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Our test hardware
The 3D Vision 2 and HD3D displays we used for testing aren't strictly comparable—one is larger and more expensive than the other. Sorry about that. The thing is, these are the 3D panels AMD and Nvidia are sending out to testers right now. Perhaps Nvidia wants to wow reviewers, while AMD is happier to highlight the existence of more budget-conscious solutions. Either way, we'll try not to penalize the AMD solution unfairly because our 3D Vision display is nicer. Keep in mind that 27-inch 3D monitors are available on the HD3D side, and that cheaper, smaller panels are available in the 3D Vision camp.

Asus' VG278H fills in as our 3D Vision 2 monitor. This is a fairly high-end offering, with a $699.99 price tag and a 27" 1080p panel. According to Asus, the VG278H has 300 cd/m² luminosity, 50,000,000:1 contrast, a 2-ms response time, and LightBoost backlighting technology. It also features an assortment of VGA, DVI, and HDMI inputs, and it can be adjusted vertically and tilted. Happily, Asus opted for a matte finish on the panel.

The VG278H is bundled with a set of 3D Vision 2 goggles from Nvidia. The goggles interface with an IR emitter built into the top of the monitor, where you might normally see a webcam, so there's no need for an auxiliary base station. The IR emitter is mounted on a hinge and can be tilted up and down (but not left or right) to accommodate the user's sitting position.

For our HD3D testing, we're using the Samsung S23A750D, a more affordable offering with $349.99 asking price, a 23" 1080p panel, and no height adjustment functionality. (The stand offers only tilt adjustment.) Samsung touts a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, 250 cd/m² luminosity, and a 2-ms response time. Judging by what AMD told us, this monitor has an LED backlight pulsing technology very similar to LightBoost, although it's not called by that name. You'll find DisplayPort and HDMI inputs around the back, Samsung's active-shutter glasses in the box, and DDD's TriDef software on the driver CD.

Oh, and this display is stamped with AMD's HD3D gold seal of approval.

While the Asus offering looks the same as any other PC monitor, Samsung's S23A750D is a strange beast. It's quite literally glossy all over, even on the back, and it features touch controls laid out on a wedge-shaped, cylindrical base. There's no secondary display, mind you; the controls bring up an OSD on the main panel, just like you'd expect. It's a neat concept, but the execution could use some work. On one hand, the controls are easier to get to than if they were laid out along the edge of the panel. On the other, I found myself occasionally having to tap the buttons multiple times to get a response.

I'm not a fan of the glossy finish, either. You're guaranteed to leave an ugly fingerprint anytime you touch this monitor, whether it's to adjust the tilt or to work the OSD controls. Also, I'm somewhat concerned that the reflective coating on the panel could be detrimental to stereoscopic image quality. Some folks have argued that stereo 3D confuses the brain by forcing the eyes to converge on one plane and focus on another. With its glossy coating, the Samsung display serves up artificial depth on a flat plane, while at the same time reflecting true depth, on which the eyes can converge and focus normally.

One last thing to note: while the 3D Vision 2 goggles bundled with the Asus display can be recharged via micro-USB, Samsung's 3D goggles have a small compartment in the frame that accommodates a CR2025 battery, which you'll have to replace once it's depleted. Both displays have built-in receivers, though.

To drive these monitors, we selected two competing graphics cards:

Asus' take on the GeForce GTX 570, the ENGTX570 DCII/2DIS/1280MD5, will be hooked up to our 3D Vision 2 panel. This card sells for $349.99 (or $329.99 after a mail-in rebate) and features a custom, triple-slot DirectCU II cooler with dual 80-mm fans. Asus clocks the card at Nvidia's prescribed speeds of 742MHz for the GPU core and an effective 3.8GHz for the memory. Two DVI ports, one DisplayPort, and one HDMI output line the rear cluster.

For our HD3D setup, we're using Asus' Radeon HD 6970 card, the EAH6970 DCII/2DI4S/2G. This card also has a dual-fan, triple-slot DirectCU II cooler and stock clock speeds, but it sports a smaller vent and more display outputs than the Nvidia offering. (There's a total of two DVI ports and four DisplayPort, er, ports.) This puppy used to be sold for $359.99 after rebate at Newegg, but it seems to have been deactivated. The card is out of stock at other e-tailers, too.

To be clear, we'll be running our tests with only one of each of these two cards. We have several good reasons for that choice, most notably the microstuttering issues associated with multi-GPU configs. We want to rule those out when testing 3D performance in stereo. We also believe that, for 3D Vision 2 and HD3D to be appealing to the masses, they ought not be bound to pricey multi-GPU setups and their associated caveats. Using high-end, single-GPU cards is a good way to address the performance requirements of real-time stereoscopic 3D without going overboard.