In a few short years, surround gaming has gone from being somewhat of an exotic luxury to something far more attainable. A potent graphics card is still required, but with the latest generation of graphics hardware, one needs only a single high-end card to play recent titles at six-megapixel resolutions. In most games, the detail can be turned all the way up without sacrificing smooth frame delivery.
Not all games will work perfectly with multi-screen configs, of course. Some are tuned better than others, and older titles probably won't work at all. We didn't encounter any newer releases with show-stopping issues, though—just unfortunate HUD and menu placements and annoying cinematic quirks. That's progress, but there's clearly more to be made.
Triple-screen landscape setups seem to be the most popular configurations right now, and for good reason. The ultra-wide perspective is perfect for first-person shooters and driving games. All the examples we played from those genres were considerably more engaging and enjoyable on three screens versus one. The wider perspectives also conveyed competitive benefits: enemies could be spotted in one's periphery, and so could traffic. Even when we encountered issues, they weren't severe enough to ruin the overall experience.
With third-person titles, the case isn't as compelling. A wider perspective certainly adds atmosphere, but peripheral vision doesn't feel as natural when the camera is hovering behind one's avatar. It didn't help that two of the third-person games we tried, Arkham City and Max Payne 3, have an annoying tendency to blank the side monitors and display cinematic sequences on only the center screen. Nothing spoils the immersive benefits of a multi-screen array like interrupting the action to put something on just one display.
Multi-monitor configs will likely remain in the minority among gamers, which doesn't give developers a lot of incentive to cater to them. That's a shame, because I think a three-screen setup might just be the best upgrade for hardcore gamers. I'd take one over a single large display any day, not only for wrap-around gaming, but also to have the extra real estate for desktop tasks.
At the moment, AMD's Eyefinity and Nvidia's Surround schemes each have benefits and limitations. Eyefinity works with up to six displays but requires DisplayPort connectivity for even three-screen arrays. Nvidia's Surround implementation has no DisplayPort requirement but can't be extended beyond a trio of screens. Surround's bezel-peeking option is nice, though. The truth is: both approaches work well and are easy to configure.
The same is true for the two graphics cards we used for testing. Both cards sell for about the same price right now; the Asus Radeon HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP costs $500 at Newegg, while the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 680 OC rings in at $525. Newegg has both cards in stock, and the Radeon comes with a handful of free games. It also runs quieter but blocks an additional slot. The Gigabyte is noticeably louder. However, it's a two-slot affair that draws less power. Which card is best depends largely on your current system configuration and whether you can afford to wait for the 7970 GHz Edition cards poised to hit the market. Let's hope some of those come with active DisplayPort adapters.
And three displays.
The biggest endorsement I can give multi-screen gaming is the fact that I have little desire to return to a single screen. Now that I've experienced gaming in surround, it feels like something's missing when there's nothing in my peripheral vision—a wider perspective I no longer want to go without.