The Z-axis. Its function is far more important in life than most people would ever give it credit for.
Anyone who knows how tall they are, and I assume that's all of us, will know all about the Y-axis. Got to take something off the top shelf for a person not quite as tall as you, that'll be the Y-axis.
The X-axis is equally a part of all of our lives. It's 3 miles to the supermarket? That's the X-axis. Your room is 15' long? X-Axis again. Anyone who has ever done basic mathmatics and plotted stuff on graphs understands the X and Y axis.
In display terms we're so familiar with it we don't even think of them as axes anymore. Full-HD is 1080p, and the 1080 is the value of the Y-axis resolution. When we look at monitors, or improving our frame-rates, we deal with figures like 1280x1024 or 1680x1050 as normally as we deal with our keyboards.
But the poor old Z-axis is much maligned. Z-axis is all about depth. Distance away from you in 3D space. It first appeared in our lives with games such as BattleZone. This allowed us to move into the screen, and rotate. However because we didn't have the ability to move up and down, it was still a 2-axis game. Moving on a few years and ID brought us the seminal Wolfenstein 3D and later on Doom. These were the first two games in which the concept of moving into the screen was brought into the mainstream and they are lauded as revolutionary. Once again though they didn't take advantage of up and down. We had to wait for Quake to give the masses a game that allowed you full movement in 3D space.
So what has this all got to do with a monitor?
Monitors are, like televisions and suchlike, still 2D devices. Sure you may have the effect of moving into the screen along the Z-axis with your FPS games or whatever, but you aren't really aware of it because your brain is still processing a 2D image. You can tell the other enemy is far away because it's smaller that the one hitting you with a chainsaw, but you can't really tell how far away, and never really feel like you're occupying the same world as it.
All that changed a while ago with the introduction of stereoscopic 3D technology. We'll explain more about that later on, but the important thing is that early monitors capable of handling the refresh rate necessary to handle it were limited to 1680x1050. Most people when given the choice between a high resolution or a emerging technology chose the resolution. The rest of us sat and waited for monitors to be sufficiently high calibre to supply us with both the 3D 120hz aspect and the high resolutions we demand.
Asus have brought out the VG236H which is a full-HD monitor supporting the 120hz we need for the stereoscopic effect to work, and that is the subject of today's review.
|TFT-LCD Panel||Panel Size: 23" (58.4cm) Wide Screen |
Color Shine Technology
True Resolution: 1920X1080
Pixel Pitch: 0.265mm
Brightness(Max): 400 cd/㎡
Contrast Ratio (Max.): 100000 :1
Display Color: 16.7M
Viewing Angle (CR≧10): 170°(H) /160°(V)
Response Time: 2 ms
|Video Features||Trace Free Technology|
SPLENDID Video Preset Modes (5 modes)
Skin-Tone Selection (3 mode)
Color Temperature Selection(5 modes)
|Convenient Hotkey||SPLENDID Video Preset Mode Selection|
|Input / Output||PC Input: Dual-link DVI-D (support NVIDIA 3D Vision)|
Video Input: Component(YPbPr)/HDMI
AV Audio Input: HDMI
|Signal Frequency||Analog Signal Frequency: 24~140 KHz(H)/ 50~122 Hz(V) |
Digital Signal Frequency: 24~83 KHz(H)/ 50~85 Hz(V)
|Power Consumption||Power Consumption < 60 W |
Power Saving Mode < 2 W
|Mechanical Design||Chassis Colors: Black|
VESA Wall Mounting: 100x100mm
|Accessory||Dual-link DVI cable|
Quick start guide
Nvidia 3D Vision Kit
As you can see we've got a 23 inch, 1920x1080 monitor with a TN panel that supports all the usual Asus features and has a decent amount of connectivity.
So let's take a look up close shall we.
A Close Look
First and foremost let's take a look at the VG236H itself. Given that most things are still incompatible with 3D technology and those that are still require an excellent display, this is by far the most important part of the package. Even if it's the one that requires the least explanation within todays review.
