ASUS VG278H 3D Monitor Review

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Introduction
The Basics
2D Mode
3D Vision 2 Glasses & Lightboost
The ASUS VG278H Display
The DDD Bonus
3D on Console
Comparison to the Samsung S23A750D Monitor
Conclusion


Introduction

A few months ago, MTBS recorded a buying guide for new stereoscopic 3D gamers.  While we dedicated a section for 3D gaming on PC, we really didn’t give the ASUS VG278H monitor all the attention it deserved because of limited time.  Today, MTBS has a full rundown of the monitor, what to expect, and how to get the best results.

ASUS VG278HThe VG278H is also Nvidia’s flagship demo for their new 3D Vision 2 glasses and related “Lightboost” technology.  This new shuttering technique is designed to increase brightness and clarity for Nvidia gamers, and we’ll be able to share details about that too.


The Basics

To put things in perspective, I grew up with a 21” black and white TV in the living room.  It was only in late high school that our living room experience was expanded to 24” in color.  Six short years ago, I was really excited when my once ample 17” computer monitor was upgraded to a noticeably bigger 19” CRT for 3D gaming.  Even my wife was impressed by the stature of my eventual 22” iZ3D display.  Dare I say how eyes widened when I laid out my first 24” Zalman on my 3D gaming desk?

By the time I unpacked the Asus 27” 3D display and assembled it for everyone to see…I had to laugh out loud.  I mean – it’s huge!  This 3D monitor is bigger than the TV my family of four huddled around growing up – and it’s sitting on my desk.  However, and I hope you will forgive the pun, size does matter in the 3D world.

The VG278H features dual-link DVI, HDMI 1.4, and VGA connectors, as well as a built-in IR emitter for the included 3D Vision 2 glasses.  For gamers who need to get the display in just the right position, it has plenty of flexibility and even features a cool height adjustment.


2D Mode

Keeping in mind that this display is intended primarily for 3D gamers, I would describe the 2D quality as being very good with some minor tradeoffs.  For 2D desktop use, the color and contrast is slightly dulled compared to other displays I have seen, and I would put it on par with the the Samsung 2233RZ and Acer GD235HZ when they are also run in 2D mode.  I think this is from its anti-reflective coating more than anything else, but it’s interesting that this trait is consistent from one 3D Vision branded monitor to the next.  For 2D gamers, the 120Hz refresh rate means smoother playback or game play as long as your game and/or graphics card supports it.

The only caveat, and this isn’t the fault of the monitor, are the limitations of a 1080P screen in 2D mode.  There is a strong relationship between resolution and screen size.  The bigger the screen, the more resolution is needed to adequately benefit from the extra space.  Resolution gives the flexibility to fit more windows on the screen, avoid jaggies in games, and lets you do size adjustments without losing clarity.  While 1080P is great for a 24” display or lower, and it’s more than fine for distant viewing of HD movies – a higher resolution would add to this screen’s effectiveness.  It’s with good reason that there is so much interest in 4K displays and the required connector bandwidth to make higher resolutions possible in stereoscopic 3D.  


3D Vision 2 Glasses & Lightboost

Nvidia’s new round of glasses feature bigger lenses than the originals.  Based on infrared technology, they are rechargeable via USB cable, and should last as long as 70 hours per charge.  To make the glasses more comfortable, Nvidia changed the curvature of the glasses’ arms, and they added some rubber pads on the edges.

Nvidia 3D Vsion 2 Glasses For glasses wearing gamers like myself, the 3D Vision 2 frames are a comfortable add-on and won’t be distracting.  However, while Nvidia has been promoting its new frames as being more comfortable with headphones, it’s not always the case.  For example, my “Princess Leia” SteelSeries V2 headphones combined with the 3D Vision 2 glasses resulted in painful marks behind my ears.  The SteeleSeries headphones are a tight fit to begin with, so your experience will vary.

