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Stereoscopic 3D With AMD’s HD3D

AMD Radeon HD 6870 And 6850: Is Barts A Step Forward?
By , Chris Angelini

After watching Nvidia build its patented and proprietary 3D Vision empire (the company recently announced that 1000 products are in its ecosystem), AMD is finally engaging the stereoscopic market with its Radeon HD 6000-series GPUs. Up until now, the company has downplayed the significance of and market readiness for this technology. So it's a little surprising to see how much thought has gone into stereo 3D in preparation for the Radeon HD 6800-series.

HD3D is the brand under which AMD is filing its stereoscopic technologies. The company takes a very different approach from Nvidia in that there are no proprietary glasses or specific display technologies associated with HD3D. This presents some interesting advantages and disadvantages compared to Nvidia’s approach.


Unlike 3D Vision, AMD’s HD3D technology doesn't require a specific display with an AMD-licensed technology built in. Instead, you only need a consumer 3D display that supports HDMI 1.4—a 3D television for example—and plug it into your Radeon HD 6800 series graphics card. From there, it’s up to the software. If you want to play a Blu-ray 3D disc, you’ll need to buy Blu-ray 3D playback software, such as CyberLink’s PowerDVD 10 Ultra or Arcsoft’s TotalMedia Theatre 3. If you want to play games in stereoscopic 3D, you’ll need DDD’s Tridef driver or iZ3D’s driver. With the software installed, your display handles whatever 3D method it’s designed for, whether it uses passive polarized glasses, active shutter glasses, or even glasses-free solutions that might emerge in the future.

AMD demonstrated a number of games and Blu-ray 3D movies at the launch event, using both active and passive glasses technology, but I was curious to see whether or not HD3D is ready for the consumer. A friend of mine has a 120 Hz 3D television, so I paid him a visit to try it out. Using an updated version of PowerDVD 10 Ultra Mark II, I was able to play the Blu-ray 3D movie Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs with no fuss whatsoever—it just worked. After this, I installed DDD’s TriDef driver for 3D gaming. Once again, it worked. I expected a lot more of the hassle that generally accompanies an open initiative. 


But it’s also important to recognize the limitations of HD3D. First, there are no dedicated 3D monitors in North America that employ the HDMI 1.4 standard—all of the available 3D monitors at the moment are Nvidia 3D Vision-exclusive, and will not work with the Radeon HD 6800-series cards.

The good news is that this will probably change now that AMD offers an alternative. But it will take some time. In Europe, the Viewsonic V3D241wm-LED is already available for £330 (about $530 USD) and these were out in force at the launch event. The harsh reality, in the near future at least, is that North Americans who plan to rock a Radeon HD 6800 card on a stereoscopic 3D monitor will have to wait for the displays to arrive. If, on the other hand, you own a commercial 3D television, you can jump right in, though.

In addition, while DDD and iZ3D’s stereoscopic gaming drivers can work perfectly in some situations, our experience has shown us that Nvidia’s 3D Vision driver works better and more consistently in the majority of games. Integration with the GeForce driver also allows for quicker adoption of newer features like DirectX 11, something the other driver developers have traditionally struggled with.

There's one more limitation to bear in mind. Because AMD utilizes the HDMI 1.4a specification, which boasts a maximum TMDS throughput of 10.2 Gb/s, you can either game in stereo at 720p maxing out at 60 frames per second per eye, or you can game at 1080p with up to 24 frames per second per eye. That's actually pretty severe, considering we've been playing around with 5760x1080 using 3D Vision Surround and dual-link DVI connectors (each display running at 1920x1080). AMD says it'll transcend the shackles of HDMI 1.4a next year sometime when monitor vendors begin incorporating DisplayPort 1.2. A peak effective bandwidth of 17.28 Gb/s is enough to enable 1080p at 60 frames per eye.

Nvidia's Answer

It’s important to mention that Nvidia can also handle stereoscopic 3D on commercial displays over HDMI 1.4a with the release of its 3DTV Play driver (perhaps not coincidentally timed for today's launch). This driver is now available as a free download for 3D Vision owners, and will be bundled in a number of products, such as the XPS laptops from Dell. If you want to enable 3D playback on your compatible television, but don't want to buy the 3D Vision kit, the 3DTV Play should be available for purchase from by the end of November for $39.99. Keep in mind that this driver will work only on newer GeForce models that can handle the HDMI 1.4a standard, such as the GeForce GT 220, GT 240, and the GeForce 400-series. Also note that, if you're using 3DTV Play over HDMI, you'll suffer the same resolution/frame rate limitation as AMD's Radeon HD 6800-series boards. Only by switching to a dual-link DVI output can you overcome that.

