD3D is with a chart:
|Nvidia 3D Vision||AMD HD3D|
|Graphics Hardware:||Various GeForce cards (click here to see list)||AMD Radeon HD 5000 or higher (Radeon HD 6000 series required for hardware-accelerated Blu-ray 3D playback)|
|Supported Displays:||3D Vision Monitors over DVI-D (60 FPS/1080p)3D-ready TVs over HDMI(24 FPS/1080p or 60 FPS/720p)||3D-ready 120 Hz monitors over DisplayPort (60 FPS/1080p)3D-ready TVs over HDMI (24 FPS/1080p or 60 FPS/720p)|
|Glasses:||3D Vision: 120 Hz Active 3D Vision Glasses3D-ready TV over HDMI: Active or Passive (depends on the display)||Active or Passive(depends on the display)|
|Game Software:||3D Vision monitor: GeForce Driver3D-ready TV over HDMI:3DTV Play||Depends on application: TriDef or iZ3D drivers for games, although two titles currently come with native HD3D support|
|Blu-ray 3D Software:||ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre, Cyberlink PowerDVD, and Corel WinDVD for Blu-ray 3D movies|
|Multi-card support:||Yes (SLI)||No (CrossFire not yet supported)|
|Multi-monitor 3D support:||Yes (with SLI)||Yes (single-card only)|
Open Or Closed?
Based on the chart, there don't seem to be too many differences between what 3D Vision and HD3D can do. Practically, the division comes down to this: when you’re looking to build a 3D-capable gaming system, Nvidia's approach is simpler because you're only looking for one proprietary certification, 3D Vision. You need a 3D Vision kit with active glasses, a 3D Vision-ready GeForce graphics card, and a 3D Vision-ready monitor. You can even look for 3D Vision-ready game titles if you want to make sure you’ll have a good 3D experience (although the number of validated 3D Vision-ready games is pretty small). On a side note, you can use multiple cards in SLI to boost performance, and that's a nice option to have since stereoscopic 3D effectively halves frame rates, often demanding more potent graphics hardware.
With an AMD HD3D-based solution, you buy an AMD Radeon HD 5000 or 6000 graphics card, a TriDef or iZ3D 3D middleware game driver (or both), and a 3D-ready 120 Hz DisplayPort monitor with companion 3D glasses. There doesn’t seem to be an official TriDef or iZ3D game certification, so you’ll have to do a little research using reviews like this one. Unfortunately, there aren't many stories out there that tell you which games work and how well.
Games with native HD3D support do not require middleware, but there are only two examples: Deus Ex: Human Revolution and DiRT3. The next game claimed to include native HD3D support will be Battlefield 3. AMD Radeon cards cannot yet be used in CrossFire to boost stereoscopic 3D performance, so that’s another thing to bear in mind if you don't already own a board potent enough to withstand a significant hit to its frame rates in your favorite title.
The situation isn't all bad for AMD's HD3D technology. You can still get an excellent 3D experience from this solution. In some games, it's even able to outshine Nvidia's 3D Vision implementation. The aforementioned approach to enabling 3D dictates the effectiveness of each initiative, though. 3D Vision is the proprietary Apple-like solution with tightly controlled components, while HD3D is closer to a PC model, with standards that separate component providers must follow. Neither approach is right or wrong. But each has its own advantages and limitations.