I joke that the original 3D Vision glasses were like coke bottles.  While it was a reasonable tradeoff for good 3D quality, the drop in brightness was more than significant, and it wasn’t for everyone.  Branded as “Lightboost” technology, Nvidia has adopted a different way to shutter their glasses.  Similar to the Samsung S23A750D monitor we reviewed awhile back, the ASUS is using the same technique as originally described by X-Bit Labs:

1.    Left eye and right eye is open.
2.    LCD shows nothing.
3.    LCD shows right image, right lens stays open, left lens suddenly goes black.
4.    LCD shows nothing, right lens stays open, left lens opens again.
5.    LCD shows left image, right lens closes, left lens stays open.
6.    LCD shows nothing, right lens opens again, left lens stays open.
7.    Process repeats

I know it’s the same between Nvidia and Samsung’s implementation because with both monitors on simultaneously, I can view both displays in 3D with one pair of 3D glasses.

What are the results?  Clearly Nvidia made a smart move, and this method delivers a dramatic improvement over 3D Vision’s first implementation.  The 3D images are much brighter, the tradeoff in color depth in 3D versus 2D is minor, and unlike their coke bottle predecessors, you can easily see things in the periphery like your unlit keyboard during the glasses’ active state.

If you are already an Nvidia 3D Vision owner, don’t trash your old glasses!  With the exception of size, the 3D Vision and 3D Vision 2 lenses are the same.  The difference is the shuttering controller – which in this case is the IR emitter on the VG278H monitor.  This means you can still use your old glasses and get the new benefit of 3D brightness.


The ASUS VG278H Display

As I mentioned before, bigger is better when it comes to getting effective 3D results.  The Asus 27” 3D display fits the bill, but you will definitely need enough desk space to not only fit the monitor, but be able to push it back far enough that it is comfortable to view.

Once in 3D mode, the first thing I noticed is that while the image is very bright and colorful, there was too much crosstalk.  The solution is to reduce the contrast level until the ghosting vanishes.  For me, the magic number is a contrast setting of 60% (versus the default of 80%).  Even with this reduced contrast setting, the results are far richer than the earlier monitors designed for Nvidia’s first glasses.

Here are samples of high contrast scenes used for testing.  I used the same images as the Samsung review, plus some extras run through Nvidia’s stereoscopic 3D driver.  All pictures were taken with our stereoscopic 3D camera – so while this exemplifies the crosstalk results, it’s not a fair measure of the actual image quality you would experience in person.  The contrast was reduced to 60% for maximum effectiveness, and the images are shown in parallel, not cross-eyed.
ASUS VG278H With DDD Ghosting TestWe still have to develop a non-branded test, but looking at DDD’s ghosting results, it’s pretty uniform between the left and right eyes, and the amount of crosstalk is very modest.
ASUS VG278H With Portal 2In fact, nearly all the images were cross-talk free with the exception of Portal 2 around the periphery of the portal weapon at the bottom.
ASUS VG278H With Portal 2ASUS VG278H With Metro 2033ASUS VG278H With Call of Duty: Black OpsASUS VG278H With Call of Duty: Black OpsASUS VG278H With Batman Arkham City
My favorite test is in Batman Arkham City when Two-Face throws his coin in the air.  Check out that convergence, baby!


The DDD Bonus

The ASUS VG278H monitor was designed to exclusively work with 3D Vision glasses and graphics cards through its Dual-Link DVI connector and Nvidia’s stereoscopic 3D drivers.  However, if for whatever reason the Nvidia drivers aren’t working as well as you’d like, many games can be run with this monitor using DDD’s TriDef Ignition drivers through the DVI port at full speed and resolution.

To do this, select “Standard Displays” in the TriDef display options, and go with the “DirectX 120Mhz” option.

DDD Settings
In the Nvidia stereoscopic 3D drivers, turn the stereoscopic 3D support on, but make sure it is set to be hidden when the game starts.  Just hit CTRL-ALT-INSERT to turn the Nvidia message off after the game opens, and you should be good to go.

Required Nvidia Driver Settings
Most games will run with the same compatibility you can expect from DDD.  The exception are games with native quad buffer 3D support (e.g. Battlefield 3) because they interfere with DDD’s driver operation.  Also, this functionality is limited to Nvidia GPUs, and will not allow the VG278H to run with AMD graphics cards…yet.

