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Nvidia 3D Vision - Playing Direct 3D Games in "Stereo 3D"

See the related links at the bottom of the tutorial for downloads and supplemental information.

The Nvidia 3D Vision Kit is a [not so] new gaming technology which allows you to play the newest computer games in "Stereo 3D" (like 3D in movies, but actual video games). I can best describe the experience as an "interactive animated diorama." However there are a number of tricks needed to get the full 3D gaming experience. There's plenty of feature related info on the website. In this article I will focus on the info you need to make the most of your 3D Vision experience.

This Tutorial was Written from a CRT perspective:
This tutorial is written from my experiences using a CRT monitor to enjoy stereo 3D gaming. While I am confident in the information in this tutorial, it's possible that setting up 3D stereo for other video technologies, such as LCDs & DLPs, may differ slightly.

The Future of Stereo 3D is Uncertain:
Stereo 3D technology is currently in an evolutionary state. As the market and the technology changes so will the methods needed to enable stereo 3D. Hopefully we will see future solutions that are more intuitive. Technology aspects such as Direct X support, game compatibility, hardware support, third party software support and operating system support are not guaranteed in the future. Future readers of this article should be aware that the information in this article will lose accuracy as the technology progresses in the years to come.

The "Good" 3D Vision glasses are expensive:
The biggest problem with the 3D Vision system is the cost. Currently $200 USD for the wireless glasses and the pyramid shaped transmitter. The bundle that includes a compatible LCD monitor is $600. In their defense, the glasses have a rechargeable smart battery. Thus you don't need to spend money on batteries and you can't kill the built in battery by overcharging it. This is likely what adds to the $150 price tag of a 2nd pair of 3D glasses. Oh, the glasses also last for 70 hours without the need to recharge them. Yes they are expensive, but they are also high quality.

There is an affordable option: The 3D Vision Discover
The 3D Vision Discover is essentially the red/blue paper type glasses which most people are familiar with. The paper glasses work well, but colored lenses change the game's tint/hue. With a bit of research (and some registry changes) its also possible to force the video driver to use different colors (and thus different glasses) for the 3D Discover mode. Most notable is the blue/yellow glasses used for the 3D super bowl commercials. Many have said that these super bowl glasses have better coloring. I don't doubt this because blue + yellow = green. Theoretically this allows access to a different color spectrum than the traditional red/blue glasses.

The Magic of the 3D Stereo Technology:
To understand the magic involved in the stereo 3D technology, it's easiest to begin by thinking about an animated flip book. By drawing slightly different images on several stacked sheets of paper, one can produce his/her own animation simply by flipping the pages quickly using the thumb. Televisions and movies use a similar, yet more sophisticated, mechanics to produce the flipping of images onto the television or movie screen. The magic of 3D stereo is that it's essentially like viewing two flip books at the same time. One book for the left eye and one book for the right eye; synchronizing both animations with each other so that the animation appears to be 3D even though it isn't.

The problem with stereo flip books (besides a rather annoying gust of wind in one's eye) is the flicker that is produced as the pages are flipped. In this example, the flicker is the noticeable transition between the book's pages. Going with the flip book example, one can think of the refresh rate as the number of pages flipped through the book for each second of the animation. A 2 second animation with 120 pages would have a refresh rate of 60. In terms of modern technology, the refresh rate refers to the number of times images are put on the screen for the viewer to see. Refresh rate is measured in Hertz. Abbreviated as Hz.

Modern US TVs display images at 60Hz even though most modern TV shows and movies are only recorded at 24 frames per second. To display the 24fps videos on television, the TV inserts 36 extra frames, duplicating images as needed, so that the picture looks smooth. Suppose, instead of adding those 36 extra frames as duplicated images, the TV added those extra frames as a pure black image. What would happen? The image would appear to flash like those old time black & white movies do. Whether in TVs, movies, computers monitors or 3D stereo viewing, the importance of refresh rate is that a higher refresh rate prevents the viewer from seeing a flickering picture. Flickering pictures can lead to headaches and increases the risk of having a seizure for those who are prone to them.

So we know that a higher refresh rate produces a less noticeable transition from one video frame to another. But why exactly does that make a difference? The answer lays in something called Persistence of Vision. The human eye retains the images it sees for a short amount of time. Some theorize that this time is necessary to allow a person to analyze and/or transmit what is seen to the human brain. It is this short, persistent, time that allows video technology to appear smooth. Basically, if the video device can display information faster than the brain can retrieve it, then the flipping of images won't be as noticeable. The higher the video device's refresh rate, the faster the images are flipped. These flipped images could be the original video frame or a duplicated frame used for smoothing the video picture.

So, the big question now is how do you show two images, one to each eye, at the same time, with only one screen? The magic here is that the 3D Vision glasses and the video screen work in synchronization to provide one image to the left eye only, then another image to the right eye only, then left eye again, then right eye and so forth. The eye that shouldn't be seeing at a given moment is blocked from sight by the glasses' appropriate lens which turns black. This coincidentally adds extra black frames between the eyes' viewed images. The Nvidia pyramid that comes with the 3D Vision system tells the glasses when to flip by broadcasting infrared signals. In other words, it is the Nvidia driver that is synchronizing the images & eyes. The glasses simply change which eye can currently see at the given moment.