If you read my review of the Asus VW266H monitor a couple of weeks back will remember that the stand was quite a letdown on an otherwise good monitor. We have no such issues here as the stand provided with the VG236H is excellent. The base, which we'll see in a moment, has rotation built in. The stand has the, ahem, standard tilt control. But we also have height adjustment. This is unlocked by removing the pin you can see at the bottom of the stand on the photograph to the left. The height adjustment is very smooth indeed.
When it comes to inputs we have the major three you're likely to need. HDMI and DVI are almost a given in modern times, and we also have the image parts of the component input. As the VG236H doesn't have speakers there is no need for the left and right phono jacks.
Shiny! If there is one word that can describe the bezel and stand of the monitor it's shiny. All of it is covered in a piano black finish which is amazing to look at an a complete dust and fingerprint magnet. At the base of the stand we have a big 3D logo and around the outside quite a wordy little explanation of the monitor and its main selling point. It's strange to see because once you've spent your £400 on the monitor do you really need to be constantly reminded of what you've brought?
On the bottom right we have an identical button layout to that which we saw on the VW266H and so I wont reiterate it here. Suffice to say it's the stock Asus adjustments, On-Screen Display and Splendid modes available on all the Asus range.
If there is one huge flaw in the design, it's that the piano black effect has been continued onto the screen itself. It's amazingly shiny, like a black mirror. It's so bad I've had to manually darken the screen in this photo to save you the horrors of seeing your erstwhile reviewer in his shorts taking the photo. The screen itself is actually as reflective as the bezel.
On the rear we have a 100mm VESA mounting should you wish to use your own stand. Thankfully the quality of the supplied one is such that this is unlikely. It's great to finally see an ergonomic stand supplied with a monitor, although unfortunately as this is a £400 monitor it does back up my earlier comment that the main way you can tell the difference between a cheap and mid-range monitor is the quality of the stand. Although I do accept that the inclusion of the nVidia 3D Vision kit does increase the price beyond what we'd normally expect to pay for a TN panel.
Along with the monitor we have two substantial weighty tomes and two CDs. One provides the monitor drivers and the other is for the nVidia 3D part.
Before you blanch in horror at having such massive manuals for monitors, they cover just about every language on earth and between the two of them combined there are only 5 pages in English.
3D Vision Contents
I don't think anyone will doubt who manufactures the 3D Vision that Asus provide with the VG236H. That nVidia green is could be used as a signal if you happen to end up on a desert island. The box is very compact with everything of good quality cardboard.
Inside are two compartments. The "lid" of the box contains two USB leads, one 10 foot long one to charge the glasses and a 6 foot one to attach the IR transmitter to your PC. It also contains the nVidia welcome and quick start guides along with a microfibre cloth for cleaning your glasses. Finally in the top section we have some alternative nose pieces should you find the default ones uncomfortable.
The glasses and transmitter themselves are well packed in some very dense foam that will ensure they arrive in mint condition and can be stored securely.
The transmitter itself has a few cool features. Firstly we have the obligatory warning sticker that ensures you install the drivers prior to attaching it to the PC. Once that is moved you can see the mini-USB port that connects it to the computer. A scroll wheel and a 3D sync adorn the back and an on-off button is on the front (here hidden) should you want to turn it off in the middle of a gaming session. Quite why you would we don't know because it turns the glasses off so all you see is the very very blurry image that makes this review so difficult. Because we can't show you something you can't see without the glasses.
Going back to the 3D Sync in this is an industry standard to enable the nVidia 3D Vision glasses to be used with a compatible television or projector and receive the signal from it that it is ready to display the next frame. This is a stroke of genius as it allows your 3D Vision kit to be used with a compatible television rather than needing to purchase a separate set of glasses, should you wish to use your computer to stream your movies to the television, or indeed game on a massive television.
The "Scroll wheel" actually enables on-the-fly adjustments of the amount of stereo depth you get. By and large the default settings are perfect for just about everything but if you really want to play about and make things look very deep, or if your brain needs a larger or smaller stereo effect to merge the images successfully then you can do it without the very fiddly load, quit, adjust, load, test, quit, load procedure that would otherwise be necessary.
