What's geekier than sitting in front of a 3D monitor while wearing stereoscopic glasses? Sitting in front of three identical 3D monitors while while wearing stereoscopic glasses, of course. Nvidia hopes to bring out that geek in all of us with its latest beta driver, which is the first to enable 3D Vision Surround—the company's name for multi-monitor stereoscopic 3D.
Enjoying stereoscopic 3D on three displays takes much more than a beta driver, of course. First, you'll need three 3D Vision-ready displays or projectors of the "same exact make and model"—a necessary evil to avoid synchronization issues and the like. Compatible 22", 1680x1050 displays like ViewSonic's FuHzion VX2265wm have been available for a little while, and Alienware also offers a 23" 1080p model for $450. Nvidia tells us additional 1080p monitors from Asus and LG will be out later this summer. The mandatory 120Hz refresh rate pretty much guarantees those displays all have TN panels, but word is that the upcoming 1080p offerings look pretty darned good, all things considered. We'll have to see for ourselves.
Rendering a game in 3D on a triumvirate of 1080p displays is no small task, of course. You'd have a 5760x1080 total resolution in 2D, but adding a dimension to the mix means rendering two frames where normal the system would render one. So, it's almost like the GPU has to fill a 5760x2160 display a la AMD's Eyefinity6. Cranking out all those pixels requires awesome computing power, which is means it's probably just as well that Nvidia mandates the use of two graphics processors for 3D Vision Surround. The other relevant limitation, of course, is that current GeForce GPUs only support two display outputs each. You can use anything from the GeForce GTX 260 up, but you need two of 'em. Owners of dual-GPU GeForce GTX 295 cards with dual DVI and single HDMI outputs get a pass if, and only if, they hook up to a projector. Otherwise, you'll need to use a Quad SLI setup with two GTX 295s running in tandem—and that setup isn't even supported yet. Quad SLI support is planned for a future driver release, but isn't provided in this first beta.
Running dual Nvidia graphics cards in SLI mode requires an SLI-capable motherboard, naturally. In addition, Nvidia doesn't officially support 3D Vision Surround on anything but Windows 7. Too bad for Vista users. (That they're still running Vista, I mean. Seriously, Windows 7 is much nicer.)
Provided you're rich enough to ride the 3D Vision rollercoaster, Nvidia has endeavored to make the experience relatively painless. The Nvidia Control Panel has gained a purportedly "very easy to use" setup wizard for triple-display configurations, and you get user-configurable bezel correction right out of the box. (AMD now offers bezel correction, too, but Eyefinity users initially had to do without it.) Nvidia also says it tests games for both 3D Vision and 3D Vision Surround. The company provides a list of supported games in this PDF file on its website.
As a consolation prize for folks unwilling to don funny glasses, Nvidia offers a plain "Surround" mode, which basically enables triple-display gaming without the 3D element. In this configuration, Nvidia supports resolutions of up to 7680x1600 with displays arranged in a landscape configuration and 4800x2560 in a portrait configuration. Interestingly, Nvidia told us you can't use 3D Vision Surround in portrait mode—that's because both the displays and the 3D goggles have polarizing filters, so rotating either component 90 degrees would block most of the light coming through.