So how does the Nvidia driver actually make the two images that form the stereo 3D image? All 3D games and applications use what is called a camera to produce the image seen on screen. The camera represents a position in the game or application space and an angle from which to produce the said image. The Nvidia driver adjusts this camera so that it produces two images at two distinct angles based on the location and angle of this camera. One of these two pictures gets synchronized to the left eye & the other picture gets synchronized to the right eye. Thus producing the two animated images which together produce a visual depth.

To avoid flickering in 3D stereo, each eye must get at least 60 images per second. This means, that the video screen must actually flip 120 times per second. 60 times for the left eye and 60 times for the right eye. Any Hertz lower than 120Hz will produce a noticeable flash because the images are flipped at a pace at which the human eye/brain can easily detect. The lower the Hz, the more noticeable the flash will become. The higher the hertz, the less noticeable. This is why I prefer to play my 3D stereo games at 144Hz. 120Hz is the minimum refresh rate needed to avoid grossly noticeable flashing in stereo 3D. Higher rates will provide a more comfortable experience for the viewer.

Things you will need to make the most of the 3D Vision System:
See the related links at the bottom of the tutorial for downloads and supplemental information.

Need #1. You will need to be tech savvy (and/or be very determined). Getting it all to work properly is definitely a technical ordeal. Fortunately, once the hard work is done, its pretty easy to get the 3D working.
Need #2. Windows Vista or Windows 7
The 3D vision does not work on XP or any prior OS

Need #3. At least 1 Nvidia video card in your PC with NVidia and 3D Vision Drivers installed.
Stronger cards are preferred, since "Stereo 3D" takes twice the amount of power to render compared to the same game/resolution in normal 3D.
As of this writing, the current Nvidia video driver [v192], only renders stereo 3D using the first 2 SLI'd video cards in the executing machine. Having 3 or 4 video cards won't make your stereo 3D games look better or run any faster; though the games will still execute just fine. Support for 3 or 4 card SLI may become available in the future through driver updates.
Need #4. The Nvidia 3D Vision Kit consisting of the wireless glasses and 'pyramid' shaped transmitter.

Need #5.0 A "Stereo 3D compatible monitor" (CRT, or "Stereo Ready" DLP, or "Stereo Ready" LCD) with the ability to display a personally acceptable resolution at 120Hz or more.
Technically, you can run the glasses at any Hz rate. But anything lower than 120Hz will be VERY annoying. Running at a low Hz can also produce headaches and increases the risk of inducing a seizure in certain people (i.e. those prone to seizures).
Personally I like to have 144Hz or more. The higher the Hz, the easier on the eyes it will be. Lower Hz tend to dry out my eyes and make me a bit dizzy.
Most (if not all) CRT monitors are compatible with the glasses. Refresh rates vary by model, manufacturer and resolution. Its unlikely that a $10 thrift store CRT will be good enough. Many CRTs have very low refresh rates since it makes the monitors cheaper to produce.
Need #5.1 A "Stereo 3D ready" DLP Monitor or Television can be used instead of a CRT.
I'm pretty sure the DLP monitor must have a VESA connection port. This is for the same reason as noted for LCD Monitors (listed directly below).
I don't have experience hooking up a DLP monitor or TV. Make sure you research things before you spend your hard earned dough.
Need #5.2 A "Stereo 3D ready" LCD Monitor, such as the one sold with the Nvidia 3D Vision bundle, can also be used instead of a CRT.
Note that standard LCD monitors will NOT work. Only LCD monitors with a VESA connection port will work. This is because the pyramid shaped transmitter must be connected to the LCD (or DLP) device in order to tell the monitor how to time the refresh rate.
I don't have experience hooking up stereo LCD monitors either. Again, make sure you research things before you spend your hard earned dough. Do note that Nvidia sells a stereo 3d ready monitor as part of a bundle (mentioned in an above section).
Need #6 RefreshLock
RefreshLock is a software program that can be used to force a game to run at a higher Hz such as 120Hz. This is a must for many, if not all, games you want to play in 3D at 120Hz or higher.
In Vista and (I assume Windows 7) RefreshLock must be "run as an Administrator" otherwise it won't work.
If your monitor does not support the forced Hz setting, you won't get any picture. Instead you will most likely see some sort of "synchronization error." It's been said that extended periods of exposure to a bad Hz may damage your monitor. This is damage is only likely to occur if you walk away from your monitor while it's spamming the sync error on the screen. Testing the resolution for highest Hz settings via the Nvidia control panel won't damage your monitor.
Be sure to test your monitor's maximum refresh rates (Hz) for each resolution you plan to game with. 800x600, 1024x768, ... 1600x1200 will all have different maximum refresh rates. I honestly do not know if there are any monitors that can do 1600x1200 at 120+ Hz. My CRT monitor (which is 6 years old) can do 800x600 at 144Hz. This may sound terrible, but with 16x Antistrophic Filtering it actually looks pretty good.
Note that Refresh Lock has a "Manual Mode Switcher" "advanced setting." The switch mode may need to be changed depending on the game you wish to play. If you are having trouble getting the refresh rate to change in your application then try changing the "Manual Mode Switcher" option.
Getting the refresh rate to stick seems to be the most annoying part of the using the 3D Vision glasses. This isn't Nvidia's fault. It's a problem related to an industry wide assumption that users won't ever use a refresh rate higher than 85Hz.
Need #7. Be comfortable using the Nvidia Control Panel, updating video drivers, and playing with the hardware/software when things aren't working.
The 3D technology isn't exactly new but its still in it's early stages as far as technical compatibility. There will be problems when you stop playing for a while and try to play again. This is usually fixed by unplugging the Nvidia 'pyramid', disabling the stereo 3D in the Nvidia control panel, then reattaching the hardware and setting the stereo 3D settings appropriately (this works 90% of the time for me).
Need #8. A game with DirectX 8 or higher
Unfortunately, the 3D Vision system does not work with Direct X 7 (or earlier) games. From experience, I know the architectural differences between Direct X 7 & 8, and thus I'm fairly convinced that the 3D Vision system will never work for DX7 (or earlier) games.
I know they don't make this explicitly known, but I've tested this out for myself and have never been successful in getting the Vision 3D system to work in DX7 or earlier games.
Need #9. Disable all Anti-aliasing (AA) in your game
I found this out the hard way. If you enable AA in your game the 'pyramid' will light up but the 3D effect simply won't work. I don't know why, but I know for sure that this is the case. If you want AA in your game, set the Nvidia control panel to force AA for the game (or all games). While your there you can force anisotropic filtering as well. : D