If you have an AMD GPU, the monitor will work in 3D with the HDMI connector.  The latest Catalyst drivers promote themselves as supporting HDMI 30Hz in 3D mode at 1080P, but this mode isn’t supported by the monitor, so the best you will really be able to do is 720P at 60Hz per eye with the HDMI connector.

If you are interested in getting an accurate read of which games work with the different 3D driver solutions, be sure to check out GameGrade3D, and feel free to make submissions of your own!

NOTE:  MTBS moved servers and we still have some bugs to work out.  It's not currently possible to make new GameGrade3D submissions until this process is complete.


3D on Console

ASUS VG278H on Sony PS3While a higher resolution would be a friend to any display this size, the ASUS VG278H still managed to work very well with Sony's PlayStation3.  In fact, I think the 3D quality is better than what our 50" Panasonic VT20 plasma delivers.  Why?  Again, thanks to this upgraded shuttering technique, the image is much brighter, and this makes it easier to spot the game's details.  For example, there is a level in Motorstorm Apocalypse that I just can't get past in 3D because the imagery is so dark and low contrast to begin with, the shutter glasses create a blindness handicap.  Solutions like this (as well as polarized options) get around this problem.  Sadly, I still suck at that game. ;=)


Comparison to the Samsung S23A750D

I’ve read a lot of articles comparing the Asus 27” VG278H against the Samsung 23” S23A750D, and I don’t think they were ever intended to be matched up like this.  The Samsung is a very competitive display, and it’s currently running on one of my dedicated lab machines.  However, it’s priced at just $350 a piece, compared to the Asus VG278H which is sold for as much as $650 or more.  While it makes for a great headline, this isn’t an apples to apples comparison.
Samsng S23A750D
I don’t know if it’s the fault of AMD, the journalists, or both – but there is a lot of confusion around what HD3D is and what it means for a monitor review.  HD3D is just a left/right standard put out by AMD - a path for software developers to send a left and right picture through HDMI or DisplayPort to a computer display.  DDD’s TriDef drivers are not HD3D, they use HD3D to communicate to the display on AMD graphics cards.

I read a review recently that lambasted AMD because the journalist ran DDD drivers to get Battlefield 3 and Dirt 3 running in stereoscopic 3D mode.  Two games that have nothing to do with DDD because they are designed to support S-3D gaming on their own!  In other words, the writer created an incompatibility that didn’t previously exist.

ASUS VG278H With DDD Ghosting Test
Samsung S23A750D DDD Ghosting Test
Review after review, I have read that the Samsung has too much ghosting.  Nothing is further from the truth if you go into Samsung’s menu and change response time from “fast” to “normal”.  Suddenly nearly all the ghosting is gone.  Why Samsung defaults to a different setting is beyond me – and I doubt that any of their influential product reviewers knew about it.  Looking at the above DDD ghosting test comparison between the VG278H and the Samsung S23A750D, there is more crosstalk with the Samsung - but it's very faint and is hardly noticeable in actual day to day use.
ASUS VG278H With Battlefield 3
If you are looking for a 23” display, the Samsung is a great option.  If you want something bigger and have $300 more to spend – the ASUS has some demonstrated advantages.  In addition to being four inches bigger, the VG278H is a little better with ghosting, and the color temperature is a lot warmer than what the Samsung defaults to.  While the brightness is competitive between the two, the ASUS is better when it comes to differentiating closely matched colors.  For example, the HUD and player tags are a bit easier to see with the VG278 in like colored environments than they are with the Samsung – Battlefield 3 offers a good example of this.


Conclusion

At $650 retail, the ASUS VG278H is targeted to the 3D gamer with extra money to spend.  It’s a great flagship product for Nvidia fans, and has demonstrated (unofficial) compatibility with DDD’s TriDef drivers for gamers who need them.

Thanks to its HDMI 1.4 connector, you can also game with console in 3D.  While the screen’s size versus HDMI’s 720P gaming limitation makes for a somewhat pixilated experience, this monitor is sized appropriately for console gaming.  For example, you wouldn't play with a Move! controller on a 22" display in a dorm room...but a big 27" display makes sense if you have enough floor space to work with.

All in all, the ASUS VG278H is a very rich monitor, and delivers what I would expect at this price point.