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3D Mode

The SyncMaster SA950 comes with a pair of active shutter glasses. The shutters block the viewer’s eyes alternately, like with Nvidia’s 3D Vision technology, but neither the monitor nor the glasses are compatible with 3D Vision.

First of all, the switching mechanism is different. With the 3D Vision glasses, each lens opens for a short period of time while most of the time both lenses are absolutely black. Samsung uses the opposite approach: the lenses are both open most of the time and close alternately during the small periods of time when the monitor is displaying an image for one or the other eye.

Of course, it means that the monitor must not display anything when the lenses are both open. Indeed, the SA950 displays a black frame then. The next diagram illustrates the behavior of the monitor and the glasses:

Why did they choose that approach? Well, Samsung’s engineers must have implemented this via-black switching in order to keep the response time as low as possible. Keeping the response time low is important to avoid the left- and right-eye images from merging with each other, and it is a known fact that halftone transitions are generally slower than transitions from black or into black.

The result isn’t quite perfect, though.

First, the subjective perception of the flickering of the glasses (each lens is switching at a frequency of 60 Hz, which is quite conspicuous) is similar to that of Nvidia’s 3D Vision. The flickering can be put up with, yet it is still rather annoying. We may only get rid of it if the manufacturers transition to higher refresh rates, like 160 to 200 Hz.

Second, Nvidia’s glasses are dark (the lenses open up for just a few milliseconds) and the compatible monitor is bright (always displaying the picture). As opposed to that, Samsung’s glasses are bright (open most of the time) and the compatible monitor is dark (showing a black screen mostly). As a result, it is less comfortable to play with the SA950 in daytime than with 3D Vision compatible monitors because the brightness of its screen is rather low compared to the ambient brightness. According to my measurements, the average screen brightness of the SA950 in 3D mode is only about 77 nits.

Third, the SA950 is almost free from the image doubling effect. Although some shadows can be noticed in certain scenes, the monitor generally manages to switch between frames during the time the glasses are dark. This is its obvious advantage.

Overall, Nvidia’s technology seems to be somewhat preferable. Other things being similar, 3D Vision glasses and monitors work better in daylight.

The software aspect of the two 3D imaging systems differs as well. Nvidia uses its own driver which supports only Nvidia-based graphics cards. Samsung prefers the more versatile TriDef driver:

Alas, it is not 100% compatible with graphics cards. The TriDef driver only supports the 120Hz refresh rate and frame alteration on AMD’s graphics cards of the Radeon HD 5000 series or newer. Nvidia-based and older AMD/ATI cards are supported in the Side-by-Side mode at a refresh rate of 60 Hz, which effectively cuts the horizontal resolution by half. The SA950's native resolution of 1920x1080 transforms into a 960x1080 image shown to each eye. The good news is that this mode supports any graphics card.

Like 3D Vision, TriDef can convert nearly all of video games into a 3D-friendly format on the fly. There is a special application called Game Launcher for that.

The TriDef driver cannot identify automatically that a game has been launched, so you have to add your games into Game Launcher and start them from there.

The driver settings aren’t numerous. There is a list of hotkeys for changing 3D mode settings right from the game.

Another downside, besides making you use Game Launcher, is that TriDef doesn’t communicate with the monitor. It only delivers video in a required format at the graphics card output and you have to switch the monitor into 3D mode manually, by pressing a button. This must be due to the driver being developed by a third party because it wouldn't be difficult for Samsung to implement a DDC command for switching the monitor into a necessary 3D mode. But it's harder to convince TriDef to add a whole new DDC module which is currently necessary for only one client. Hopefully, this problem will be solved in newer versions of the driver and the monitor will learn to automatically switch into 3D mode whenever a game is launched.

The TriDef driver is necessary for games only. If you want to watch video, and it's already in a 3D format, you only have to maximize its window to the full screen and enable an appropriate 3D mode in the monitor. You can watch 3D clips from YouTube in this manner, for example. The downside is the lack of decoding of anaglyphic 3D. Processing video content through color filters in real time seems to be beyond the capabilities of today’s monitor processors.

Besides all that, the SyncMaster SA950 features an integrated 3D processor capable of transforming a 2D image into 3D. You can enable it from the onscreen menu of 3D modes. Its quality isn't high, though. The processor has no information about the depth of the scene, so it has to make its guesses about that, and not always successfully. For example, you can enable the 3D processor right in the OS desktop and see the program windows go wavy. Any change in the picture, for example an animated banner in the web-browser or a newly opened window, can instantly change the whole scene. You can try this in movies or games, but I don’t think you’ll want to do this twice. Besides producing a weird-looking picture, the incessant and unnatural changes in the depth of the scene may strain your eyes and even cause a headache.

When in 3D mode, the monitor always has a refresh rate of 120 Hz and alternates frames. Otherwise, the glasses would flicker too much. The processor’s task is to split the video stream arriving at the monitor’s input into two separate streams for the left and right eyes and to display them alternately with a resulting refresh rate of 120 Hz. In other words, your graphics card doesn’t have to produce 120 frames per second in the Top-Bottom and Side-by-Side modes because the monitor will transform the picture and double the frame rate automatically in 3D mode.

Summing up this section of the review, I must acknowledge that, despite certain shortcomings, the 3D capabilities of the SyncMaster SA950 are good overall. There were no problems with half a dozen games and three graphics cards (including a very old Radeon X1650) I tried it with. The 3D image quality was excellent. The glossy screen coating together with the low brightness of the monitor was the only and not very serious problem for me.

Now let's check out the other technical aspects of the SyncMaster SA950.

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