Finally the glasses themselves. These are a marvel of miniaturisation as they contain the on-off button, the 40 hour battery, the USB recharge connection and the electronics necessary to work all within an exceptionally light package. If, like me, your eyesight is less than perfect without glasses then you'll be pleased to note that these will comfortably fit over most glasses without being either uncomfortable, unwieldy or generally a pain. If you've got Elton John or Dame Edna style glasses you might encounter some issues, but for the standard modern style they fit perfectly.
Phew. So we know what Asus provide in the packaging for the VG236H monitor. But how does this 3D thing work anyway?
How Does 3D Work?
If you're of a certain age then you probably have memories of Tomorrows World and their demonstration of what is now called Anaglyph 3D.
For those of you who are too young to remember, or had better things to do than watch Judith Hann, Anaglyph 3D is the famous red and cyan glasses that came free with your Sunday Paper/box of Rice Krispies/Beano.
These worked by using opposing colours and a pair of glasses with a filter so that one eye saw one part of the image and the other eye saw the other section. These would then be combined in your brain to produce a single image with slight 3D properties, as below.
However there is one obvious drawback with this method. Despite looking like a fool with your multicoloured specs, the colour of the image is hugely compromised. The other aspect is that it's far more suited to having stuff pointed at you, than supplying any depth. So your brain comprehends the image itself as the back-plane, and then everything else is in front of it. This is why if you've ever seen any Anaglyph 3D programs or movies you find they are packed full of waving feather dusters, sharks jumping towards you and similar cheap tricks.
Stereoscopic 3D is the method adopted by all major movie companies now, and nVidia with their 3D Vision. This is pretty much the exact opposite of Anaglyph technology. Whereas the Anaglyph glasses can be used by anyone and the images displayed on any television or monitor, Stereoscopic technology is expensive and requires swathes of specialist technology to provide the effect. Anaglyph gives a terrible quality image with distorted colours, Stereoscopic 3D is pin sharp and gives amazing colour reproduction. The image you see is as good as the source, rather than greatly compromised.
Instead of having slightly offset images within a single image, like the cactus above, Stereoscopic 3D has two offset images side by side as in the image below. In fact if you are capable of the cross-eye method of magic eye viewing you can see the 3D yourself using the large version of this. Not that I recommend ever crossing your eyes.
So we know what it is, how does the Stereoscopic work?
Depth perception is provided by our eyes being slightly apart and so they both see a slightly different image. By combining these our brain can quickly triangulate the distance of everything and so we have a sense of depth. Objects much nearer our eyes have images much further apart than objects far away. Cue the Father Ted "Dougal, these are very small but those are far away" speech.
You can quickly test this right now so what I'm saying is clearer. Face the centre of your room, extend your arm and raise your palm. If you close your eyes alternately you notice that your eyes see vastly different views of your hand compared to objects on the other side of room. The other way to understand it is to keep both eyes open and place your hand at the end of your nose covering one eye. You can see the screen still but have a 'ghost' image of your hand as well. So if you close your eyes alternately you see your hand or the screen.
Now hopefully you can see how amazingly powerful our brain is at combining what each of our eyes see to provide us with a single view, despite each of our eyes seeing something very different. This power is exactly what is used with Stereoscopic 3D.
The secret is the reason that the monitors are so expensive. Most monitors refresh the screen at 60hz, so they provide an image every 1/60th of a second. This is exactly why having a frame-rate higher than 60fps is vital for V-Sync, and also why any frame-rate above 60fps should be used to improve image quality because it's "lost" as the monitor can never display it.
3D capable monitors need to refresh on a 120hz cycle, so providing a new image every 1/120th of a second. The IR emitter then sends a signal to the glasses to alternate each lens between opaque and transparent so each eye still receives the requisite 60 images a second, depending upon which image for which eye is being provided by the monitor at any given time.
Because this can then be manipulated by the drivers to adjust how far apart each part of the image is, and therefore where your brain perceives it to be, not only can we have stuff popping out to us as it always has but the major thing we get is depth. So instead of having a flat image with objects appearing on top of it, we have an image that appears to stretch into infinity, and also objects in front of the monitor too.
