Available for around £140, the Nvidia GeForce 3D Vision Kit brings a unique 3D video game experience to your computer. The visual effect it produces in games is a fun gimmick, but, in some cases, the 3D effect is more distracting than entertaining. We wouldn't recommend the kit to hard-core gamers who value playability above all, but casual gamers may want to try it, provided they can swallow the relatively high price. When it works, the kit's 3D effect is very convincing. For us though, it just didn't work consistently enough to justify its price or warrant a stronger recommendation.
The Vision Kit comes with Nvidia's stereoscopic 3D glasses, a pyramid-shaped infrared emitter, two USB cables, a DVI-to-HDMI cable, a quick-start guide, a VESA three-pin stereo cable, two extra nose pieces, a storage pouch, a cleaning cloth, software and drivers, and a demo disc.
The glasses look like the kind of sunglasses you'd find on someone who doesn't pay much attention to the latest fashion trends. The frame of the glasses is a glossy black that, like the lenses, retains fingerprints very easily. The glasses fit comfortably on an average-sized head. With prescription glasses on, the Vision Kit glasses are slightly less comfortable, as they put downward pressure on the nose. Switching to a different nose piece may reduce the pressure.
On the right arm of the glasses, about halfway between the lens and the tip, is the USB port used to charge them. On the top side of the left arm are an LED and a power button. The LED indicates how much power is left in the glasses -- it glows green when there's enough juice to function, red when the battery is running low, and clear when the battery's dead. At full charge, the glasses should work for several hours.
The IR emitter's base measures about 51 by 51mm. It's meant to be placed on or near your computer monitor. On the front of the emitter is the power button, illuminated by a backlit green LED. On the back is a USB port for connecting it to a computer and a VESA stereo input for connecting to DLP high-definition televisions.
The Vision Kit requires Windows Vista and a Nvidia GeForce 8800, 9600 or later card, or a GeForce GTX 200 series card. You can check out the full requirements on the Nvidia Web site. The Web site also offers a free test so that you can determine if your set-up is 3D-ready. Currently, there are only two LCD computer monitors available that are compatible with the kit: the ViewSonic FuHzion VX2265wm and the Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ.
The software set-up wizard performs a few eye tests to determine if your hardware set-up is compatible and that you have the correct drivers installed. After about 5 minutes -- if you pass the tests-- you're good to go.
When playing a Vision Kit-compatible game with the glasses on, 2D screens take on a subtle perceived depth. For example, when playing Unreal Tournament 3, your map and menu items look as though they are stickers, stuck to the screen, and the rest of the graphics -- characters, vehicles and so on -- look much further away.
If you hold an object in the real world close enough to your eyes so that you get a double vision, you can start to understand how this technology works. Increasing the depth via the slider on the back of the IR emitter simulates the same effect you get when holding an object close to your eyes. The glasses then simulate what happens when you alternately close each eye while still looking at the object. Basically, with one eye closed, you no longer see double, and each eye gives you a different perspective on the object. Now, imagine alternating the closing and opening of each eye very quickly. This is what the glasses do. They rapidly darken each lens, alternating back and forth, to give your eyes the impression of one amalgamated perspective, producing the stereoscopic 3D effect.
We tested the Vision Kit on a PC with an Asus EN9600GT and an EVGA GeForce GTX 280 graphics card with the following three compatible games: Unreal Tournament 3, World of Warcraft and BioShock. Nvidia gauges how well each of these works with the Vision Kit as follows: Unreal Tournament 3: excellent; World of Warcraft: excellent; BioShock: good.
When running a game in 3D vision mode, you'll see a diagnostic of that particular game's compatibility with the Vision Kit and short tips on how to improve it in the lower right-hand corner. For example, Unreal Tournament 3 states: "Rating: excellent, Incorrect 3D object placement, World detail needs to be set to 3 or lower." This information can be toggled on and off with a ctrl-alt-insert key combination.
When playing Unreal Tournament 3, we noticed that, if far away identical objects are symmetrically aligned horizontally multiple times (like with the top of a long fence), ghosting of that object (where we see a less detailed 'reflection' of the object) is apparent. Turning the depth to its highest setting, Unreal Tournament 3 was still playable and the 3D was applied with great effect to the text on the screen, our current weapon and our heads-up display.
At times, when we needed to kill far-away enemies, we found it was more difficult to focus on them with the 3D effect on. As we placed our crosshairs over the target, the character's name would appear over them and our eyes would have to refocus, throwing off our aim. Decreasing the depth improved matters, but, even when turned as low as possible, it wasn't as natural as turning it off completely, and we never became accustomed to it.
In World of Warcraft, we gradually needed to increase the depth while focusing on one area of the screen. If we did this too fast, our eyes couldn't adjust properly. Once we took the slider to its maximum setting, the screen looked fine. Until, that is, we moved our character or lost focus, which resulted in ghosting all over the screen.
When we adjusted the slider to its lowest setting, the game was playable and had a subtle 3D effect. If we increased the depth to anything greater than three ticks (the lowest setting), we couldn't determine if any of our character 'cool-downs' (timers for certain abilities) were available. This proved frustrating and would be an unacceptable trade-off for serious World of Warcraft players. Also, World of Warcraft's 2D loading screens aren't compatible with the glasses and proved to be very jarring when they popped up.
BioShock is only rated as 'good' by Nvidia in terms of compatibility, but it turned out to be the most playable of the three games we tested. We noticed some ghosting on close-range objects, but our eyes didn't constantly have to refocus, as they had to in other games. Still, anything above one-third of the maximum depth and our eyes would feel heavier strain, and fast movements were hard for our eyes to track.
We didn't notice a difference in the quality of the 3D effect with the Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ and the ViewSonic FuHzion VX2265wm. The picture quality of the 2233RZ is more impressive though, so it gets our recommendation as the monitor of choice if you're planning to buy the Vision Kit. The Vision Kit can be bought in a bundle with the 2233RZ for around £400.
During three days of periodic testing, the battery of the glasses never died. Even when we left them idle and uncharged over the weekend, they were able to sleep and were ready for more testing on Monday morning.
Overall, our experience of the Nvidia GeForce 3D Vision Kit was heavily dependent on the amount of depth we chose via the IR emitter. Whenever we changed the depth on the emitter, it took our eyes a few seconds to adjust to the new setting. With the depth turned up high, our eyes needed to adjust constantly. It helped if we focused our eyes on one object, but, with a fast-moving action game, this isn't a satisfactory solution. With all of the games, over three days of play, we couldn't get over the 'pull' our eyes felt from playing with the glasses on.
While the 3D effect is impressively accomplished and, in certain cases, really enhanced our immersion into a scene, it was just too much for our eyes to bear over a long period and, in some cases, compromised the playability of games.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet