By Neil Schneider
With all the talk of stereoscopic 3D or TRUE 3D gaming, there is a great deal of focus on the display hardware. Hardware like 3D monitors, projectors, and HDTVs. The equipment is important, yes – but the supporting software plays an equal part in making this gaming magic come to life.
A stereoscopic 3D display requires a completely separate left and right image to be projected on the viewer’s eyes for a true 3D experience to occur. While modern video games are rendered in 3D using API’s like DirectX and OpenGL, most games and game engines don’t put out a left and right image (or camera view) on their own and for this purpose.
A stereoscopic 3D driver is a piece of software that captures the DirectX or OpenGL information from the game, and extrapolates what the left and right image should look like. Until most games and game engines implement native S-3D support, the driver is what will make modern video games stereoscopic 3D compatible.
Up until the last year or so, NVIDIA was the only stereoscopic 3D driver solution on the market. Made strictly for NVIDIA graphics cards, their software solution was responsible for nearly every form of S-3D equipment on the market. Popular examples include LCD shutter glasses, dual and single projectors, and a wide selection of monitors (e.g. Neurok Optics or iZ3D, Sharp, and Planar). Their software drivers were completely free to download and use, and to the best of our knowledge, stereoscopic 3D manufacturers got complementary software support of their hardware in the NVIDIA software drivers.
Unfortunately, NVIDIA’s driver releases became few and far between. Windows XP driver development halted in favor of Vista. When the Vista drivers were released, only the Zalman monitors were supported. The entire stereoscopic 3D community and industry was nothing less than furious because their favorite hardware solutions were no longer being supported. It was even rumored that Zalman had exclusivity with NVIDIA, and it was Zalman’s fault that there wasn’t further hardware support.
Last month, NVIDIA showcased their own branded shutter glasses on prototype Viewsonic monitors. Is this another license scenario? Do manufacturers have to pay to use NVIDIA drivers and glasses? What can we expect out of these drivers?
MTBS is joined by Andrew Fear, the Product Marketing Manager for the NVIDIA GeForce 3D Stereoscopic technology. Andrew talks about NVIDIA’s place in the S-3D industry, the core products they are working to market, and what this means for LCD shutter glasses and CRT monitors.
1. Is your goal to make the NVIDIA glasses the 3D hardware of choice to complement high refresh rate LCD panels, and are not licensing the drivers out? In other words, the monitor is no longer the determining factor here – it’s the NVIDIA glasses. As long as there are enough glasses in the market, it doesn’t matter what monitor they are used with? Please elaborate.
NVIDIA’s fundamental goal is to enable the highest quality PC stereoscopic solution for gamers. As your community knows very well, gaming in stereoscopic 3D is a uniquely immersive and entertaining experience. We want to bring that experience in the highest quality and with the best performance to GeForce users.
In the past few years, the PC industry has been transitioning from CRTs to LCDs as the primary displays for all PCs. As we watched this transition, we saw that the market was naturally going towards higher refresh rate LCDs. Our goal was to take advantage of this trend and develop our own 3D glasses that could complement these displays. We have been working with display partners to make small changes in their designs to ensure compatibility with new active shutter glasses.
2. Will you be charging S-3D display manufacturers for the ability to be compatible with your glasses? What about alternative displays? Zalman, Head Mounted Displays, Projectors, etc. Are they treated the same way? What about old school LCD Shutter Glasses & CRT monitors? Will the glasses have to be NVIDIA branded to work?
Our goal for display support is to enable as many displays as we can that support the new NVIDIA 3D glasses. As new displays come on the market that support high quality stereoscopic 3D, we will test them to make sure that they work with our 3D glasses and we’ll enable support in our software. We want to enable a large ecosystem with a large installed base of users, so this is not a licensing program for monitor makers to work with NVIDIA 3D glasses.
Right now our glasses support the new ViewSonic® pure 120 Hz LCDs, Mitsubishi® 3D DLP® HDTVs, generic Texas Instruments checkerboard pattern 3D, and analog CRTs that support at least 100 Hz refresh rate.
3. What key improvements have been made to the NVIDIA stereoscopic 3D drivers since the last XP drivers?
We have completely rewritten our software architecture for Windows Vista, so that means a few key things for gamers. You can expect support for NVIDIA SLI®, GeForce 8 series and up, DirectX 10, and one thing that I know the MTBS3D community is familiar with, Dual-core / Quad-core CPU support. In addition, we are doing usability testing and designing new software interfaces, so I expect that part to be a lot better as well.
4. Are the drivers SLI compatible? Can you share some performance expectations with and without SLI?
Yes, in fact we were demonstrating on NVIDIA SLI on many of our demo stations at NVISION 08. Unfortunately we’re not ready to share performance numbers yet since our software isn’t complete. But SLI users can be confident that they will be able to take advantage of the additional GPUs in their systems for better stereoscopic 3D performance.
5. Why now? NVIDIA has been dead silent for years, what got you interested in S-3D again?
As your readers know, we have been active in the stereoscopic 3D gaming community for over 10 years. We’ve been working on this particular implementation for almost two years, but we’ve kept it pretty quiet for competitive reasons.
We’ve actually demonstrated the updated software technology at various events including CES 2008 and GDC 2008, but NVISION 08 was the debut for our new 3D glasses design. Fundamentally, we have always believed in stereoscopic 3D both on the professional and the consumer side; there simply have been some barriers to entry for users. We are trying to help improve 3D quality, increase industry awareness, and provide the best experience for gamers.
To illustrate how important it is to us, we included stereoscopic 3D as part of our GeForce Force Within campaign.
Obviously, the MTBS3D community is incredibly knowledgeable and savvy about stereoscopic 3D. We’re looking to help raise awareness with more consumers and show them how innovative and cool it really is.
6. How often can we expect stereoscopic driver updates? Another NVIDIA source said the stereo drivers will be bundled automatically with the GeForce/Forceware drivers – is this true?
First off, we have changed our driver algorithm so you do not need to have an exact matching GeForce graphics driver and stereoscopic 3D driver. In the past if the versions were not an exact match, a user could not get the solution to work. Now, you just need to have drivers from the same release branch. For example, you could install the 177.39 GeForce graphics driver and the 175.12 stereoscopic 3D drivers because they are both from the 177 release.
Second, with this change we can now update our stereoscopic 3D drivers more frequently to fix issues, add game profiles, or add new features without having to wait for a new GeForce graphics driver release.
We believe both of these changes are good for end users, and allow us to release higher quality drivers more frequently for the community.
7. This question should be tougher to answer than you think! What problem does stereoscopic 3D solve that makes it a high demand technology? Let me explain through example. You buy mouthwash for bad breath, you buy a light for a dark room – what problem does S-3D solve that makes it critical for gamers and consumers? What need does it fulfill that customers can easily grasp so the industry can clearly positions it as must-have technology?
Actually Neil I think it is easier than you think. Everything we see is in 3D: your environment, your collection of Chewbacca action figures, your one-eyed cat, your morning cup of Joe. Everything is in 3D except your display or TV – those are in 2D.
Many of us spend eight or more hours a day looking at these displays and don’t think twice about it. And oftentimes, we are using applications like Google Earth, Cooliris, and Adobe Acrobat Reader that have 3D data in them, but cannot be utilized by a 2D display.
However, since all of these applications are rendered with a GPU, we have access to that 3D data. With the proper software and hardware, you can now dimensionalize your display and allow this data to be rendered in 3D, just as you’d expect in real life.
So to us, stereoscopic 3D means taking a 2D experience (your display) and finally rendering it in 3D, just as you view the real world. We believe dimensionalizing the display is fundamental to the entire PC and entertainment industry in order to create visual computing platforms that represent how we view the world.
Thanks go to Andrew Fear and NVIDIA for participating with this enlightening interview. Post your thoughts HERE.