How to use convergence to minimize ghosting:
1. Enable the Advanced shortcuts in the Stereo 3D section of the Nvidia Control Panel.
These advanced shortcuts allow you to make extra modifications to the 3D "convergence" during game play.
2. Adjust the convergence in game (typically Shift+F4 or Shift+F5)
Convergence helps you set the focus of the two Direct X "cameras" which are used to produce a 3D stereo image.
Convergence makes it impossible to completely prevent "ghosting." Fortunately we can manually adjust the convergence to suit our own visual comfort zone.
Ghosting is like seeing double, except that the 2nd image (the ghost) is more transparent than the properly placed (non transparent) image.
Ghosting is a physical limitation which is compensated for by adjusting the convergence in game. If a game places 3D models close to the computer screen (i.e. a 3rd person or 1st person type game), then the viewer must choose between focusing the conversion on the closer 3D models or the farther 3D models. In either case, the opposite models will have some ghosting. Fortunately, it is possible to find a compromise between the convergence of the close and far models. This allows you to minimize the distractions created by the ghosting.

Problem / Solution Guide:

Problem #1: Colors are wrong in game or other solutions did not work

Unplug the 'pyramid' device
Disable the 3D vision in the Nvidia Control Panel (click apply)

Plug the pyramid back in
Re-enable the 3D Vision (apply)
Set the type of monitor you are using (apply)
Re-enable advanced short cut keys for convergence (F5 & F6)
Run your application
Problem #2: Refresh rate won't over ride in game

This is the worst problem there is for the 3D Vision system. Experimenting with the options below gets.
Make sure you are running RefreshLock "as administrator"
Change RefreshLock's "Manual Mode Switcher" option (under advanced options).
The mode necessary depends on the game you wish to play so try them all.

Set your desktop resolution & refresh rate to that of the resolution & refresh rate you wish to use in the game. You can add new resolutions with refresh rates through the Nvidia Control Panel.
Problem #3: 3D Vision isn't working even though the pyramid light is on

Turn off Anti Aliasing in the game
Make sure the game uses DirectX 8 or higher (most newer games do)
In game movies won't appear in 3D. : (
Problem #4: You are "seeing double"

Turn the glasses on using the grey button on the glasses
Use convergence to adjust the imaging (F5 & F6). Make sure you enabled this feature in the Nvidia control panel.
Note that there is no way to perfectly eliminate "ghosting." In some games you will have to settle for a tolerable level of convergence.

I think that covers the most aspects of the Nvidia 3D Vision system that weren't quite so obvious. I have a blast playing games in a way I've never played before. If you are interested in trying the system out without a huge investment, try the 3D Vision Discover first. Nvidia is currently doing promotions to distribute the paper glasses (the discover glasses) to give gamers a taste of the real deal (hence the name 3D Vision Discover).

Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I welcome questions and comments; though I do humbly request courtesy in any replies.

Happy Hunting!

Related Links:
Nvidia 3D Vision Site:
Nvidia Official Site:

Persistence of Vision:

Refresh Lock Download:
Guru 3D (Video Card Drivers and More):

Comments (1)

Most Valuable Expert 2013

Great article, and well written. It has my YES vote above.

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