Nintendo 3DS? Pfft. 3D on your PC is cheaper than ever.

, | Games

The Nintendo 3DS is right around the corner. March 27, people! Pre-order yours for only $250! Plus the price of whatever games you’re going to get. What else are you going to do with your tax refund check? Upgrade your PC?

Oh, wait, come to think of it, they have 3D on PCs (Pictured? Is that supposed to be Just Cause 2?). Today Nvidia hopes to remind you of that fact by dropping the price of the Nvidia 3D Vision from $200 to $150. This is basically a pair of battery powered glasses that work with special drivers to make almost any game play in 3D. I used this thing pretty extensively for a review about a year ago.

After the jump, I’ll tell you if the Nvidia 3D Vision is worth it.

The set up is quick and painless. The part before the set up isn’t. The first order of business is that you need a monitor capable of 120 Hz. You probably don’t have one. Here’s the list where you can check. So go sort that out before you even think of doing step two. Figure on spending about $300 if you need to buy a compatible monitor. You’ll also need an Nvidia graphics cards no older than their 8000 series. Finally, it seems that graphics drivers don’t officially support Windows XP, so neglect to upgrade your OS at your own risk.

Once you’ve verified all that, it gets really easy really fast. Step two is to get the Geforce 3D Vision Kit for $200*. Yeah, I know. $200*. That’s not the easy part. The easy part comes once you’ve laid out the cash and have the box in your hands and a computer that’s compatible. Now for the easy part: you plug an IR emitter into a USB port, install the graphics drivers on your computer, put on the glasses, and start pretty much any game. Voila! You’re gaming in 3D! Pretty cool, huh?

I know what you’re thinking. “Pretty much any game?” The magic of Nvidia’s 3D Vision is how well it interacts with games even when the games aren’t specifically built for the technology. You can browse a list here to see how well different games are supported. But the basic rule seems to be that if it’s a newer game, it’s a safe bet that it’s going to work.

There are exceptions. The latest Call of Juarez, for instance, doesn’t know what to do with shadows, so it ends up looking really weird. Although it was promoted as being built for Nvidia’s 3D Vision, Bioshock 2 is completely unsupported, with visual glitches and a broken crosshair that make the game unplayable. In cases like these, it’s no hassle to hit a hotkey to disable 3D on the fly.

[Note that this review was written a year ago. Since then, I haven’t tested many (any?) games, so I have no idea whether Bioshock 2 was patched. Given 2K’s post-release support, particularly for the PC version, I’m going to guess it wasn’t.]

Then there are games that technically work, but don’t necessarily work well aesthetically. Any game that relies heavily on a HUD display can be weird. Section 8, for instance, which superimposes HUD elements over enemies and features lots of floating information displays, looks strange. Napoleon: Total War looks really out of sorts with the unit flags hovering at the level of your monitor’s glass while the units they’re supposed to indicate live deeper inside the game. As much as I love what it does for the look of the world in a graphically rich MMO like Star Trek Online or Lord of the Rings Online, I can’t recommend 3D for actually playing an information-heavy MMO. The disconnect between the buttons, the numbers, and the world is just too much. But if you’re just going to fly around or go for a ride, it’s a great option. I love toggling off the interface, switching on the 3D, and galloping across the Shire in Lord of the Rings Online. With the music turned up, of course.

But here’s where a lot of newer games really come into their own. Shooters are increasingly pushing immersiveness by eliminating or minimizing HUD elements. Resident Evil 5, Modern Warfare 2, Left 4 Dead 2, and Batman: Arkham Asylum all look fantastic because you’re mostly looking at the action through an open and uncluttered screen. Racing games look fantastic. Need for Speed: Shift really comes to life. It might be my imagination, but I’m pretty sure I have an easier time gauging the separation between my car and another car, or between my car and the wall. If you spend any substantial amount of time with these games, you’re going to get your $200’s worth.

Finally, there’s the question of comfort. The glasses are not a problem. They’re big enough to fit over any eyeglasses you might need to wear to play a videogame. And they’re comfortable enough that after you’ve been playing a game, you might accidentally walk around wearing them on your face, or perched on your head. If that happens, depending on how well you carry the sunglasses look, people will likely think they’re your sunglasses and you’re a guy who wears big sunglasses.

But the more problematic issues are eye strain and nausea. I stare at computer monitors for hours on end. But for some reason, playing a game in 3D for more than an hour or so is difficult. My eyes start to hurt. I can even get a bit of a headache. I have to turn off the 3D and go back to a 2D display for a while. That doesn’t happen to me in 3D movies, so I’m not sure why it’s the case in a videogame. Perhaps because of the level of interactivity, or because I’m so much closer to a monitor? Furthermore, some of my friends who can easily play a shooter with no ill effects have reported getting nauseated while playing videogames in 3D.

So there you have it. I realize I haven’t made the decision any easier, but if you have the hardware, if you can spare the expense, if you play the right kinds of games, and if you’re not prone to nausea – those are some big ifs! – then you might be ready for 3D videogaming. It’s certainly ready for you. And thanks to Avatar, it’s not going away any time soon.

* Now only $150!