How to go 3D on your PC
3D technology sits at the top of the agenda for just about every major display manufacturer in existence. It remains one of the core bells and whistles that shifts high end televisions and has helped entice many into the realm of high definition and Blu-ray.
In the gaming world, 3D has become a must have for any top spec big budget title, being included in both Xbox and PlayStation ports of best selling software. The technology, however, remains pricey to adopt, with a decent 3D television eating well into the thousands - and even then, you are limited on the amount of content you can watch. As of now, the PC remains the go to place for consuming three dimensional titles, offering the best value for money and largest gaming and video library available.
So where to get started? What sort of setup do you need? And, last but not least, how much is it going to cost?
New PC or laptop?
This is the first question you're going to want to answer. Depending on how much power there is under the hood of your current computer, you are going to need to decide on whether to simply plump for a new graphics card or an entirely new rig.
Laptop-wise, we currently have an Alienware M17x powered by an Nvidia 460m, more than enough to turn out a pretty decent 3D signal. Problem is unlike a desktop you can't really upgrade your laptop to be 3D capable, as you would need to switch out the display. This means going for a 3D ready solution which will already have the necessary graphics card setup.
Top spec laptops can now easily rival desktop competition and having the gaming portability as well as 3D is definitely a bonus.
If it's about upgrading your current system, you would be surprised at how big a jump in graphical performance a decent card alone can provide, but without a powerful enough processor to back it up, you are going to run into problems. Don't forget that in running games in 3D, you are essentially asking your PC to render everything twice - a seriously demanding task.
Let's say for argument sake you own a desktop that has a current generation Intel Sandy Bridge processor inside, with around 4GB of RAM, you should in theory get away with just a graphics card upgrade. However those serious about performance and looks will likely want to go in for something with an i7 and 8GB of RAM, possibly even and SSD. Companies like Alienware offer ultra powerful out of the box 3D solutions which if you can afford it will most definitely not disappoint. You don't necessarily need to opt for a gaming centric rig to get hold of 3D however, there are things like the MSI AE2420 3D all-in-one which will cope with low level graphics three dimensional gaming. For those who are slightly more adventurous on the desktop front you could attempt to use companies like Scan to order parts and put together your own setup, or if you prefer they can build a custom rig for you.
You are going to want to make the decision between either ATi or Nvidia cards, both of which offer slightly different ways to consume 3D content. ATi is a more direct approach, outputting a signal straight to a conventional 3D TV and using its included glasses. The company delegates its 3D support in games to third party companies and as such can lose some quality in the end user experience. For those considering Nvidia the upgrade path is much more simple, you are going to want a new card, glasses and 3D capable monitor. Once all three are setup, Nvidia's software does the rest.
For the less spec obsessed, choosing a graphics card can be like negotiating a rather confusing sea of unpleasant names and figures. It is very difficult to make sense of exactly what to buy in order to achieve the results you want.
The best way to approach things is to have a maximum spend in mind. You can go as crazy as you like with PC components, building monstrous liquid cooled rigs to eek out those extra few fps, or sit content with a smooth and steady value for money machine. While some might seek the ultimate performance, we personally think high definition 3D running at a steady 30fps is more than enough. Don't forget as well that 3D blu-ray will always look good, as long as your monitor is decent enough.
On the desktop front it is rather easier (and cheaper) to switch to 3D than on a laptop. Anything upwards from Nvidia's GeForce GT 330 will run games and video, although a GeForce GTX 550 is a good starting point. We would recommend opting for something like the 560Ti, affordable at around £150 and with plenty of power.
If you haven't installed a graphics card before, consider getting it put into your system professionally, whilst it is relatively easy to do, mistakes are easy to make and can be expensive.
Once you have your card up and running in your system its time to get things hooked up to a display. If you have gone the ATi route, then you will want something that uses its own proprietary glasses. A 3D TV is best, do remember it is likely going to be sitting on your desk so smaller is probably better.
With Nvidia you want to pick up a 3D monitor. Several are now coming to market with 3D Vision technology already built in, but you can always pick up glasses and monitor separately. Consider the Acer HN274H which comes with an IR emitter included. A cheaper alternative is the Samsung SM2233RZ which costs around £170. Throw in the glasses at £80 and you have got yourself a complete 3D setup.
If you have opted for a simple graphics card and monitor update, you could in theory go 3D for less than £400. Unlike purchasing a games console and 3D television, this is in fact a cheaper solution and grants access to a bigger and better looking gaming library.
So everything is setup and ready to go. 3D glasses on, graphics card humming away nicely but you are yet to select a game with which to set sail on your new computing adventure.
There is now close to 500 3D capable titles to choose from, with things like Star Craft II looking and running great in 3D on even the lowliest of machines. Battlefield Bad Company 2 is also well suited to the 3D effect and the brilliant Batman Arkham Asylum also looks and plays great. For those who want to witness a real graphical showcase however, there can be nothing else but Crysis 2 to really push your rig.
The game is very well optimised, meaning it will chug along smoothly on most setups without the graphics turned up to full blast. If however you have splashed out a bit, consider going for DX11 and ultra settings, quite frankly this in 3D is about the best looking gaming we have ever experienced.
Also remember that PC games are generally cheaper than that of consoles, so you can likely splash out a bit. We like to use Steam to download our games direct to our PC but those with a slow internet connection will likely want to stick with the traditional disc option.
Avatar long remains the classic 3D blu-ray with which to benchmark things however you'll have to pick it up via eBay, or by buying a Panasonic TV as it is still locked in an exclusive deal. Most will find that it looks great on monitors even toward the cheaper end of the 3D spectrum. Tron Legacy however is most definitely the new big boy in town. It is one of the absolute best Blu-ray's to be released, with a beautiful colour palette and very good 3D effect. Despicable me and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs are also worth a watch, although the former doesn't really have much of a storyline to write home about. According to a recent interview we did with Fox, expect a lot more titles in the coming months.
Contrast ratios might not quite be 3D TV standards and you may only be getting 120Hz, but to be quite honest anything in 3D looks good, especially given the price difference.
For those seeking the smoothest possible judder-free playback then a more expensive monitor or ATi with HDTV solution is perhaps better.
One thing worth pointing out is that you will be needing a Blu-ray player in your system and CyberLink's PowerDVD 10 or later in order to to get 3D movie playback running.
Regardless of how much money you spend, 3D on the PC looks great. Keeping things cheaper than a 3D TV and console setup is entirely possible, even when starting out fresh with a new desktop and monitor. On top of getting a highly immersive gaming and movie experience, you are also benefitting from a snappy PC to use day to day. Graphics will look better and you have proper keyboard and mouse (or controller) input for gaming.
For those who already have a decent enough processor and motherboard but feel their hardware is starting to slow, we highly suggest splashing out on a new card and monitor. Not only will your system speed up, but you have the added bonus of 3D at home.
Ultimately the decision to go 3D depends on your current computing situation. For the gaming hardcore it is the next logical step when making a hardware upgrade. The affordability however means it is now a viable alternative to for the console fan looking to get themselves a cheaper 3D fix.
Tempted? Or do you want to stick to the second dimension?