Category: Geek Stuff

3D Vision Impressions

After waiting for months for my new 3D Vision-ready monitor, it finally arrived the other week. The monitor is an Alienware OptX AW2310 23″ wide screen with a resolution of 1920×1080 (Full HD). The colors are absolutely beautiful on it.

So what about the 3D? Well, to sum it up, my impression is that it is as immature as many new technologies tend to be, but an extremely cool technology nonetheless.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, the nVidia 3D Vision system uses a fast display (120 Hz) and active shutter glasses that alternate what eye sees the image in sync with the display updates. This means that the 3D mode is only available in full-screen mode.

The Installation

I had a fair bit of trouble getting the whole kit to work. The driver on the CD simply complained that my graphics card driver was too new, and left me hanging. nVidia’s product page wasn’t all that friendly either, and it took a while to figure out how to download the new drivers (while there’s a direct download link to the movie player, you’ll have to select 3d Vision as the product type for drivers).

Once in the installation and setup procedure for the driver, there was a very friendly and helpful guide that told you most things you needed to know, which was a big plus.

Getting some movies running in the movie player required installation of a codec pack, which is was completely unhelpful in not suggesting, causing a fair bit of time wasted scouring the Internet for a solution. K-Lite Codec Pack eventually came to the rescue.

Setting up 3D for games was reasonably simple for most games — simply set the refresh rate for half of the maximum (60 Hz rather than 120 Hz). Borderlands was an exception as it started completely blacked out, forcing me to find the config file and manually edit the resolution in there. I imagine this isn’t a problem if you haven’t played the game before, on a different display.

All in all, the installation process could be made a lot smoother.

The Glitches

My first experience with 3D came just after the installation had ended. The last screen in the setup guide had a check box titled “Show 3D image slide show after setup”. I checked it, and then proceeded to be shown a few images side-by-side in a complete failure to do anything even remotely 3D-related. In fact, the glasses never even activated.

This was, mildly said, a bit of a let-down.

The movie viewer worked a lot better, providing a very smooth experience. Sadly, you have to specify what format videos are in quite often, which would be incredibly much easier if the viewer could have shown the first frame. This leads to a guessing game, which is a fairly minor problem in the end though.

Another problem with the movie player is that it becomes unhappy if I run certain applications. In general, anything running on my second monitor or in specific anything attaching itself to the edge of the screen like an application toolbar will cause it to simply flicker and refuse to work. This problem is even worse for the 3D Photo Viewer, which simply refuses to work at all if I have the second monitor active.

Considering that most games start without a problem, writing a working photo viewer really shouldn’t be that much of a problem.

So games then…? Almost any game can be run in 3D vision mode, but nVidia has classified games into different categories depending on how well they work. Some games have a problem where certain items aren’t rendered correctly for both eyes, which can be a bit of a strain on the eyes.

The worst problem tends to be “ghosting”. Ghosting is, simply described, a shadow of the image for one eye that “leaks” into the second eye. This is said to be due to an imperfect shutter synchronization between the glasses and the monitor and due to the monitor pixels not switching colors quickly enough. I don’t believe that explanation fully — ghosting seems to be restricted to only games (movies don’t have much ghosting problems).

In addition, some games are much better than others (more on that later). My impression is that much of the ghosting effects come from a mismatch between the rendering world size and the real world, making depth effects extaggered. This means that for many games, left-eye and right-eye images differ much more than they will for a properly tweaked game or for a movie. I also wonder if V-sync has anything to do with it.

The Content

So I’ve got this amazing 3D vision rig… what do I do with it? You can watch some example photos or download a few more from nVidia’s site. The same goes for movie clips. There are a few trailers out there, but far fewer than there should be. Youtube supports 3D content, but there is no easy way to view the youtube 3D videos using a stereoscopic viewer like 3D vision.

The best 3D movie clips I’ve seen this far are trailers, like the trailer for How to train a dragon, which is absolutely spot-on. I look forwards to watching 3D movies on this setup. The problem right now is that it’s virtually impossible to get your hands on some true stereoscopic 3D  movie content. The folks behind Avatar have said it will not be released in 3D “before November”… which could mean just about anything.

