If you are a stereoscopic 3D gamer playing games using Nvidia’s 3D Vision or 3DTV Play solutions, then you should be well aware of the fact that it is not very often that new games come with perfect stereoscopic 3D support. Some games can become much better looking in stereo 3D support with just a few simple tweaks and other require more serious attention, but game developers rarely take the time think about these, in fact most developers are still ignoring the constantly growing number of stereo 3D gamers that probably already is a few millions large market. So it is up to the stereoscopic 3D community to think about solutions to finding a way to deal with the problems in games that need fixing for better stereoscopic 3D support and the results are quite good so far. One very popular such solution referred to as the Helix Mod which is essentially a DirectX 9 wrapper DLL file that can give you the ability to modify the pixel and vertex shaders in games using DirectX 9 to get them to work better in stereoscopic 3D mode. The person going under the username Helix who made the solution has shared it so everyone could help and people are already contributing various solutions with removed or modified shaders in games that cause issues when rendered in stereo 3D mode. This mod is intended for 3D Vision and the fixes available are targeted at users with 3D Vision or 3DTV Play setups, so it may not work with other solutions for stereoscopic 3D gaming. Here is a list of fixes for various games that are available so far that can help you get better experience when playing in stereoscopic mode using 3D Vision or 3DTV Play:
You may have noticed that Nvidia has been quiet on the stereoscopic 3D gaming front for a while lately and that was a sign that either they are preparing something new and big or they are busy with other things. And now we just learned that unfortunately it is not the first, but the second thing. Nvidia has just revealed their new Tegra 4 mobile processor – a quad core ARM Cortex-A15 CPU coupled with a 72 custom GPU cores second-generation battery saver core and improved battery saving features to ensure not only faster performance, but also maximum energy efficiency and longer usage time on a single battery charge. Of course Tegra 4 builds on op of the performance of its predecessor Tegra 3, though while still a quad-core chip it should be faster, but the real improvement is the significantly improved in terms of performance GeForce GPU that should offer up to six times the GPU horsepower of Tegra 3 according to Nvidia. And with all this extra GPU power one would think that Nvidia is finally going to focus on mobile gaming with stereoscopic 3D support more, unfortunately stereo 3D support is not even mentioned yet in any of the already released information about the new Tegra 4. Instead the focus moves to the use of the improved processing power for features such as Computational Photography Architecture (real-time HDR photography) or 4K ultra-high-def video support, along with LTE capability with optional Icera i500 chipset.
If you remember Tegra 3 did support stereoscopic 3D output in some Tegra optimized games via an external 3D-capable TV set using HDMI 1.4 output, but not all Tegra 3-powered devices did come with that feature available. Tegra 3 did not have official support for integrated stereoscopic 3D-capable displays, the much talked WikiPad gaming tablet based on Tegra 3 that was supposed to have a stereoscopic 3D display turned out as a disappointment, as the stereo 3D display was dropped from the features of the final product and we are still yet to see something come out on the market. And one would think that Nvidia, a company that is one of the major drivers of stereoscopic 3D gaming, would continue to further improve their mobile products to make them not only faster performance wise, but also better feature wise. So you can say that quite a few stereoscopic 3D gamers were hoping to finally see Tegra 4 with support for integrated stereoscopic 3D displays along with much wider support for stereoscopic 3D games on external 3D-capable display devices using HDMI 1.4. Now that the chip has significantly improved GPU performance it should be easily capable of utilizing that for converting 3D games into stereoscopic 3D ones just like 3D Vision does on the PC. And while the announcement of Tegra 4 did not even mention stereo 3D support, this does not mean that the chip will not have it, it only means that such a features are not a priority at the moment and while they still might be present, their announcement could come at a later time when more specifications of the new mobile Tegra 4 chip become available.
Along with Tegra 4 Nvidia has also announced a new interesting mobile gaming device based on that chip, it is called Project SHIELD. This device reminds a lot a console controller, but is actually a complete portable Android-based gaming console in a form factor very similar in size to a controller. Project SHIELD is based around Tegra 4 processor, comes with a a flip-out 5-inch 720p multi-touch retinal display with faster response (yes RETINAL, not Retina as in Apple’s devices, though the meaning behind that is pretty much the same), full sized gaming controller and supposedly will provide a really good stereo sound for a portable device. The batteries in the device should be capable of 5-10 hours of gameplay or if you’re watching video up to 24 hours of playback time from a single charge and this definitely sounds good for a portable mobile device. Nvidia’s Project SHIELD uses Android as its operating system, allowing you to play the games that are already available on Google Play, but it will also support streaming online gaming from your PC at home. This means that your computer at home will act like a gaming server that will stream the games you own onto the Project SHIELD where you’ll be able to play them just like if you are sitting in front of your computer, or almost just like. The limit is 720p resolution as your computer will be streaming video to the device, though you will be using the Project SHIELD to control the game, and you can connect it to a bigger monitor or a TV set through the available HDMI port to have a larger screen you can play on, but probably still be limited at up to 720p. Project SHIELD is the first announced device based around Tegra 4 and while there is still no price announced, it is expected to ship sometime in Q2 of 2013 first in the US and Canada, with a worldwide rollout to follow.