With this information in hand, let’s consider costs. If you want to watch Blu-ray 3D, you’re going to have to pay for Blu-ray 3D playback software, regardless of the graphics card. With an Nvidia card, you need to purchase the $40 3DTV Play driver from Nvidia at least or a $200 3D Vision kit at most. The interesting part is that AMD has actually bypassed any proprietary expense, so Blu-ray 3D playback is that much cheaper on Radeon cards.

Having said that, Nvidia includes the stereoscopic game driver with 3DTV Play and 3D Vision, while AMD hardware requires a third party game driver from DDD or iZ3D. These typically cost in the neighborhood of $50. Aside from cost, Nvidia’s driver solution provides a much smoother overall experience than its competitors--at least right now. Hopefully the extra revenue generated from Radeon HD 6800 owners who invest in these third-party drivers will result in faster development and better results.

Bottom line: with the Radeon HD 6000-series and HD3D, AMD is now offering a viable alternative in the 3D stereoscopic race. For HTPCs attached to commercial 3D televisions, AMD and Nvidia offer surprisingly similar functionality for Blu-ray 3D playback. When it comes to desktop monitor availability and game driver compatibility, Nvidia has a definite advantage, although it no longer enjoys an unassailable position.

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  • 0 Hide
    jamie_macdonald , 22 October 2010 16:40
    Will wait to see them in a real PC first ... sound half OK though, see what the high end ones perform like ^^
  • 0 Hide
    tranzz , 22 October 2010 18:11
    would be nice to see dynamic tessalation from the software. So visuals scale to maintain frame rates across a variety of cards.
  • 0 Hide
    nesters , 22 October 2010 18:31
    As much as I have seen, those cards scale pretty good in CrossFire, in some games HD6870CF outperforming HD5870CF.
  • 1 Hide
    mi1ez , 22 October 2010 19:52
    But this sure would be a good time to introduce a card with a fully-equipped GF104 and 384 CUDA cores enabled (Ed.: I can’t comment, but I know something that you don’t, Don).

    Naming scheme aside, these look like pretty competent cards and I for one am looking forward to the high end and indeed 7-series cards these are supposedly leading up to.
  • 0 Hide
    the_krell , 22 October 2010 20:02
    Just to correct your Shakespeare...
    Wherefore art thou, Radeon 6700? Should read Wherefore art thou, Radeon 6800?

    Wherefore means Why? For what reason?

  • 1 Hide
    aje21 , 22 October 2010 20:16
    Meet AMD Accelerated Parralel Processing (APP)

    At least the image had Parallel spelt correctly ;-)
  • 0 Hide
    dizzycriminal , 22 October 2010 20:59
    All the other review sites have found the 6850 performs better than the 460 1Gb. So im not sure what to believe. Apart from now is looking like a good time to get a new GPU. A 6850 is looking like the way to go.
  • 0 Hide
    lemonadesoda , 22 October 2010 21:45
    Read each review "test setup" carefully. You will see that tom has used CURRENT and not LAST MONTHS drivers. Read the intro. There is a slight OC on this GTX460 BECAUSE all 68xx cards are OC'ed. Tom used the same average OC.
  • 0 Hide
    aln135 , 22 October 2010 22:08
    These two new mid range cards seem pretty good and considering they are £150 for HD6850 and £200 for HD6870 a very good buy indeed. cant wait for the reviews of the HD6970 and HD6990 though
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 22 October 2010 23:28
    Why are you benching with NoAA. At least use 2xAA. Unless your tested show that the HD68xx can't hack AA.
  • 0 Hide
    sam_p_lay , 23 October 2010 04:58
    Mi1ez - we already had the Radeon 7000 series. That's where it started, before moving onto the 8500 and then the 9700 and 9500. ATi/AMD have gone right around the clock now - they may need to come up with a new name. Or, just follow nVIDIA's example and knock off a '0' and start using 3-digit model numbering.

    Did anyone else notice a few charts with the size of the bars not matching the numbers? There was a 5850 score of 23fps that I'm pretty sure was meant to read 33fps based on the fact that the 27fps GTX460 score below it had a longer bar.

    Also surprised THG didn't make a bigger deal of the 94% FPS gain from Crossfiring these new Radeons... that's even better than the average gain from two-way GF104/GF106 SLI! And if morphological AA can deliver supersampling level smoothing with negligible FPS and definition loss at decent res, that's some very attractive value add!
  • 2 Hide
    LePhuronn , 25 October 2010 02:38
    sam_p_layMi1ez - we already had the Radeon 7000 series.

