The 3D Goggles, They Do Nothing?

(They don’t do nothing – I just wanted to make the gag).

NVIDIA’s current big deal is true 3D gaming – a funny pair of specs that blesses on-screen worlds with depth and pop-outery, just like movies from the 80s or late 00s. Which one of those two it is most akin to depends on the spectacle technology you use – old fashioned red/blue sillies or complicated and expensive stereoscopic shutter thingers. I’ve been having a poke at the former which – in theory – works with most every 3D game, so long as you have a recentish NVIDIA card.

NVIDIA sells its own set of these red and cyan (N.B. red and green ones will not work) anaglyphic glasses, apparently fine-tuned to create the best possible image. I don’t have those – instead, I have a set of super-cheap similar ones, bought from Dealextreme. The effect works pretty well with them, but because they’re not 100% colour matched to what NVIDIA’s software generates, there is a spot of double-imaging where the red and cyan outlines fail to quite match up. It’s possible monitor colour calibration could get around this, but as it is I’m fairly happy with what I get, given the glasses only cost three bucks. Though they do make me look like Uber-Dork:

What I also needed was NVIDIA’s 3D vision software, which it doesn’t exactly scream about on its site because it likes to provide on CD with graphics cards/posh stereoscopic spectacles, but eventually I found it here. It runs a short test to check you can see as 3d-god intended in your specs, and frankly the static 3D images it presents in it were a whole lot more impressive than what I later saw in games themselves.

Then it’s a matter of loading up a videogame, and hitting Ctrl-T to turn the 3D on or off. First port of call was Batman: Arkham Asylum, which used NVIDIA 3D as a selling point for the 3D version. And it was pretty great – this is a game about vertiginious drops and imposing architecture, and that seems to suit nasty-glasses-o-vision rather well. When Bats goes for a glide from a tall ledge, he really does seem to pop out from the depths he’s sailing towards.

Next as Resident Evil 5, another officially supported game, and from that I got very little. The degree to which the red/cyan filters block out all colours was more apparent in a game that’s not designed to look as gloomy and desaturated as Batman (much of it is set outdoors, in blazing African sunshine), and that the cyan on my glasses wasn’t note-perfect meant some hud elements and pop-ups were ghosting distractingly. Ctrl+F3 or F4 alters the 3D depth, and I had to set this almost to the bottom to get something that didn’t make me all head asplode. On top of that, the far more flat, rigid world of Resi 5 didn’t engender itself to 3D anywhere near as much as Batman. 3D doesn’t add much to the experience of linear trudging down some sort of corridor or narrow street with a character who can’t jump.

Trackmania was an odd’un, as it offers its own 3D mode. I made the mistake of turning on both that and the NVIDIA 3D, which in short order required me to go have a nice cup of tea and a sit down for a while. I’ll go back to that one once the trauma’s passed.

Left 4 Dead worked pretty well – the HUD seemed to hover hologramatically over the game, and my character’s outstretched hand when reaching for ammo or whatnot really did seem to be emerging from somewhere off-screen. I’d have to say that it wasn’t a worthwhile trade-off for a full colour spectrum, however.

Suprisingly, the most effective game was some Tropico 3 preview code I’ve had installed for a while. 3D vision seems to work best when you’ve got a camera you can steer far beyond a single character’s perspective, so a bird’s eye zoom of the game’s lush island offered up trees that seemed to stand out, buildings with depth… The trick, with that and any other game you’re trying this with, is to move your head as you play – that way, the contents of the screen appear to move with you, rather than remaining static. It’s not something that comes naturally with something like Batman or L4D, where you’ll fall into a fixed hunch, your hands the only parts of you that really move. Something about Tropico had me playing from a far more relaxed and shifting posture, and thus the little, desaturated world in front of me seemed to shimmer and move.

So, is this version 3D vision worthwhile? If you can find some cheap specs, it’s worth an occasional play and coo, but it’s really not something I’d want to regularly game with. I always felt a bit woozy for a while afterwards, plus I very quickly stopped noticing the effect once I was engrossed in a game. But then that’s forever the case – what you do in a game will always, always occupy your conciousness far more than how it looks. It’s also not officially supported in all games – it does turn on for anything, but you might get haywire effects such as certain in-game elements appearing at the wrong depth level. Generally, it was pretty successful in everything I tried, however. The list of officially thumbs-upped titles is here, if you’re interested.

I would be curious to try the expensive, powered-glasses take on 3D Vision, as those don’t sacrifice colour – but it’s not something I’m willing to spend money on to suck-and-see. Anyone here used it yet?

Oh, and if you don’t have a supported card, you could try this third-party alternative, though it’ll cost you money once the trial’s up.


