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Tue 2 Mar 2010 12:00 AM

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Big screen gaming

Playing your games on up to six screens in high definition is an enticing prospect for many an avid gamer. This month WINDOWS takes a closer look at the technology that drives gaming on bigger and more screens with the help of graphics technology such as AMD's ATI Eyefinity. We also get advice from an expert about what it takes to play your games using high definition projectors.

Playing your games on up to six screens in high definition is an enticing prospect for many an avid gamer. This month WINDOWS takes a closer look at the technology that drives gaming on bigger and more screens with the help of graphics technology such as AMD's ATI Eyefinity. We also get advice from an expert about what it takes to play your games using high definition projectors.

AMD's ATI Eyefinity technology is ‘banned' at many gaming tournaments. The reason? Playing your games on up to six screens gives competitors a relatively unfair advantage because you can see your opponents approaching you from those indiscreet corners.

Playing your games on up to two screens has been easily achievable over the last few years, but playing games on up to six screens is a level up, and (however possibly unfair) a great gaming experience.

AMD have been a pioneer in this field with their ATI Eyefinity technology. Whether landscape or portrait, AMD's Eyefinity technology allows you to lay out up to six monitors in such a way so as to suit the particular game that you're playing.

Raed Hijer, Senior Field Engineer of AMD META, says, "In terms of resolution, the maximum resolution of 6X2560X1600 is reached by connecting up to 6 monitors on the special edition (Eyefinity6) card which will be available soon. Currently, the HD5000 cards can drive up to three monitors with resolution up to 3X2560X1600. There are many games that support the 3 monitor setup today and more in development for the higher resolution. To name few games available on this setup today; we already have Colin McRae: Dirt2, HAWX, Battle Forge, GRID, Stalker call of Pripyat and many others that should be available in 2010."

So, the question is: How do you then setup this gaming experience?

Hijer elaborates: "For Eyefinity, you simply need any PC with the PCIe slot support and one of the Radeon HD5000 cards. In addition, up to three monitors; one with DisplayPort interface. The other two could be combinations of dvi/hdmi. In case all three monitors are dvi then one active adapter to convert DisplayPort to dvi is needed. It is also recommended to run Windows 7 as it will benefit from other features of the HD5000 cards such as DX11, tessellation, Multithreading, Stream etc."

AMD confirms that you'll need the following:

a) DirectX11 Eyefinity GPU: Between $60 - $ 400

b) 3 Monitors Price: Starting from $300 (Worldwide pricing starts from options will be available in market. One monitor has to support display port). natively or via active adapter. $300) however Display port technology will be much aggressive and more lower options will be available in market. One monitor has to support display port natively or via active adapter.

c) Windows 7 operating system

d) and (obviously) a desktop computer.

DX11 (mentioned above) is, of course, the industry standard API (Application Programming interface) that allows developers to exploit new features such as Tessellation, Multithreading and DirectCompute 11 to enhance the application performance and visual quality."DX11 is the latest API from MS that is designed to allow games played on PCs to have higher quality and better performance graphics. DX11 includes many features like tessellation that subdivides a surface into smaller shapes and thereby creates more realistic and better quality 3D objects. Another feature is the Multithreading that eliminates any bottlenecks between today's multicore CPU's and the graphics processing unit (GPU)," Hijer says.

"Smooth CPU-to-GPUinteraction yields substantially better frame per seconds and more satisfactory  gaming experience. DirectCompute11 also harness the massive GPU computational power to accelerate tasks that used to run on traditional CPU. The benefit is twofold; applications run faster and the CPU is freed up to do other tasks. These features are available in the HD5000 series cards whether you run on a single or multi-monitor configuration. In Eyefinity setup however, it gets more noticeable (in terms of visual quality, FPS, more background scenes, etc.) as all monitors will be running at full resolution and exploiting the above features," Hijer continues.

‘Crowd Computing'

Apart from playing your games on a ‘bigger' gaming screen, this technology also takes personal computing to a whole new level. The uses that AMD envisages for this form of computing extends to three models.

