Because of the differences between our displays, we'll first address things like compatibility and playability to get a feel for each solution's software support. Then, we'll talk about the image quality on each display with the bundled glasses. Finally, we'll discuss whether stereo 3D—in either implementation—provides a compelling step up from standard 2D graphics in each game.
We're going to kick things off with a game AMD and Nvidia have named as a poster child for 3D support: EA DICE's Battlefield 3. Next, we'll move on to games recommended by each company (but not both). That should give us an idea how much overlap exists in the game support between the two solutions.
At 1080p with the "high" detail preset, Battlefield 3 looked good and ran fairly smoothly on both setups. However, unlike the 3D Vision setup, the HD3D rig exhibited a few kinks—even with AMD's new Catalyst 12.1a driver. Sometimes, overlays like blood splatters and dust particles, which are meant to look like they're stuck to the screen, would only be visible to one eye. I saw the same problem in the single-player campaign. At the start of one mission, when you slowly wake up after an earthquake, an overlay of the character's eyelids opening and closing suffered from the same bug. At certain points, one eye would be getting a totally dark image, while the other would see the full 3D scene. Disconcerting. Seeing dust and blood splatters through only one eye seemed to cause eye strain over prolonged multiplayer sessions, too.
What about the displays and glasses?
I actually tried Battlefield 3 on the Samsung panel with the Radeon first, and I must confess to being sorely disappointed. The image was too dark, details were too small, and trying to sit closer to the display resulted in serious eye strain. (Turns out Samsung's documentation recommends sitting no closer than 20" from the display in 3D mode.) A large part of being a skilled BF3 player involves spotting camouflaged enemies in hard-to-see places—grass, bushes, behind rocks, and the like. The dimness of the Samsung setup with stereo 3D enabled was a handicap, and it led me to getting blindsided by enemies I really should have been able to spot.
To make matters worse, the Samsung panel had some nasty ghosting going on. With each eye, I could see a faint outline of the image intended for the other eye. Switching the glasses off and on again to re-sync them didn't help. Somehow, though, cycling display inputs through the monitor's OSD reduced ghosting in a noticeable way. Go figure.
After that, switching to the Asus monitor with the GeForce was like night and day. Not only was the image bigger, which helped with both the immersion and the spotting of bad guys, but it was also brighter and closer to the level of contrast one might expect from a 2D panel. Best of all, I saw little to no ghosting and experienced almost no eye strain. My only beef was that, sometimes, I caught reflections of the game action in the glossy frame of the Nvidia goggles. Really, Nvidia? Why would you make that glossy, of all things?
In any case, I got sucked into the action and ended up losing track of time playing BF3 on the 3D Vision rig. It was delightful. Bullets whizzed at me menacingly, dogfights gained a whole other dimension, and crawling through grass and bushes was suddenly a whole lot more realistic. No doubt about it, the 3D Vision 2 rig made the game more fun and visually engrossing than my personal, non-stereoscopic gaming setup.
Batman: Arkham City
The latest entry in Rocksteady Studios' Batman series is featured prominently in 3D Vision 2's official compatibility list. True to Nvidia's promise, the game was smooth and exhibited no visual bugs that I noticed in 3D Vision mode. (To keep frame times low, I played at 1080p using high detail levels, but I left DirectX 11 features disabled.) I'm afraid I can't say as much for HD3D, which lacks proper stereoscopic support for the game altogether. Arkham City doesn't use AMD's quad-buffer API, and it doesn't have a complete HD3D profile in TriDef. Trying to use the TriDef's profile creation feature resulted in awful artifacting. The Virtual 3D option provided the best approximation of what I saw on the Nvidia config, but the distortion around objects and characters was bothersome.
While I couldn't stomach much of Arkham City in HD3D, I spent some time playing on the 3D Vision 2 setup. As in BF3, enabling stereo 3D added to the experience. Arkham City's streets are dark and visually noisy, which can make the game feel a little uniform without the illusion of depth. (In fact, I think one can say the same thing for all too many Unreal Engine 3 games—there's something about UE3 and gritty environments, isn't there?) Adding depth made Arkham City's game world pop, causing level geometry, objects, and characters to stand out, to gain more visual separation from one another. Believe it or not, I got the feeling playing in stereo 3D made the levels easier to navigate.
All in all, though, stereo 3D wowed me less in Arkham City than it did in Battlefield 3. Perhaps that's because Arkham City is a third-person game that doesn't throw objects and bullets directly at the player's face. Then again, its masterfully voice-acted cut scenes did look great with a dash of stereoscopy. Hmm.