Anyone who has been and seen a 3D movie in the cinema will understand, and hopefully those of you who haven't had the pleasure now understand a little better at how the effect is achieved.
If there is one element of 3D that is impossible to get around, it's the horsepower necessary to run it. It's definitely possible to use lesser hardware if all you want to do is watch films or use it for viewing 3D photographs, but for gaming you need every last ounce of power available.
Because the graphics card has to render both a left and right eye image you instantly double your overheads. So whereas once you might require 60fps to get a rock steady image, now you need to be able to provide 120 frames per second to achieve the same effect utilising 3D. Thankfully one of the benefits is that because the images appear much more realistic it lessens the need for such heavy anti-aliasing and so you can recoup some of the power needed by using lower settings.
Nonetheless we wanted to make sure we had as much power available as we could, and to this end our test setup was as follows :
Asus P7P55D Motherboard
Intel i7-870 overclocked to 3.8GHz
4GB G.Skill RAM
Windows 7 64-bit
Asus VG236H monitor and 3D Vision
Here is definitely an occasion where my wordsmithing skills are tested to the absolute limit. Normally when reviewing a monitor we can show you a couple of screenshots to get a feel for the quality of the image you can expect. This does of course have the problem that you're looking at it on your monitor. Anybody who has seen the advert for the Sharp TV with Mr Sulu extolling the virtues of RBGY technology will understand the exact problem.
However because it's impossible to take a photograph of 3D, and the glasses do alter the image quality slightly, then I have to rely solely upon words to get the point across. This is made even harder as 3D is one of those things that until you've seen it, you can't fully appreciate it.
This is easily one of the most mind-blowing aspects to the whole 3D setup. It's possible to produce, using special cameras or some very exacting photography skills, a stereo image and then view it on the VG236H using the glasses to see it in 3D. When OC3D were invited to London for the nVidia presentation on 3D technology by far the most impressive usage was in photographs.
The benefits over a standard photograph are fantastic.
Firstly you get the brilliant quality that we have come to expect from high-resolution digital images these days, ensuring that every detail is captured. The VG236H does a great job in displaying these with well reproduced colours and, thanks to its good pixels per inch courtesy of a high resolution in a sensible sized monitor, the details are sharp.
But the real star of the show is the 3D itself. With some clever subject choice it is possible to have elements clearly in front of the screen, others deep down the Z-axis, and the whole thing has the extra element of being able to move your head and look around the shot to some degree. This really gives a feeling of being there and so photographs which were once more of a memory jogger than a sense of being there, now become a teleport back to that place and time.
The application of this for holiday photos or scenery is sparkling, but to be able to have photographs of loved ones that can really make you feel like they are there with you is unparalleled. It makes me sad this technology wasn't around when my daughter was young or my grandparents were alive.
Because it's a still image you are much more focused on the small details than on the movement or focusing on not dying like you are with a film or game, so it really allows the Asus VG236H to shine. If you aren't lucky enough to own a 3D capable camera (and that'll be almost everyone) then nVidia actually provide a selection on the CD that accompanies the Asus VG236H, with even more available on their site.
Films and other Media
Most of you will have become aware of 3D technology primarily through its introduction into the world of the movies via titles like Avatar and Coraline. Curiously this is actually the weakest of the three applications of 3D technology.
Photographs take something we've always been aware of and transform it almost beyond recognition. Gaming has always required a large amount of imagination and so to find yourself even more immersed than you normally are really changes the way you play and how much adrenaline you find coursing through your veins.
Films though have always had phenomenally talented cinematographers and cameramen to provide sweeping vistas that work around the limitations of the medium. After all nobody believed there were any limitations. There are two main ways in which you can view films in 3D. The first is obviously to have a film that has been specifically designed for 3D and play it via the Asus VG236H to see it in all its splendour. The second method is to use a program to fiddle behind the scenes and provide a pseudo 3D effect. CyberLink PowerDVD is one such program.
As I spend my life reviewing all the latest hardware for you my dear Overclock3D.net readers, I haven't actually been to the cinema to see a 3D film and so to see one in all its glory is quite something. Once again the VG236H really shines as it provides very good colour reproduction in both dark and light scenes. Movement also isn't an issue as it is capable of displaying all but the fastest moving scenes without a hint of smearing. The sense of depth really has to be seen to be believed and more than once I found myself getting up to check that the monitor hadn't become 10 foot deep.