  1. Psychopomp says:

    The day they fix the 3d headache, is the day hell freezes over :\

  2. Smurfy says:

    I think I’m the only one who read this and reached for the Spy Kids 3D glasses I always keep on my desk.

  3. Turin Turambar says:

    Omg you look like Roy from The IT Crowd. So british XD.

  4. Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

    I’m tempted to buy those….I MUST RESIST!!!

  5. Nero says:

    I remember when buying on of my graphics card several years ago, I got some 3d glasses with it. Wen I tried them on they flashes white very fast and I almost went blind. I didn’t want to figure out what I did wrong though.
    While this time it might be a cool effect I think it’s a way to go before people plays whole games with this effect.

  6. Stijn says:

    I can imagine that playing Love in real 3D makes for some acid trip-esque experiences.

  7. Caiman says:

    Every so often the world forgets what a bad fucking idea 3D glasses were and gives it another shot. I’ll wait til the silliness passes, thanks.

  8. Alex Hopkinson says:

    Spider Jerusalem’s let himself go!

  9. A Delicate Balance says:

    I’m off out to do my shopping. I’ll be looking for a pair of red/green specs at a dollar store. w00t!

  10. Samuelson says:

    I totally have a pair of them in the drawers next to me.

  11. Ziv says:

    I would’ve tried it if I had an nvidia card, why can’t ATI give us these neat little things like 3d and ambient occlusion? when ATI fanboys get happy it’s because they fixed a friggin’ bug that they can’t fix for years (powerplay anyone?)

    • DarkNoghri says:

      If the article I just read was correct, the newest ATI cards do have ambient occlusion. No luck on 3d that I saw, however. ATI also has new things to play with such as Eyefinity, and so on. It’s not all in nVidia’s ballpark.

  12. Heliocentric says:

    To me the bastard part of 3D glasses is the glasses, i hate having something up against my face(thats what your mom said). 3D contacts i could get behind!

  13. Hodge says:

    I too have a pair of old red/blue glasses on my desk. Hooray for World Expo ’88!

  14. bill says:

    how about the polarised glasses that newer 3d movies use? They’re much better than the red-blue glasses, and they’re much easier than the shutter ones.

    I have a pair lying around from Nightmare Before Xmas 3D (which was awesome btw..)

    • Hodge says:

      Yeah – and you also don’t get ‘3d headache’ stuff associated with old red/blue glasses.

      Not sure if it’s possible on a standard monitor though – cinemas have to install special wonderpants screens to get it to work. The actual process is a lot more involved than analglyph too, and possibly a bit too much for a desktop PC to throw together in realtime….yet.

      link to

      (no doubt a bunch of 3D buffs will reply and prove me wrong… and I hope they do because frankly playing Portal like this would be frickin’ awesome…)

  15. aoanla says:

    @bill: Well, you invent a display that can do clever light-polarisation tricks, and we can talk about polarised glasses for the home. :)

    Not that it’s impossible, but the advantage of both red-blue and shutter glasses is that they work with conventional displays (albeit, in the case of shutter glasses, conventional displays with v. high refresh rates).

    • Funky Badger says:

      That exists. Was playing it last wekend.

      Far Cry 2 looks nice and deep…

  16. Electrophotonic says:

    Ever since I saw a hacky set of polarizing glasses back in 2004 I’ve wanted to try this with EVE. The scale must be mind blowing, much like looking up at the night sky with your two real eyes causes you to instantly vomit from vertigo!

    That happens to everyone else too, right?

  17. Colthor says:

    I had a pair of ELSA’s 3D Revelator glasses about ten years ago, which were LCD shutter glasses similar to the new nVidia ones. They were quite good, but the flickering was annoying and on CRTs you tended to have to drop the resolution significantly to get the 120+Hz refresh rate that was the practical minimum (although with TFTs you’ll probably have to buy a whole new screen, of course).

    There’s a better system in the works that uses special ‘3D’ monitors and plain polarised glasses (so no flickering or batteries/IR synchronisation required), but that won’t make nVidia any money so they’re not pushing it.

  18. BuenoExcellente says:

    Desktop pcs can do the real 3d fine actually.
    You just need a the right kind of stereoscopic monitor and theose same nvidia drivers.
    I’ve had one for about 6 months – cost 400 quid for a 22inch widescreen one.
    Some games work great, l4d and far cry 2 in particular look fantastic.

    The only thing that is different about it from a normal monitor is it has a layer of polarised material over the screen. Each pixel line is polarised in a different direction so you can get each eye to see a different image.

    You do need a pretty good graphics card to get the most out of it unfortunately – it’s drawing each scene twice so your fps tend to take a big hit.

