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CES 2009: NVIDIA

Posted by: John at 1/12/2009 12:00 AM
Even though I’ve been to CES four times in the past, I’ve never met with NVIDIA before. All my meetings with them were at E3 so it was nice to be able to reconnect with the green folks here in Las Vegas.

Let me say that the most impressive thing I’ve seen as a gamer at this year’s CES comes from NVIDIA. At their booth and at a satellite both, they were touting their GeForce 3D Vision kit. The video presentation I was treated to had demos from movies to games. Seeing the beginning of Star Wars Episode IV with the star destroyer shooting at the rebel ship and C3PO and R2D2 roaming the halls in 3D looked amazing. It even made the beginning chase scene with the vehicles in Episode II exciting, that is until Hayden delivered some of the corny dialogue in the movie. After a few more scenes, I was treated to some game footage. The ones that impressed me the most are Left 4 Dead and World of Warcraft. I’ll go into more detail about Left 4 Dead in a little bit but the part I saw in World of Warcraft had a person in full armor with a long sword standing and what was really cool was the sword jumped out of the screen at you. Like those 3D movies you see, I was tempted to just reach out and wave my hand through it. The 8 minute presentation showed impressive effects and what could be accomplished with the setup.

For 3D vision, you’ll need the kit of course which contains glasses and a puck controller. There’s only one pair of glasses in the kit and I asked about purchasing more for family members and friends who want to view the content with you. The NVIDIA rep was surprised at how many people were asking him about that so I’m hoping that because of the amount of inquiries, we’ll see a new bundle with more glasses or just the ability to purchase the glasses individually in the near future. The glasses are powered so you’ll have to connect them via a mini-USB connector to charge them up. They should last 40 hours in a single charge and take about a few hours to fully charge up. If you’ve been to 3D movies in the past that used powered glasses, you probably had those huge sets that were heavy and bulky. The GeForce 3D Vision glasses are light and comfortable. They are almost sunglasses in shape and I found them to be unobtrusive to wear.

A little puck controls the 3D as well as emits the IR needed for the glasses to work correctly. You can adjust the depth of the 3D effect as well as turn 3D on or off with a simple push of a button. When I first started out playing Left 4 Dead, it was in regular 2D mode. As soon as the NVIDIA rep hit the button, the effect was so dramatic I was taken aback by what I saw. The beginning of Blood Harvest transformed from a flat 2D view of the forest to an incredible view where you thought the road did go back towards the screen in a lifelike fashion and the different trees had various depths making them look like real 3D objects. It’s hard to describe and you really have to see it with your own eyes to appreciate how well it looked.

My one concern was eye strain as I’ve viewed a few movies where I would get dizzy or headaches from the shuttering of each lense. The system will only work with compatible monitors that are 120Hz which the technology then makes it 60Hz per eye. By having it displayed at that refresh rate, eye strain is eliminated so you should be able to wear these for long periods without any issues. While I was only able to use them with the longest session being eight minutes, I had no problems during or afterwards when I took the glasses off. I can’t comment for sure that I didn’t experience any problems until I have a lot more time with the product nor can I say that with other people as everyone is different but NVIDIA is confident that you should be fine with long exposure with the product.

Left 4 Dead was my demo of choice and seeing the 3D effects really enhanced the gaming experience. I loved the fact the HUD looked like it floated off the screen and blood splatter stuck on a plane that was in front of the action taking place. While the zombies won’t reach out at you, NVIDIA has asked Valve to create a patch to enable this in the game. We’ll see if it does come to fruition but I’d love to be able to experience that with the game.

Not only am I excited about games but movies as well. Just seeing the Bolt trailer and the Star Wars scenes had me really wishing that the movie companies would start converting some of their great action hits to 3D. Imagine having that theater experience right at home where characters literally leap off the screen.

I could go on and on but I’ll save the rest for the review when it comes out. The GeForce 3D Vision kit will be compatible with GeForce 8800 cards and up and a few companies are releasing monitors that will be supported. The game also needs a profile setup just like SLI but NVIDIA has plenty of them done already for popular and past games. You’ll get roughly a 30% decrease in performance with the feature on but from what I saw it’s definitely worth it. Let’s face it, the two major video card companies can go back and forth on performance and who has the fastest card but NVIDIA is offering something completely new in terms of experience. If there’s one product that’s got me really excited, this is it.

A quick note of the rest of the booth, NVIDIA had some demos of their PhysX acceleration technology with Mirror’s Edge on display on both a desktop and laptop computer. It looks pretty sweet and should really add some great eye candy if you have the hardware. The Atom-based computer looked so small yet holds plenty of horse power to let you play games at lower resolution and drive HD content. Finally, I’m a big mobile user so I had an up close look at Tegra and I was really impressed by the power the tiny unit containing Tegra had. It was hooked up to a monitor via HDMI so imagine having a cell phone hooked to your HD TV and playing HD content without any issues.

Overall, I had a great time at the NVIDIA booth and was really impressed by everything they presented to me. I can’t wait to get my hands on the GeForce 3D Vision Kit and immerse myself in FPS and RTS games where I feel like I’m actually in the world. As I said, I think this is the best thing hands down that I saw in respect to gaming and I’m anxious to see it action in my home.