|3D Platform Wars: NVIDIA vs AMD vs HDTV|
|Articles - Opinion & Editorials|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Thursday, 21 October 2010|
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3D Platform Wars: NVIDIA 3D Vision vs AMD HD3D vs 3D HDTV
AMD's HD3D platform now competes with NVIDIA 3D Vision, and both are threatened by 3D-HDTVs - with and without eyewear.
There's change in the wind, and nobody's really sure which way it will blow. 3D technology, once the land of red and blue, has matured through the years and now offers several new platform choices - some of which won't even require eyewear. Not many people will give NVIDIA the full credit of bringing 3D technology into the mainstream, but if there was a pioneer to be named they've certainly earned the title. Developed on years of stereoscopic vision research, NVIDIA released their first retail product at the tail end of 2008, branded GeForce 3D Vision. The past two years have grown this technology into a central feature, exclusive to their GeForce graphics product line, further evolving into a triple-display capability they've dubbed 3D Vision Surround. From many perspectives, it's appeared that NVIDIA has been the name behind 3D technology, especially in terms of 3D gaming, but the truth is that it's become a rather crowded market.
After NVIDIA helped to make 3D a marketable platform through partnerships with Samsung and ViewSonic, 3D interest took off like wildfire. Considering how well HDTVs were received by the consumer market, especially after the digital television transition, nobody could justify a 3D technology relegated only to the limited dimension of compatible 120Hz monitors and 3D gaming. Compatible 3D TV platforms paired with stereoscopic technology helped fuel a surge in 3D HDTV demand, giving life to 3D DVD and 3D Blu-ray media through new disc players and HTPC software tools from companies such as CyberLink. This is how platform wars begin, and NVIDIA's 3D Vision technology sits in the eye of an unpredictable storm.
If you analyze NVIDIA's 3D Vision gaming platform for the PC, there are three components that make up the foundation. First and foremost is a modern GeForce graphics solution (8800 series or newer), followed next by 3D Vision software packaged with Forceware graphics drivers, and completed with 3D Vision shutter glasses and USB emitter. Thanks to HDMI 1.4 frame packing, GeForce 8800 series and higher GPUs have always had the capability to play 3D DVD and 3D Blu-ray movies without 3D Vision, so long as compatible software application from CyberLink, ArcSoft, Roxio, or Corel were used with a 3D TV that came bundled with 3D glasses. But gaming on the big screen remained a problem until NVIDIA 3DTV Play software became available.
All current 120Hz 3D monitors include support for digital dual-link DVI connections, and because they avoid proprietary eyewear there's a dependence on NVIDIA's 3D Vision kit. This bodes well for gamers on the PC platform who use a monitor, but many would like to enjoy the gaming experience on a larger display. HDTVs have become warmly accepted into most homes, allowing entire families to share in the high-definition experience through standard HDMI connectivity. Before NVIDIA 3DTV Play software became available, this had been 3D Vision's undoing because most 3D HDTVs include proprietary eyewear - thus removing NVIDIA's shutter glasses from the shopping cart. In many respects, NVIDIA 3DTV Play software could transform 3D Vision into an open-market gaming technology that merely requires a GeForce video card.
As it turns out, 3D HDTVs would not be the last threat to NVIDIA's 3D Vision platform, because the company's closest rival has now joined into the fray with their own AMD HD3D branded 3D technology. This strategic move could potentially cut into NVIDIA's 3D gaming market share, and possibly weaken their hold on compatible monitors. Both brands compete in the same market space, supporting 3D TVs and monitors for PC video game and movie playback, but there are benefits to each. NVIDIA develops their GeForce graphics cards for Dual-Link DVI 120Hz monitors or 3D-Ready HDTVs via HDMI, while AMD offers these same outputs with the addition of DisplayPort (DP) connectivity on their ATI Radeon product line. Although AMD's Radeon 5000-series supports 3D gaming, the Radeon 6000-series UVD3 feature further extends functionality with efficient many-core GPU-based MVC decoding as opposed to using fewer cores with a CPU. Either manufacturer's platform drives a single 3D display just fine, but multi-display 3D narrows the field.