The first model is typically described as single-session/single-person/multi-screen. As the name suggests, it's just one user surrounded by many displays. The user can then, as an AMD blog states, "enjoy information or visual simulation or real-time experiences, which were previously possible only with high-end workstations or simulators".

The next model is that of ‘crowd computing', which involves single-session / multi-person / multi-screen. Seeing as the space is big enough, one user can enjoy dual monitor productivity whilst a second user or even group of users can watch a movie or play a game. It is then a single session, where one person ‘drives' the visual environment, with one keyboard, one mouse.

All this naturally brings us to the third model, that of a digital nexus or central home computer. This model works on a multi-session operating system. One which is aware of the multiple inputs and one which can assign all the different inputs through the keyboard and mouse through to the different screens.

Unfair advantage

Game tournaments geared towards multiple monitors could arise as gamers with this setup have an unfair advantage over those who don't.

"There is definitely an advantage when playing games on 3 monitors. It gives the gamers an immersive experience and more field of view. Whether in a racing track or in a battle field, seeing more details allows gamers to achieve higher scores as they can react quicker. Some gamers commented that they will never go back to a single monitor gaming after they lived the Eyefinity experience.  As monitors become more affordable more gamers are expected to adopt this technology. Additionally, the Eyefinity technology is available in the entire HD5000 cards top-to-bottom," says Hijer. Bigger is better

Apart from gaming on multiple screens, your big screen gaming experience can also take the form of playing your games on projector screens. Projectors have many advantages over the more traditional form of big screen TVs.

"Projectors have other important features which normal televisions do not have, for example, Smooth Motion flow for a much smoother picture when showing fast moving images as with gaming. Deep colour enhancements, electronic panel alignment allowing users to achieve an exact alignment of red and blue elements within each pixel," says Carlos Falcao, Marketing Manager, Sony Professional Solutions.

The other advantage projectors have over their big screen television counterparts lies in the price department. Projectors can cost you in the region of US $ 1300 for an entry level projector, whist mid-range projectors can set you back in the region of US $2700 to US $4000. If you're really willing to push the boundaries, you can always purchase those projectors that are in the US $10 000 mark.

Once you've established your budget, the first thing you should consider when purchasing a projector include whether or not the projector has high definition capabilities.

Falcao says, "A High Definition 1080p projector would provide the best quality images for gaming. If you take Sony's SXRD 1080p projectors for example, you can deliver over 6.2m pixels, more than twice as many as the 2.8m pixels you get with other 720p HD ready projectors."

Falcao suggests that there are other things to consider as well, "Most gaming systems today are shipped with some sort of high definition composite cable. You need to get one of these. Also, purchasing a portable projector can go a long way in helping you keep your gaming that much more portable, so that you can take your gaming with you wherever you go. When it comes to gaming on a big projector screen, the higher the brightness, the better the gaming experience. Therefore, a higher lumens rating is best for gaming. So, shop around for projectors that have a lumens rating of at least 1500 lumens."

When it comes to the issue of lumens and lighting, Falcao also says, "This all depends on the environment or brightness of the room. Relatively darker rooms will not need such high lumens, especially if you are also using the projector for home cinema use as well. With regard to contrast ratio, contrast is central to superior picture quality, so the high contrast of Sony's HD projectors for example can offer high contrast ratios of up to 60,000:1."

He expands on the issue of contrast further by saying, "With low contrast rations you will need a total blackout to get an acceptable picture on a viewing surface. Take it as a rule that the higher the contrast you have, the better the picture."

Then you have the miscellaneous issues to consider as well. One thing to look out for would be the fan noise - you don't want that to spoil your gaming experience. It's also important to bear in mind the warranty when purchasing a projector. If your projector experiences technical difficulties, you want to know that you can return it without too much hassle.

The other points Falcao says consumers should consider include, "the right equipment to go with the projector, for example a worthy screen - selecting the right screen is crucial for gaming or home cinema environments. A top of the range sound system offering mind blowing sound will enhance the consumers' experience when playing games or watching movies."

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