Understandably using PowerDVD to 'tweak' a standard film into 3D doesn't have such a profound effect, but there is still definitely a depth there. It's one of the primary uses of the "on-the-fly" depth adjuster on the IR transmitter because you can watch all your standard clips and films using your setup without constantly having to delve into the control panel.
Gaming is what you're all here for though and gaming is what we'll provide.
Before I delved into the world of 3D gaming it was important to see how the VG236H performed normally and the results were much like those of the film and image tests. The VG236H has a very sharp image quality with everything nice and crisp, especially for a TN panel. Colour reproduction is equally impressive with no real tweaks needed to get nicely saturated hues with good gradient differentials.
The Asus responded well to all of our testing with no ghosting visible even in fast games such as Unreal 3 and Need For Speed Shift. There was good shadow detailing and deep blacks which is one of the major areas that cheaper panels fall down on.
Having warmed up with the usual OC3D test suite it was time to have a go at some 3D games. It's important to note here that whilst nearly all games are compatible with 3D because it is some driver jiggery-pokery rather than anything the game itself needs to do, nonetheless many use workarounds and other tweaks to provide their performance, not all of which are compatible with the 3D process.
nVidia kindly provide a pretty comprehensive list of those titles which work well, and those which don't. For titles which are great without being perfect they also list the problems that you will experience. This is a huge benefit as it saves so much frustration of installing that title to see it in 3D, only to discover that the HUD is a 2D bitmap and the shadows don't render properly. Much kudos has to go to nVidia for this.
It also means that if you have a small selection of games you can check beforehand if it is worth the upgrade. I'm a complete game addict and so have far too many to choose from, but if you would like to view the list it is available online here. Although the title "good" would normally mean you should be fine, experience with the Asus VG236H and the 3D Vision setup means that unless you are a diehard fan of a game listed under "good" I'd recommend you stick to either the nVidia accredited titles or those listed as excellent. A quick scroll down the list shows that one of OC3Ds, and my, favourite games Dirt 2 is actually listed as "poor". Stubbornly trying it I can tell you that "unplayable" would be closer to the truth.
Anyway, what about those titles that do work?
Obviously some titles are better suited than others. Company of Heroes works almost flawlessly and yet doesn't really benefit from 3D. It's a similar situation with the otherwise excellent Blood Bowl, Rollercoaster Tycoon etc. Generally games which take the most advantages out of the good old Z-axis are the ones that are most enjoyable. Driving games and First-Person Shooters mainly, but some sports games actually get a boost.
Unreal Tournament III, despite being the most disappointing outing in the series, really works well with 3D Vision enabled. The maps come alive and judging your jumps while flying through a deathmatch becomes a cinch. The only caveat is that the game is so fast it does become a bit smeary round the edges, but that is more a limitation of the 3D process than of the Asus VG236H itself.
Devil May Cry 4 is another title that really does the business in 3D. The Capcom port is one of the finest ever and it makes the absolute most out of the 3D with monsters easily gauged in the depth field to allow you to keep those Smokin Slick Style combos going with ease. It's no suprise that a shot from DMC4 is one of the few that nVidia supply on their 3D CD to demonstrate the technology.
Obviously I can go on for ages about the benefits and the various games I tested in the time I've had with this before Asus come to snatch it back from my death grip. However one more is worth mentioning, Metro 2033.
This actually nicely demonstrates the problems with 3D technology when it comes to performance needed. Metro 2033 is a hard game on your system anyway, but once you introduce the need to render every frame twice it quickly becomes unplayable. It's not a problem with its compatibility as it handles the 3D with aplomb. It's just a single GTX480 hasn't got the gumption to be able to run it at a playable level.
I think we all need a good lie down after that, so congratulations if you've made it this far.