Unfortunately as with the Tegra 4 announcement not a single word about stereoscopic 3D support regarding the Project SHIELD. The display of the device won’t be 3D-capable for sure, but the hope that remains is if the HDMI output will support 1.4 and if the device will be able to convert 3D games in stereo 3D (using profiles) as some Tegra 3-based tablets can. Apparently we’ll have to wait some more for additional specifications and features to be announced, but even at this point Project SHIELD does seem as an interesting mobile gaming product already, even if it does not come with stereo 3D support at all. And Project SHIELD will for sure turn out to be a competition to other similar upcoming mobile gaming products that are also expected to be launched this year such as the WikiPad or the OUYA, though these will come out with the older Tegra 3 platform. One thing that makes Project SHIELD a better choice than OUYA for example is the fact that the device comes with both a touch-screen and a joypad controls and so you will be able to play pretty much all already available games and will not have to wait for specially developed ones or made compatible to be played with joypad as still most games for Android are meant to be played from a touch-screen. Of course there are some apps that allow you to map commands to a joypad, but doing so without a touch-screen could be a problem. Though with the design of Project SHIELD and the position of its display it will probably not be the best device to play only with the touchscreen, at least you’d be able to map the game commands to the joypad controls. On the other hand the most significant advantage that the OUYA will probably have is the lower price as I highly doubt that Nvidia will be able to sell Project SHIELD for $99 USD, we can expect Nvidia’s Tegra 4 console to sell for something more like $299 USD. And as we know the lower price can really make a difference in helping a product become mainstream and widely accepted, and now if OUYA could also support stereo 3D (since it is based on Tegra 3 it could, but will it?).
But enough with Tegra 4 and Project SHIELD, maybe now it is time for Nvidia to start turning a bit more attention back to the 3D vision gamers, so that in 2013 we could see more happening in the stereo 3D gaming PC scene as well, and not only hope for something to happen in the mobile segment where apparently there is more to be desired in terms of stereo 3D support…
If you have an older PC that you haven’t upgraded for a while and consider finally doing that in order to be able to play games in stereoscopic 3D mode you may think that you need to really do a serious upgrade of pretty much everything. And while you may not be that wrong in such an assumption, if you still have a decent processor and enough system memory the only thing that you may need to replace could be the video card in order to “get into the game”. The truth is that in the last few years the GPU has become way more important that the CPU in many areas and when talking about gaming and stereoscopic 3D gaming in particular it is even more important. With a high-end graphics card you may be able to get a good stereoscopic 3D experience even if you processor is not the latest generation and doesn’t have four or even more cores. The reason for that is that we’ve reached a state where the processors have become quite powerful performance wise, so that not that many programs (excluding most professional apps) can take full advantage of them… and the truth is that most games are not able to yet fully utilize the full performance of all the cores in a powerful processor, even if you play them in stereo 3D mode.
Lets not just talk about that, but give it a try to see how does the CPU performance affect the game performance in stereoscopic 3D mode. As an example I’ve used an Intel Core i5 2500K processor (3.3GHz Quad-core Sandy Bridge), on an Asus Sabertooth P67 motherboard, 4GB System Memory, and two GeForce GTX 580 video cards running in SLI mode under Windows 7. What I’ve done is to run five different recent and more demanding games on this setup at 1920×1080 resolution, maximum detail levels with no AA and in stereoscopic 3D mode using 3D Vision with the CPU at the default 4-core state (not overclocked), and then disable one, two and three of the cores so that the processor will behave as a single, dual, triple and quad-core. At each of these four states I’ve ran a benchmark and recorded the framerate as well as the CPU load of all of the available cores in each situation and you can see what are the results below…
As you can see from the table with results the situation is bad only when just a single core is enabled, the CPU load is hitting 100% while playing a game and the framerates are very low as clearly the processor is not able to deliver enough performance for the video cards to be utilized at their maximum potential. Note that the framerate listed is the average one in stereo 3D mode (the per eye value) and the CPU load in percentage is the one from all available cores. When we have two cores active not all games are hitting the maximum processor load and we can see up to double the framerate in some games as compared to when we have just one core, so clearly Dual-Core is the minimum for a decent experience nowadays. Going to three and four cores active we can see that the CPU load is gradually getting lower and the framerate is going just a little bit higher and the difference between 3 and 4-cores is even smaller.
So even if you have an older Dual-core processor you might still be able to enjoy good performance in games, even in stereoscopic 3D mode by just upgrading your video card to a more powerful and recent model and leaving your older CPU, motherboard and system memory for a while longer. So better spend on upgrading the video card now, instead of upgrading the CPU, motherboard and RAM at the moment and leaving the VGA upgrade for a later time if you have a more limited budget. As I’ve already said, the video card is way more important for stereoscopic 3D gaming compared to the processor, so with a more powerful GPU and not so powerful CPU you can still get good performance in games. Of course if you want to push for SLI with more video cards, go for multi-monitor setup and especially for multi-monitor combined with stereo 3D, the faster – the better, but again the video card(s) remain more important that the processor for gaming. So consider that the next time when you think about upgrading your gaming PC.