How To Play 3D Games on Your PC on a Tight Budget

3D is the buzzword du-jour right now, and whether you are a believer or naysayer that all future content will be delivered in 3D doesn’t really matter – some of us have been playing games in 3D for years now. I thought it was about time I let you in on the secret so you can enjoy it too.
PlayStation 3 and big expensive 3DTVs might be all hype and undelivered promises, but us PC gamers can enjoy true 3D gaming right now, compatible with all current Windows games, for a fraction of the cost. I’m here to present you with 4 budget 3D gaming options starting at the low price of free that will have you blurring the line between photo-realistic 3D games and real life to ever more terrifying depths.

This is new ground for MakeUseOf to cover, but we did show a cool website called Start3D for viewing pseudo-3D images in our directory before. Before attempting any kind of 3D gaming, you’ll need to thoroughly optimize your system as the graphic work required will be twice as much as normal!

Side-by-Side 3D with iZ3D – Free

If you thinking about the whole 3D gaming thing but aren’t quite convinced, and maybe don’t want to spend any real money on kit yet, then I suggest you get yourself motivated by playing some of your games in the free side-by-side 3D mode provided by the trial iZ3D drivers. Side-by-side 3D basically splits your monitor image in half down the middle, and when you cross your eyes, the image becomes 3D. The best way is to try it for yourself, so check out this video of someone else gaming in 3D with similar drivers, or go download them for yourself. You don’t need any special equipment, though I do suggest you only try this if you have a wide-screen monitor or your viewing area is going to be ridiculous. The iZ3D drivers work with both NVidia and ATi chipset based graphics cards.

NVidia 3DVision Glasses (~$200)

The 3DVision kit from NVidia is my personal favourite as it offers the best quality to cost ratio in my opinion. You can order online from NVidia for about $200 and there’s a huge community already established. The glasses are wireless and rechargeable by USB, and the drivers support custom profiles so you can tweak each game to get the results just right. The glasses work by flashing each eye on and off in synchronization with your monitor, and it produces a stunningly powerful 3D effect. Sadly, most LCD monitors cannot keep up with the fast refresh rates required, but in a strange twist of modern technology they do work with ancient clunky CRT monitors.
My tip – head down to the local recycling station or city dump and you’ll be able to pick up a big 21″ CRT display for free. The only thing you need to be sure of is that the monitor can handle at least 100hz refresh rates – most larger monitors were built this way and some of the smaller monitors can handle it too if they are good brands. There are also new LCDs on the market now that are compatible, but they will set you back considerably more (well, about as much as you would expect a new monitor to set you back, really). For a complete monitor and 3DVision glasses package, you’re looking at $500+.
For some, the flicker of the glasses can be a little headache inducing, so do try these out before you commit to anything. Personally, I can play games for hours on end with no ill effects, but everyone is different.

Zalman Polarized Monitors (~$400):

Zalman monitors represent a nice middle ground if you’re willing to get a new monitor, but would rather not shell out for special 3D glasses on top of that, or find the flicker too annoying. The monitors work with passive polarizing technique, which means two images are broadcast simultaneously (zero flicker) and some lightweight, non electronic glasses filter the image to each eye. I found a slight amount of bleeding between image, and the effect is not as strong as NVidia 3DVision, but I was playing on the default options only with no tweaking. You also get a pair of clip-on glasses in the package so a friend can watch you play, and they are inexpensive to purchase more if you’re in need of replacements. Another plus point for the Zalman option is that although they come with custom NVidia drivers, the monitor can also be driven by iZ3D ddrivers and are therefore the best option for ATi card owners.

DIY Dual Projectors (~$150)

The iZ3D drivers that I mentioned earlier also support a variety of other 3D output methods, one of which is two video outputs for use with a dual projector setup. In this mode, similar to iMax and other 3D theaters, each projector produces a slightly different image, and with a pair of cheap polarized glasses you can great a great 3D effect for cheap and really big-screen gaming. Obviously, you’ll need a video card with two outputs, preferably with the same connections.
There are a number of detailed tutorials already out there, but basically you will need to get 2 projectors of the same type, $5 pair of polarizing glasses (the same that Zalman monitors use) and $2 sheet of polarizing filter, as well as some silver-color spray paint and some kind of screen you can spray onto. All in, it shouldn’t cost you more than $150 if you are smart. You can get some really clunky old projectors on eBay for pennies nowadays. You will need a bit of DIY skills to build a sturdy little frame to mount them in. It’s no small undertaking, but I made a similar set up last year in a weekend for displaying 3D Google Earth content. Be prepared to do a lot of tweaking to get the setup to a usable state.
Once you taste 3D gaming though, you will never go back! A great place to keep up with 3D gaming news is the 3D Vision Blog, where they regularly post custom 3D profiles to make NVidia 3DVision games even better, and with their incredibly detailed 3D game reviews and screenshots.

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