With so much said in the main portion of the review, thankfully this conclusion will be hopefully briefer. I've tried to cover all the positive aspects within the main body, so a few of the less-enjoyable aspects will have to be covered here. It's why we always hope that you read the entire review to understand a product, and if you've just skipped to the conclusion then shame on you, and go and read it all. We'll wait.
It's been quite a balancing act with the Asus VG236H. The primary focus has to be the screen, but the 3D Vision is such a part of the package and the price, whilst also being the first time that we've covered it here at OC3D that it needed to be explained in depth too. They are so intertwined it's difficult to talk about one, without mentioning the other.
The main questions are does the 3D work and is the V236H a good monitor. To both the answers are an emphatic yes.
3D really works. I wish you could all pop round and see it because until you have, you'll think it's a gimmick. Or perhaps you'll remember those red and cyan glasses and presume that it's similar to that. It couldn't be further from it. There is an old axiom that 'seeing is believing', and with 3D Vision it is very apt. The main thing that I ramble on to anyone within earshot about is the sheer depth you get. Everything feels like it's exactly where you'd expect it to be in real-life.
This is helped greatly by the quality of the Asus VG236H monitor. The glasses when active do darken the scene somewhat, akin to giving the contrast a big slap. Thankfully the Asus provides such a crisp colourful image that when the glasses are doing their thing it actually still looks good.
Of course with any positive, there are negatives. Not everyone is capable of viewing in 3D. Everyone I demonstrated it to could see it fine, but my girlfriend got a real motion-sickness feeling within seconds. So it's yet another reason to actually see it in action.
The second issue is that 3D really works in a theatre environment. A big screen, darkness all around, very much ideal conditions. However at home your monitor by no means fills your vision. So as the glasses are turning on and off 60 times a second, your peripheral vision is very aware of the flickering. Similar to the above issue I am very sensitive to hertz flicker, and so this might be more of an issue for me than many. Nonetheless it's something to be aware of. Not being the whole of your vision also does take away somewhat from 3D effect. At the cinema you haven't got a keyboard in front of you. Or mice and coffee cups and arms. All these things combine to reduce the immersive nature a tad. Finally on this note the way that 3D works means the effect isn't as pronounced as on a big screen. If the two images are nearer each other then, as I explained on page four, your brain processes them as being not as far away or as near. So a 30' screen 100' away from you can give huge depth. A 23 inch monitor a foot or two away just can't give that cinema effect.
Finally what nearly kills the entire VG236H, that shiny screen. I'm sure many of you started off on CRTs and always found the fact that the room, the sun, and worst of all you, were reflected in the screen to be hugely off-putting. We all rejoiced when TFT monitors appeared with their matte screens and removed this forever. No longer was the tiniest gleam of sunlight or white t-shirt invading all you saw.
So what on earth possessed Asus to make the screen piano black?? One sure-fire way to reduce the immersion that 3D aims to give is to make sure that your room is reflected in the screen. It's like having a black mirror in front of you. Anyone with a iPhone or iPod touch will know about the gimmick applications that pretend to turn it into a mirror by turning all your icons off. This is shinier than one of those. Inexcusable. It's bad enough that it diminishes the effect of the piano black bezel, let alone it affecting any time you have something remotely dark on your screen.
Is it possible to wrap all this up then. At £400 just for the monitor it's over-priced. It's certainly one of the best TN panels we've ever seen, better even than the previous Asus efforts we've seen. So if you don't plan on using the 3D, look elsewhere. But of course you do plan on using it, and for that it works exceptionally well.
The inclusion of the 3D Vision package mean this is an all-in-one solution for around the price of a cheap 120hz monitor and the 3D Vision. For that you get a great monitor with a great stand from a brand you know will perform.
Just be aware the 3D needs a dark room to be at its best. The shiny coating on the monitor really needs a dark room to be at its best (well really it needs to be binned off at the earliest hardware revision and the guy who thought of it taken out the back and shot). And not everything works as well with 3D as you might hope. Age of game is no indicator of compatibility.
At the risk of dragging an old cliché out, this is a try before you buy. You need to try it because if 3D works for you and you can cope with the niggly issues, it's a bigger improvement than the switch from SDTV to HDTV.
Thanks to Asus for providing the VG236H for review. Discuss in our forums.