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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 5 Solid Tweaks to Optimize Your Computer For Gaming 5 Solid Tweaks to Optimize Your Computer For Gaming If your computer doesn't handle games like it used to, it might just need some quick maintenance. Here are five ways any PC gamer can improve their machine's performance. Read More 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.

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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 MTBS3D.com with their incredibly detailed 3D game reviews and screenshots.

Convinced, but not sure what the best option for you is? Ask in the comments. Let us know if you’re running a 3D setup yourself, or if you’ve got your 3DTV hooked up for gaming, as I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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  1. James Bruce
    January 7, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Tehnically yes, they are "just" LCD shutter glasses. Don't forget you'll need a compatible monitor or hulking old CRT one.

    I've never tried playing an FPS in side by side mode, but I have watched various videos on youtube 3D in side by side. I think maybe people who hate magic-eye will probably not get on with thee technique so well!

  2. Guille
    January 7, 2011 at 7:24 am

    I think that Side-by-side 3D is even worse than red/cyan anaglyph 3D. It looks great and doesn't mess up the colors but, only if you are looking a still image and only for less than 1 minute. Your eyes try to focus and you need to consciously force-focus on the third image. I dare you stare cross-eyed that picture, I can't even imagine that on a fast moving FPS

    I'm really tempted with the nV 3D glasses... are they just lcd shutter glasses?

    • James Bruce
      January 7, 2011 at 9:08 am

      Tehnically yes, they are "just" LCD shutter glasses. Don't forget you'll need a compatible monitor or hulking old CRT one.

      I've never tried playing an FPS in side by side mode, but I have watched various videos on youtube 3D in side by side. I think maybe people who hate magic-eye will probably not get on with thee technique so well!

  3. Guille
    January 7, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I think that Side-by-side 3D is even worse than red/cyan anaglyph 3D. It looks great and doesn't mess up the colors but, only if you are looking a still image and only for less than 1 minute. Your eyes try to focus and you need to consciously force-focus on the third image. I dare you stare cross-eyed that picture, I can't even imagine that on a fast moving FPS

    I'm really tempted with the nV 3D glasses... are they just lcd shutter glasses?

  4. Arc73
    December 24, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    I hope not all games go 3d.
    I dont want to have to buy the glasses and i would get a headache or have a seizure after the first five minutes

    • James Bruce
      December 31, 2010 at 6:32 pm

      All games are already 3D! You will always have the option of not viewing them in 3D though. ...

  5. Arc73
    December 24, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    I hope not all games go 3d.
    I dont want to have to buy the glasses and i would get a headache or have a seizure after the first five minutes

  6. Ben Webb
    December 20, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    It is really amazing to play in 3D. It is like you are in there especially if you ought to play the first person games. But to add more fun to3D, your monitor must be big.

    • James Bruce
      December 31, 2010 at 6:32 pm

      or sit closer?

  7. James Bruce
    December 20, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Good point Sneakily, but I decided not to mention them in the article as I'm a bit of a 3D snob, and red/blue isn't "real 3D". I think the whole red/blue thing never really caught off precisely because the effect simply isn't that great, and the color is messed up.

    Though you're right about nvidia drivers supporting it (even the standard non-3d drivers? I didnt know that) - Arkham Asylum was a special 3D release and not related to Nvidia, I didn't think. The red/blue 3D mode of arkham asylum can be viewed on any machine, nvidia or not (as far as I know). By the way, Arkham Asylum was my test game when I was playing around with the Zalman polarized solution and was *really* awesome - that game just lends it self to 3d-ness!

  8. sneakily1
    December 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Just go purchase some cheap $5 Anaglyphs if you own an Nvidia card and you're good to go. There's 3D built into the drivers and most modern games support it. Just setup the stereoscopic 3D in the Ndivia control panel. Batman Arkham Asylum is one of my favs for this.

    • James Bruce
      December 20, 2010 at 5:11 pm

      Good point Sneakily, but I decided not to mention them in the article as I'm a bit of a 3D snob, and red/blue isn't "real 3D". I think the whole red/blue thing never really caught off precisely because the effect simply isn't that great, and the color is messed up.

      Though you're right about nvidia drivers supporting it (even the standard non-3d drivers? I didnt know that) - Arkham Asylum was a special 3D release and not related to Nvidia, I didn't think. The red/blue 3D mode of arkham asylum can be viewed on any machine, nvidia or not (as far as I know). By the way, Arkham Asylum was my test game when I was playing around with the Zalman polarized solution and was *really* awesome - that game just lends it self to 3d-ness!

      • sneakily1
        December 20, 2010 at 6:25 pm

        yeah it's certainly not theater quality... but for someone on a tight budget who wants something different and cool, the effect is still very cool. Works with AA, Prototype, Unreal 3, Left 4 Dead 2... whole bunch of titles. Again, not optimal... but if you're poor it works.

  9. AMAZING WEBSITES AND PROJECTS
    December 19, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    clearly, the future of cheap 3D will be based on polarized display and glasses

    • James Bruce
      December 20, 2010 at 5:12 pm

      For the mass 3D market perhaps, but I do hope they don't win out at home. I still think active shutter glasses give the best quality!