3D Gaming Buyer's Guide

We detail what you need to purchase in order to get your 3D gaming on with the PC and console.

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Like any new technology, the 3D gaming landscape is murky. Different types of 3D technologies, multiple display requirements, and varying kinds of glasses make purchasing decisions difficult. On the most basic level, you're going to need a few things to get you going.

1. A 3D HDTV or 3D monitor
2. 3D glasses
3. A 3D-capable PC or console

We'll break down the guide into two distinct parts--console and PC. Going down the console route is comparatively simple. The PC route isn't terribly complicated, but it does require a little bit more thought.

If you want to learn more about 3D gaming in general, check out our Guide to 3D Gaming.

3D Gaming on the Console

At the moment, Sony is actively pushing 3D gaming with the PlayStation 3. The console supports 3D gaming once you've installed firmware version 3.30 and higher. There are numerous games available that support 3D, both in stores and for download from PlayStation Network. Don't forget about the Blu-ray player either--it's also capable of 3D Blu-ray playback.

Microsoft's been mostly silent on the 3D-gaming front. The Xbox 360 is certainly capable of displaying 3D visuals, and Microsoft has stated that developers are free to enable 3D content for the console. However, the decision to omit HDMI outputs on early models of the console didn't help the company in terms of compatibility. 3D visuals cannot be transferred via component, composite, or S-Video cables.

Nintendo's Wii lacks an HDMI output and is, consequently, not capable of 3D gaming in the modern sense. There are a few titles that take advantage of 3D gaming via glasses with conventional red-and-blue lens filters. Outside of the glasses, you don't need any additional hardware to play the games in 3D.

3D HDTVs

Panasonic Viera TC P50VT25 Samsung PN50C8000 LG Infinia 50PX950

There's no shortage of manufacturers rushing to fill the 3D display scene. Pretty much all the big names have models in varying sizes and price points. These three model lineups represent some of the best 3D HDTVs out on the market. They don't come particularly cheap, but then again, you won't save all that much by going with the alternatives. Panasonic's 3D HDTVs rule the roost with both excellent 2D and 3D quality and come bundled with 3D glasses. Samsung's HDTVs also provide great visual quality, but do not come bundled with glasses. The LG models feature the first THX display certification for 3D sources.

Panasonic Viera TC-PVT20/25 series - $1800 50-inch
From the CNET Review:
Superior black-level performance and excellent shadow detail; accurate primary colors in THX mode; great color saturation; effective antireflective screen; reproduces 1080p/24 cadence properly; VieraCast provides access to select Internet services and improved customization; solid 3D picture quality; includes 3D glasses.

Read more: Full Review

Samsung PNC8000 series - $1650 50-inch
From the CNET Review:
Excellent black-level performance; accurate color overall; properly handles 1080p/24 sources; excellent bright-room image for a plasma; numerous picture controls and tweaks; sleek styling with inch-deep panel; superb streaming and widget content via well-integrated Apps platform; very good 3D picture quality.

Read more: Full Review

LG PC950 series - $1350 50-inch
From the CNET Review:
Produces relatively deep black levels; accurate color overall; correctly handles 1080p/24 sources; solid 3D performance; plenty of streaming and interactive features; extensive picture controls; sleek styling with single-plane design and 2-inch-deep panel; Magic Wand remote works well.

Read more: Full Review

3D Glasses

Panasonic 3D Glasses Sony 3D Glasses XpanD 3D Glasses Sony 3D Emitter

You'll likely get one or two sets of glasses with the 3D HDTV you purchase, although some models don't have glasses bundled in, and you'll likely need more pairs if you have friends over. An extra set of glasses runs between $130 and $150, depending on the brand. As a general rule, don't futz around with trying to match different brands of glasses with different brands of TVs. If you have a Panasonic HDTV, get Panasonic glasses. Companies like XpanD also have universal glasses (which aren't entirely universal) in the marketplace for about the same price.

