Editor's Note: This commentary discusses NVIDIA's 3D Vision System as implemented on the BenQ MP776 ST projector. Click here for a full review of the BenQ MP776ST.
The BenQ MP776ST is one of the many new DLP projectors capable of displaying 3D images using active shutter glasses. It is a "DLP-Link" compatible projector - DLP-Link is a system that allows the active shutter glasses to sync directly with the projector, eliminating the need for an external IR emitter. The BenQ and Texas Instruments web sites show the DLP-Link system marketed as a method of improving the student and classroom experience. With the right content, I can easily see 3D lessons effectively capturing and retaining student interest. The MP776ST manual does not discuss the 3D capability at all - there is no information on the DLP-Link setup process or even the function of the MP776ST's 3D specific menu options. While I was not able to test the DLP-Link system, I was able to get the MP776ST to produce 3D images using a non-DLP-link alternative, which was the NVIDIA 3D Vision system.
The NVIDIA 3D Vision system was released in early 2009. While its primary function is 3D gaming, it also supports 3D video and photos. The requirements of the NVIDIA system are a supported video card, Windows Vista or Windows 7 (Windows XP is not supported) and the 3D Vision hardware kit that consists of the active shutter glasses, IR emitter and cabling. My computer required a new video card (a NVIDIA 9800GTX+), installation of Windows 7 and the NVIDIA hardware kit (my total hardware upgrade cost was slightly over $300). NVIDIA's minimum system specification is a dual core CPU, 1 GB of ram and 100MB of disk space. While a system with these specifications will run games in 3D, my experience is that a Quad core CPU and greater than 2GB of ram are needed for a high-end gaming experience.
NVIDIA does not make the installation and setup of the 3D Vision system easy. While in theory, any projector, monitor or TV capable of a 120Hz refresh rate will work with the NVIDIA system, NVIDIA's decision to require 'certification' for displays to be officially supported needlessly complicates the setup process. The MP776ST was not a supported monitor at the time of my testing. While I was able to get the system up and running; it took a fair amount of trial and error.
The NVIDIA 3D Vision system requires two separate drivers to be installed - the actual video card driver and a driver specific to the 3D Vision system. While it is possible to download drivers separately, it is essential for a matched driver set to be used - I strongly suggest downloading the complete install package from the NVIDIA web site. I used an older driver package (195.62), per recommendations on the NVIDIA support forums if a non-certified display is used. The key step in completing the setup successfully was to connect the MP776ST via a short VGA cable and use an analogue connection to the projector. Once the MP776ST was able to synchronize to the computer over analogue at 120Hz, setup was easily completed using the 'generic CRT monitor' setup option. I was then able to switch to the DVI/HDMI cable and use the digital connection with the projector in 120 Hz mode with no issues. Note that when using a non-certified display the user will have two different generic display options - 'generic DLP' or 'generic CRT'. The 'generic DLP' system is used for specific rear projection DLP televisions and requires a separate sync cable - the MP776ST does not include this required sync input, hence the need to use the 'generic CRT' setup option.
My initial impression of game play using the NVIDIA system was astonishment - the 3D effect was nothing short of stunning. I was immediately impressed with how solid the completely flicker-free image appeared. The opening cut scenes of the "Batman - Arkham Asylum" game appeared to reach 5 feet into the screen - the sense of depth was primarily into the screen and was augmented with a few situations of objects that project out of the screen, such as 'collateral damage' or other environmental objects.
Color reproduction did not have any noticeable shift when using the 3D Vision active shutter glasses - colors were as accurate with the glasses as without. The 3D effect during in-game play can be optimized by adjusting the 'depth of screen' directly via a dial on the IR emitter. While larger 'depth of screen' settings can significantly increase the appearance of the third dimension, after some exposure I found that a lower setting of around 10-15% depth to produce more pleasing results with a minimum of ghosting (seeing a partial double image around the three-dimensional image).
Additionally, adjusting the 3D convergence in each game is required on a game-by-game basis - be sure to enable keyboard short cuts in the NVIDIA control panel. I found it easiest to adjust convergence using a fixed character element in the near field. Convergence can be adjusted back and forth until the object being evaluated solidifies and edge bleed and ghosting is minimized. The sense of immersion while playing a game in 3D mode was impressive, especially when playing games with high brightness surroundings (i.e., outside or brightly lit environments) in my dark theater room. The 3D effect was a relative neutral contribution to the actual game form and function (i.e. game playability) - 3D did not make game play any easier, nor did it make checkpoints more difficult to accomplish.
As I spent further time with the MP776ST and the NVIDIA 3D system, I became more aware of the tradeoffs associated with the 3D system. Active shutter glasses cause a significant reduction to image brightness. In the open state, the 3D glasses are visually comparable to a lightly tinted pair of sunglasses. Testing with the glasses in their open state and using a light meter, I found that the glasses blocked approximately 60%-65% of light. This measured result does not correspond to visual perception due to the way the human eye adjusts to different light levels, but this is a significant difference. The light loss from the active shutter glasses combined with the limitations of the MP776ST's 120Hz mode resulted in a dimmer image that I usually have when playing games on a front projection system.
Another important factor in PC gaming performance is frame rate - testing shows that the 3D mode imparted an approximate 50% reduction in frame rate versus the same game running in 2D mode. From additional investigation of user feedback, it appears that this 'overhead' for running the 3D system is highly dependent on hardware configuration and the specific game. The 3D overhead may or may not be an issue depending on the level of computer hardware used. My experience using hardware that is close to the minimum of what is recommended by NVIDIA has me evaluating a new computer with a Quad core processor. With my current computer I notice significantly more game slow downs and stutter in 3D mode that I experience playing in 2D mode.
I also evaluated the 3D video performance of the NVIDIA system using video clips downloaded from the NVIDIA web site. Overall, I was not as impressed with the 3D effect of the video clips as I was the 3D gaming experience. While the 3D effect was solidly reproduced on the video clips with noticeable depth, this test situation is not sufficient to allow any significant conclusions of in-home 3D video using active shutter glasses. The unknown quality of the source material and a few setup issues with the MP776ST that are noted in the limitation section of this review need to be considered as limiting factors to the overall performance.
An optimized 2D Blu-ray experience using a full HD 1080p projector and high quality source material is not a fair comparison to 3D on a relatively dim, XGA resolution projector using source material of unknown quality. While I can say that I'm confident that 3D by itself does not guarantee an image better than what 2D is capable of today, I am definitely sold on the potential of 3D and greatly look forward to experiencing higher resolution projectors that are optimized to display 3D video.