  19. Persus-9 says:

    full colour 2D > two colour 3D.

    I’m tempted by the NVidia shutter glasses but not when you can only use them on a couple of really expensive 22 inch monitors. In six months time when there’s a good 120Hz 24 inch 1920 x 1200 I might be tempted but not right now. Also I wonder what kind of beast you need to actually run Batman with all the bells and wistles. I hear you need one graphics card dedicated to physX to use the higher physX setting properly and in order max out the rest while running 3D you’re probably going to need another two so at least a three card SLI setup I reckon. Eyefinity actually looks like the cheaper option, shame I don’t think it’s anywhere near as cool.

  20. aoanla says:

    @Bueno: so, you get only half the vertical resolution for each eye? Seems suboptimal, considering the additional expense (and the fact that many displays can do 120Hz, and thus display full resolution in 3d for shutter glasses). I’m waiting for proper wearable displays, so I actually get a display for each eye – none of this trickery for me ;)

  21. BuenoExcellente says:

    @aoanla: Yeah, you get 1680×525 per eye essentially. You can’t tell though. The brain fills in the gaps rather nicely.
    Brains rule.

  22. lumpi says:

    Those shutter glasses are not for people with epilepsy… or at least they gave me severe headaches that should drop any epileptic to the floor, shaking.

  23. Garreth says:

    I have been meaning to try this out, but I would prefer to use the proper Nvidia red-blue glasses, which I assume work better. Nvidia don’t seem to actually sell these, I have only found them bundled with graphics cards. I find this to be slightly inconveniencing!

  24. Tangy says:

    “plus I very quickly stopped noticing the effect once I was engrossed in a game. But then that’s forever the case – what you do in a game will always, always occupy your conciousness far more than how it looks.”

    This. I’ve had the chance to try the shutter glasses version of 3D a couple of times, and, while it can seem really impressive (and a little disorientating) at first, I soon forgot all about it and didn’t get anything from the experience that I wouldn’t’ve got from a good old-fashioned flat image. Also, does being able to play for a couple of hours with no adverse effects mean I have special magic eyes?

  25. Maykael says:

    One question, Alec. Do you really need a 120 hz monitor to be able to enjoy 3d gaming?

  26. Vinraith says:

    Am I the only one that tends to find 3d gimmickry more distracting than immersive? Be it movies or games, it’s just a hindrance to enjoying what’s on the screen IMO. Here’s hoping this 3D fad will go the way of all the previous 3D fads.

  27. mathew says:


    I had a go with the proper powered 3D specs! see here.

    I thought it was quite good, but as I did it in a controlled environment it was calibrated perfectly etc.

  28. Magnus says:

    I’ve recently splashed out on a new nVidia card and the 3D bells and whistles (including a new high refresh monitor, upgrading from a woeful old 19″), but I won’t be able to test it for a week or so when it’s been delivered and I can set it up.

    Given what you said about Tropico, I’m quite glad, since I was wondering how Dragon Age or similar RPGs might look with it.

    Here’s hoping that it’s worth the cash, I’ve read good things about it. The capacity for headaches does worry me, since I have no real way of knowing how badly I’ll be affected.

  29. Marshall says:

    I was at the aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences, and they had a display with a holographic angler fish that would jump out and bite at you from this nook (with a little puff of air that terrified little kids / myself). But it was miraculously three dimensional, no glasses or anything, and it totally boggled my mind.

    Until we start seeing something like that, 3D isn’t for me. I went out and saw Up and Coraline in 3D (both of which were and looked fantastic) and couldn’t stop myself taking my glasses off a dozen times each. My silly darting eyes seemed to be breaking the illusion faster than my brain could put it back together again, and the headache was staggering.

    So. Holograms. Let’s get on that.

  30. BigJonno says:

    I’m not particularly interested in this faux-3D stuff. What’s the point if you’re still hunched, Gollum-like, over your mouse and keyboard, interacting with the games in the same way? I’d rather see someone take a fresh go at the whole virtual reality thing, but with better technology.

    Or, better yet, can we just get to the point where we can plug our brains straight in and feel like we’re really there please? Then next time I’m playing a hot, nubile elf chick I can…umm…okay, I didn’t just say that. *Walks off whistling innocently.*

  31. BlaztFromthePazt says:

    Anyone remember Time Traveler?

  32. Lack_26 says:

    Been playing around with them, fallout 3 was quite good (I just have the red/cyan glasses).

  33. snv says:

    There’s lots of cool tricks to get 3D, the color filters are just the cheapest ( and worst ).