Should you own a 3D-ready HDTV, you'll need a 3D-sync device. Like the glasses, each company sells its own branded device. Expect to spend about $50 on the unit, although most come bundled with glasses.

Watch out for passive 3D glasses being sold in stores. The vast majority of 3D HDTVs require active glasses to function. Passive 3D glasses are currently used inside of movie theaters. Unless you're looking to get a personal set for use at a theater, these won't cut it for home use.

Cables

HDMI 1.4 Cable

You will need HDMI cables to view 3D content. If you pick up a set of HDMI 1.4 or higher rated cables, they're also referred to as high-speed cables. Don't spend an exorbitant amount of cash on the cables; anything more than $10 is money down the drain unless you're buying superlong cables. Online retailers like Monoprice and NewEgg carry the cables at fair prices.

You might also want to pick up a few USB charging cables for those glasses. Those shouldn't run you more than $1 apiece at the aforementioned online stores.

3D Gaming on the PC

3D gaming on the PC is only available to owners of AMD and Nvidia-based video cards. Onboard video solutions from companies like Intel simply don't have the horsepower. But not just any video card will cut it; 3D rendering will punch performance in the gut. Depending on the game and your settings, expect to lose as little as 20 percent and as much as 50 percent of your frame rate when you enable 3D. It almost goes without saying that running newer games in 3D requires a powerful new GPU to match. We recommend hopping up to Nvidia's newer GeForce 400 or 500 series GPUs and AMD's Radeon HD 5000 and HD 6000 series GPUs.

Nvidia hitched its wagon to its 3D Vision brand for 3D gaming and video playback. You can find 3D Vision kits retailing for about $175 to $200. The company will also sell 3DTV Play, a software product that allows Nvidia GPUs to output 3D visuals onto compatible 3D HDTVs. For more information on 3DTV Play and a list of compatible devices, click here.

AMD has no in-house offering that is analogous to Nvidia's 3D Vision. Its initiative, AMD HD3D, depends upon third-party products from iZ3D and DDD for 3D capabilities. Both solutions charge for their software. iZ3D costs $40 and DDD runs for $50, and both can be used on either Nvidia or AMD GPUs. AMD's HD3D initiative also has a list of compatible devices available here.

3D Gaming Laptops

HP Envy 17 3D Origin EON 15-3D Asus G51J 3D

The simplest way through the thicket of 3D incompatibilities on the PC is to pick up a 3D-gaming laptop. Everything you need will come bundled with the system. However, you will be limited to a 15 or 17-inch screen at best.

We've listed a few notable 3D-gaming laptops above. To help weed out some of the weaker options, look for laptops that have Radeon HD 5800 series GPUs or higher and Nvidia GeForce 460M GPUs and better. You'll find a few models out there paired with weaker GPUs that will hamstring you right from the get-go.

3D Monitors and HDTVs

LG W2363D Acer GD23Hzbid Zalman ZM240W Alienware OptX AW2310 Asus VG236H Viewsonic V3D241wm-LED

Both Nvidia and AMD have their own list of 3D-gaming-compatible monitors and HDTVs. All of the 3D HDTVs we mentioned in the console section are on both lists. You can also find a number of 3D-gaming monitors on the market. Sadly, most of the displays are 23 inches and smaller. To get a truly immersive experience, you're going to want to game on a larger 3D HDTV.

The lone outlier of the bunch is the Zalman ZM240W. It's a 60Hz LCD that makes use of passive 3D glasses. It's only meant for use as an AMD-based solution. The rest of the monitors use 120Hz panels.

Glasses

Nvidia 3D Vision

Nvidia's the main game in town for its own set of glasses. They are about $175 to $200 if purchased separately, but you can find monitor and video card bundles that lower the hurdle a bit.

AMD's list of compatible devices is pretty short when it comes to 3D monitors and glasses. Of the three models listed, one has been discontinued. The remaining two models come from Zalman and Viewsonic, both come bundled with a set of glasses. AMD's list of compatible 3D HDTVs is quite long though, and those make use of manufacturer specific glasses, as we mentioned in the console section.

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