Which means that if you buy a 3D vision kit right now, it really has to be for the games. When it comes to games, the support really differs between games. There is some ghosting in some games, and it really depends on the game if it bothers me or not. In Dragon Age: Origins, it really did, so I will be playing through the rest of that game in 2D. I guess that style of game really means you spend a fair bit of time watching the environment, and that’s where you’ll see the most ghosting.

In Trackmania United, one of my favorite racing games, there was a fair amount of ghosting of distant things, but it really didn’t matter a single bit. The experience of mad racing in 3D totally made up for the ghosting, and when you’re driving at high speed you don’t even notice it.

Other games hardly manifest any ghosting at all. Borderlands was absolutely awesome in 3D, as the combination of the comic-book art style and 3D creates a really cool effect. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has been certified with nVidia and received their top grade for 3D vision ready games and works just as well as that implies.

One more game to mention is Left 4 Dead 2. There is hardly any ghosting going on there either, and 3D in that game added a layer of immersion to an already immersive game. The full list of game support is available on nVidia’s site. I personally look forwards to playing Metro 2033 with it.

The Experience

There are some things to note with active shutter glasses. One thing is that when they activate, things go a slight bit darker than usual, since basically your eyes will be staring at a blackened glass half of the time. You also effectively half the refresh rate of your monitor. The result is something hard to describe, almost a flicker, but not quite. This takes a bit of getting used to, but is not really any worse than watching a 3D Movie at the cinema.

The shutter glasses themselves are fairly bulky but fit nicely over normal glasses which is a plus. I’ve wore them for fairly extensive periods of time without feeling tired of wearing them. The insides of the glass reflects some light though, so if possible I recommend using them with the lights off.

Summary

It is very clear that this technology is in its infancy. I’m sure we’ll see a great development of this going forwards as it picks up momentum. The most crippling hindrance right now is the lack of movie content and the glitches in some games.

That said, playing games in 3D adds a lot of immersion for me, especially for fast-paced games like racing games or shooters. If you are looking at buying a new monitor, I definitely think you should consider buying a 3D vision capable one. The Alienware model I got was fairly expensive, but has an absolutely incredible picture when used normally as well.

If you want more info on 3D vision specifics, I suggest checking out the 3D Vision blog and their new forum.

Building an Awesome Sound System

One of the reasons I’ve not been writing here much lately has been us buying and moving to a new house (that and the crunch time to get BFBC2 shipped, in which I’ve ended up in a crucial role).

As we are finally getting a bit settled in (at least the living room is free of boxes now), I’ve started thinking about a new audio and video setup for the entire house.

One thing I’m missing about the apartment we moved out of is my sound system that covered the entire place — living room, bed room, kitchen, even bathroom. The whole thing was a DIY thing involving two amps, a partially broken speaker selector, lots of wiring and speakers everywhere. I could select what rooms I wanted music in, which was awesome, but it had its issues. One thing was that there was only one input, so if one of us watched a movie there was no way to listen to music in another room, another that… well, there was lots of wiring.

I love my music!The house is a much larger space, and with it far longer wires to put up all over the place. I’m going to install a wired network that covers the place, but I’d rather not install any more wiring. Still, I’m going to want to send video signals from the digital TV box to the new TV in the bed room, which I might solve with a Slingbox PRO-HD and SlingCatcher, which seems like a cool combo with a bonus of access to my TV anywhere — if I can only figure out if it’ll work to remote control my box or not (my cable TV provider is probably Sweden’s most hated company not involved in public transport – com hem).

The audio setup is a different problem — I want a system which can play music from my media server in any room I’m in, can sync music in several rooms at once and which can also play audio from a separate input (like have the audio from a live music DVD on the PS3 on in several rooms at once). That last one seems to be tricky to pull off…

I’ve looked at several network media players, but most seem content at simply streaming media from a computer to a home entertainment system. Sonos S5 ZonePlayer seems like a popular geek choice, but sadly doesn’t do an external input (like my PS3).

The Logitech Squeezebox series seems to do (almost) what I want, but the component I’d need for the living room, a Squeezebox Transporter has some drawbacks. First of all, I can’t seem to figure out if it can stream its digital input out to other squeezeboxes — a make or break feature for me, but hardly mentioned out there on the ‘net. Second, the price tag! Holy crap, $1999? I’ll be upgrading my audio equipment, but I’m not really an audiophile of a class that needs that kind of equipment. It’d easily be the most expensive piece of equipment in the set.