    The real costs are not the goggles, but you need good displays. Shutters work better with classic CRTs, for example.

    You can use polarisation, but you need special Monitors for that. LCDs (and the shutter goggles) switch by rotating the polarisation, so as a byproduct, all light coming out of an LCD already is polarised.

    The problem with shutter goggles is that they need very high refresh rates, or with LCDs really fast reaction switching times .

    Even better are the new displays that don’t need you to wear a goggle at all, but theyre way to expensive (aimed for professional use)

  34. DeepOmega says:

    Well, the difficulty of polarized 3D is all in the display tech. You need some fancy pants dual-rotational-polarizing lensy bits to get it to work. There are some monitors that do it, I think, but they cost upwards of 5 figures. From a graphics card standpoint, it doesn’t really matter – either way it’s rendering everything twice, it’s just that with the polarized ones it overlays two counter-polarized images instead of two counter-colored images.

  35. shiggz says:

    I bought a pair of these cheap months ago for a 3d chuck episode. The blue is so dark that it doesn’t really work because im getting twice as much light from the orange as through the blue. Like half-winking 3d.

    I still have some nvidia stereoscopic glasses that came with my TI4400. Still not gotten around to using them.

  36. Vlad the Inhaler says:

    Ha :) I have a pair of those SpyKid 3D glasses, too. They work well with the Nvidia 3D effect, and other red/cyan anaglyph stuff on the web. Like this Flickr anaglyph group: link to

    So far Burnout Paradise has had the best 3D effect for me, and it did work well in L4D. In TF2 it works, but it’s very hard to tell the difference between the red/blue colors so you dunno who to blow up.

    I’ve even been making my own 3D anaglyph pics and am sorely tempted to get one of the fancy monitor/LCD shutter gass combos that NVidia is pushing.

  37. malkav11 says:

    I really like 3D in certain films, and it could be a cool addition to gaming, but it needs to be a cheap, nearly universal technology before I bother.

  38. Magic says:

    I still strain my eyes on those polarized ones. In fact, 3d on a flat screen is a bad idea in general. I like my eyesight, I dont want it ruined by thinking something’s closer than it is, thereby screwing up my focus.

    • aoanla says:

      @Magic: You mean 3d on a conventional flat screen. True holographic displays (and scanning laser displays, if you insert a dynamic lens in the beam optics) can shape the actual wavefronts your eyes encounter, bringing focal depth into line with vergence again.

      They’re also (in the case of true holographic displays) somewhat far in the future, due to the processing power involved.

  39. NeonBlackJack says:


  40. vagabond says:

    I have the Zalman monitor that uses the polarized glasses/alternating lines method outlined above.
    Whilst it might be hard to recommend going and buying one purely for the 3d, if you were already in the market for a new monitor, it’s worth the extra.

    I occassionally use it in 3rd person things like Prototype and Red Faction, but FPSes is where it really shines. If I was going to show the tech to someone, Left4Dead and COD4 are what I would use.
    (It’s probably really good for racing games and the like too, but it’s a genre that has never really interested me, so I wouldn’t know. I did try it with the HAWX demo, which was pretty neat.)

    I’m also pretty sure I’ve seen a page detailing what registry keys to change to get the analglyph version to do glasses other than red/blue.

  41. gorky1 says:

    That may work for cinema, but for computer games, is the way to go.

    (Demo starts at 3:00)

  42. RockyM93 says:

    I, too reached for my Spy Kids 3D glasses. Which are also on my desk.

  43. The Apologist says:

    Colour is more important than distracting 3-d-ery

    As Alec says, it would be fun to try the powered glasses, but not something I’d shell out on

  44. Licaon says:

    @Alec Meer: link to ;)

  45. EyeMessiah says:

    I used to work in a cinema, and as a result I have millions of pairs of spy kids 3d glasses. Some of them are still sealed in their little plastic wallets too!

  46. Sam says:

    I can’t believe you didn’t try Mirror’s Edge with these.

  47. We Fly Spitfires says:

    Crazy! Probably make me sick :)

  48. Peter Kay says:

    LCD shutter glasses are in theory better with TFT monitors, because although CRT has variable resolution and refresh rate the two effects of shutter glasses are 1) halving the resolution and 2) halving the brightness. CRT simply isn’t brilliant at eye searing brightness (with a few exceptions which drive the tubes rather hard).

    ATI doesn’t have their own drivers but appears to be pushing the IZ3D monitor and drivers. IZ3D also supports other monitors and glasses.

    The other multi graphics card supporting solution is Tridef. Both IZ3D and tridef have had good responses.

    • syllopsium says:

      I did of course mean shutter glasses halve the refresh rate and halve the brightness..