    OK, Radeon HD 7000 series, Mr Pedantic ;-)
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , 25 October 2010 15:21
    looking at the local prices here the 5850 is the same price as the gtx460 and the 5870 is more expensive than the gtx470

    Looking at that and the quality of drivers it's easy to say that NVIDIA is the pick of the moment, this might change if prices start shifting around
  • 0 Hide
    makrish , 25 October 2010 20:59
    putsomethingherelooking at the local prices here the 5850 is the same price as the gtx460 and the 5870 is more expensive than the gtx470Looking at that and the quality of drivers it's easy to say that NVIDIA is the pick of the moment, this might change if prices start shifting around

    Not the 5870 or the 5850, the 6870. The next gen. The 6870 is about 200 pounds on (UK prices), and the 5870 is 280, and the 470 is about 250. This puts the 6870 at 50 pounds cheaper, and it scales better than 5870's in CF. Realistically, this is the best card out there for its price range. I'd prefer two of these to a 5870 or even a 5970.
  • 1 Hide
    LePhuronn , 25 October 2010 21:27
    Roll on HD 6990 vs GTX 485

    Full-fat Southern Islands vs full-fat Fermi

  • 0 Hide
    ben BOys , 26 October 2010 00:11
    goes to show price/proformance is outrigh winner against proforma=nce on it's own. Nvidia need to step up there game if they want catch there falling crown
  • 0 Hide
    williehmmm , 26 October 2010 01:37
    makrishNot the 5870 or the 5850, the 6870. The next gen. The 6870 is about 200 pounds on (UK prices), and the 5870 is 280, and the 470 is about 250. This puts the 6870 at 50 pounds cheaper, and it scales better than 5870's in CF. Realistically, this is the best card out there for its price range. I'd prefer two of these to a 5870 or even a 5970.

    Ebuyer shows the 6870 starting at £193, but the GTX 470 starting at £186.

    Hopefuly this cut throat competitve pricing does remain, then we all benefit.

    I paid over £300 each for my pair of GTX 470s, 7 months ago. Depreciation of £230, but by golly, I've had a lot of 3D stereoscopic fun in that time!
  • 1 Hide
    Silmarunya , 26 October 2010 03:32
    While their naming scheme is pretty absurd, the cards themselves deliver. Nvidia's GTX 460 enjoyed a brief moment of utter dominance at the €200 price point, while the new 6850 offers same performance, same price and lower power consumption. As such, Nvidia's Fermi series now fails to dominate a single segment of the market. Sad for a company that wore the performance crown for years...

    The 6870 isn't a clear winner in its market segment, but it's certainly worth buying. As such, I think AMD just made another winning move.

    Bring on the 6970, with some luck it's enough to hand the single GPU performance crown back to AMD. And then Nvidia has... erm... CUDA and PhysX. The first isn't useful for gamers, the second is nothing more than a gimmick. Life's good for AMD fans atm :) 
  • -1 Hide
    williehmmm , 26 October 2010 17:59
    And then Nvidia has... erm... CUDA and PhysX. The first isn't useful for gamers, the second is nothing more than a gimmick. Life's good for AMD fans atm

    Nvidia has 3D vision and a backbone of support for 3D sterescopic compliance in significantly more titles. AMD is going to be catching up for years and even then relying on 3rd party software, drivers and peripherals, so they have very little influence in getting it to work right.

    Not to mention that if you've spent several hundred pounds/euros on a high end 5xxx series card, you now have to ditch that and spend out again to get 3D functionality.

    Nvidia have made cards as low spec as the GT220 & GT240 3D bluray compatible, just by updating that support in drivers back to those cards. That AMD can't even do that for its flagship card, the 5970 which folk have have spent £400 - £500 on, it's just a sin.

    AMD fans seem to be getting fleeced. Despite Nvidia's aggresive pricing (a good thing for everyone) and their PR machine kicking into gear in reaction, at least they keep adding functionality to their existing line up of cards.

    As for Nvidia not dominating a single segment, neither do AMD. The price /performance statistics show they are even, there is no outright winner, it's a score draw. If you're an AMD fan you're getting a good deal buying their card, if you're an Nvidia fan, you're getting a good deal buying their card.
  • 1 Hide
    sam_p_lay , 27 October 2010 05:01
    LePhuronn - Radeon HD 7000 had occurred to me, but I hope to God they don't do it! Reckon they've got their money's worth out of the Radeon name and should come up with something new... was disappointed with nVIDIA for sticking with GeForce after the 9 series, though I suppose it makes sense with such a strong brand profile.
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