I could even consider building my own system from scratch. It’d be kind of cool with a compact computer hidden away in each room, and a touch screen display system to interface with the thing. It’d probably end up cheaper than the Squeezebox option, but with a lot more work involved. Fun work, but frustrating at the moment as I don’t really have the time needed. If there’s a cheaper product out there which satisfies my three demands above, I’m a sale waiting to happen.

Do you know of any good network media player systems that fit the bill? Or do you have any experience with systems like that, good or bad? Please share any knowledge you have in the comments. I would also be happy to hear from anyone with experience of the Slingbox products.

The Lyrics to my Life

Jeff Atwood posted a suggestion a while back for a “Support Your Favourite Small Software Vendor Day“. He has an interesting point, in that there’s a tendency to not register the shareware stuff out there. I’m as guilty as many others on this — I tend to not buy software that doesn’t do what I expect of it, keep looking for something better, but never find it.

Some of these are painfully apparent in my computer setup. I run dual-screen setups both at home (2560×1024) and at work (3200×1200), and I manage both with the excellent shareware application DisplayFusion. It has the unfortunate effect of being so good that I use it once, then forget about it for at least 3 months. Finding good backgrounds is easy on DeviantArt, though, and I’ve always had a soft spot for auto-rotating desktop backgrounds. Well, turns out DisplayFusion can do that in its registered (or “Pro”) version.

It has the rather sour licensing terms of “one computer only” however, so I’d need to buy two licenses. I find that rather greedy, to be honest — I never use both computers at once (they’re both stationaries, one at home and one at work), and while I certainly find the application worth the money, I don’t fancy paying for the same thing twice, for the same reason I don’t think people should be restricted to installing Spore on 3 computers, as long as they’re only playing on one at a time.

If you’re a small developer trying to make money off shareware applications, I’d advice you to not try to put MS/EA-style restrictive licenses on them. There’s just no point, and while EA may be able to take the hit of being despised by every forum flameboy around, you can’t. The likely effect is that you lose sales rather than gain additional ones. Result in this case: I’m looking for another good dual-monitor wallpaper application to buy instead.

Another app I’ve used for a long time is Minilyrics. I’m an absolute music junkie, tend to be listening to various kinds of music more or less constantly. I’ve always been interested in lyrics viewing addons, but fell completely in love when I found Minilyrics. The difference is the amount of config you can do with Minilyrics.

Most lyrics viewers scroll down text in a window — Minilyrics defaults to this as well. This takes up a chunk of screen space, and as I mentioned I like to have my music on a bit more often than always, or a bit more often than that. But with Minilyrics I can set it to scroll horizontally, and place the app as a small strip just about anywhere. At work I basically always run Visual Studio maximized on my primary monitor, so I’ve ended up with a setup with Minilyrics layered transparently on top of the title bar.

Minilyrics on top of visual studio's title bar

Minilyrics on top of visual studio's title bar

I love that setup — it keeps the lyrics where there’s always an unused bit of screen space, and it’s always easy to check out whatever those words that just floated by in the headphones were, without taking focus away from what I’m doing. It doesn’t look like much on a still image like that, but seeing the words scroll by is awesome.

At home I don’t have the luxury of a single app always running in maximized mode though. I’ve grappled with that for a while, and ultimately came up with my current setup, which has Minilyrics running at the bottom of my second monitor, in a reserved space (so I have a lyrics bar on my second monitor, just like you’ll have the task bar on your primary monitor).

Minilyrics at the bottom of my second screen

Minilyrics at the bottom of my second screen

I haven’t been able to find any applications that properly put up a bar like that on a second monitor, so I ended up writing a very small application only for the purpose of reserving that space with a transparent window. It took me a while to figure that one out — most application I’ve seen with the capability to dock in like that with the edge of a screen calls it “docking” — Microsoft terminology calls it “Application Desktop Toolbar” (thanks, Stack Overflow folks). Once I knew what to search for to get the information I needed, writing the app was quick and painless.

Anyway Minilyrics had some very annoying bugs, but I still kept using it. And the latest version has fixed nearly everything that annoyed me — so it was well worth the money.

To end the whole theme of music: I guess anyone who can identify both songs has a suitably wicked musical taste to be compatible with mine.

What shareware do you use?

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