Stereo 3D and 3D Surround are only possible with NVIDIA 3D Vision technology. Using a NVIDIA GeForce desktop video card. two dual-link DVI ports can drive stereo 3D displays. Triple-monitor ‘surround' configurations require more attention. NVIDIA's 3D Vision Surround technology spreads itself over three displays, all via dual-link DVI, and requires two matching GeForce video cards configured into an SLI set. While a second graphics card certainly adds to the cost of a 3D multi-display setup, it also boosts the graphical processing power the system requires for high-quality 3D games over multiple displays. Stereo 3D and 3D Vision Surround are enthusiast choices, and certainly not the standard.
In terms of 3D playback on HDTVs, each solution achieves the same goal in different ways. NVIDIA offers their 3DTV Play software to 3D Vision owners at no cost, while AMD defers this portion of their 3D business to exclusive middleware partners such as TriDef (Dynamic Digital Depth) who charge a premium for their software. Alternatively, GeForce users can purchase NVIDIA 3DTV Play for $40 and play content on their 3D-Ready TV without the need for a 3D Vision kit. Each option clearly has benefits over the other, but they both remain very territorial. AMD's talking point has recently been that NVIDIA 3D Vision is a closed technology that requires their self-produced eyewear and IR emitter, which is untrue. NVIDIA have been very selective with outside business opportunities to produce their shutter glasses, but this is because 3DTV Play software openly allows 3D televisions to utilize the manufacturer's own bundled eyewear. This is no different than AMD encouraging eyewear designers such as Oakley to develop and license their own 3D solutions, which they've done convincingly well I'll add, or using TriDef middleware to enable 3D gaming on the Radeon video cards in a fashion similar to NVIDIA 3DTV Play.
Since NVIDIA and AMD essentially share equal ground in regard to 3D HDTV functionality, the fight then turns to 3D gaming. AMD has enjoyed a significant head-start on DirectX-11 graphics and owns the majority DX11 market share, but in the realm of 3D gaming it's NVIDIA that holds the advantage. Games branded with The Way It's Meant To Be Played and 3D Vision Ready come optimized for 3D, specifically 3D Vision. By depending on middleware providers such as TriDef and iZ3D, it appears that AMD is relinquishing their duty to invest in 3D game optimizations and deferring it to their partners. These optimizations make a big difference, and working directly with the game developer can yield impressive 3D payback. For example, we recently discovered that the performance impact can be reduced to as little as 11% in 3D-optimized video games.
It seems doubtful that middleware vendors will finance development of 3D optimizations to the extent that NVIDIA already does, leaving dependant AMD HD3D technology to deliver less impressive special effects. Of course, being open-source helps to enlist the resources of others at no cost. AMD's quad-buffer 3D API is open source, and available to developers for free. While this might immediately challenge NVIDIA's grip on 3D, with enough time and interest it could potentially exceed it. NVIDIA licenses their 3D API, and charges a premium to partners wanting access to their quad-buffer stereo drivers. This also limits the number of developers willing or able to pay the fees, whether they're fair or not, such as we've seen with Zalman's 3D technology.
And so it begins: a 3D platform war. Will it be NVIDIA 3D Vision, AMD HD3D, or one of the many proprietary HDTV-eyewear combinations? Will it be none of these at all, and possibly allow Toshiba's eyewear-free Toshiba's perpendicular lenticular LCD solution to thrive? I've got a lot of hope for something closer to the latter because it would finally enable people with corrective lenses to participate in the excitement, but the out-of-screen results coming from the former are far more impressive. We're just reaching the front lines of this war, which means there's a long fight coming ahead for 3D technology. Money decides everything, both in terms of product value and profit margin, forcing consumers to battle manufacturers at the same time that these companies are waging their own wars with each other. In the mean time, I'm going to enjoy them all, and share my experience with you.