VR Standard VRJoy 3D glasses kitReview date: 30 September 1999. Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
I've checked out cheap 3D glasses for PCs before - see my review of the ASUS VR-100 here - and I've been less than impressed. They're cheap, if you've already got a video card they work with, but it's not really worth spending much more on your video card just to get them, in my opinion.
VR Standard's VRJoy, however, promises to solve this problem; VRJoy is a 3D glasses kit that is touted to work with pretty much any PC that has a CRT monitor (as opposed to an LCD flat panel). Not being tied to a particular brand of video card is attractive, and the VRJoy's price isn't ridiculous, either; $US79 for US buyers, or $US110 for overseas shoppers, shipping included. You can even add a second pair of glasses for $US45, so two people can share the fun.
What you get
The VRJoy setup comes as three separate modules - four, if you count the mains plugpack that provides power. There's a pass-through adaptor that you plug into your video card's monitor output, with the monitor cable plugging into the other side of the adaptor. A cable from said adaptor runs to another little box, the VRJoy Controller, into which plugs the third component, the 3D shutterglasses, and the power supply. There are two shutterglasses connectors on the Controller, in case you buy a second set of specs.
The retail version of VRJoy comes with the somewhat elderly but still fun game Hexen II; my review unit came with a CD packed with game demos, example pictures and support software.
Plugging in the VRJoy is easy enough. The little plugpack that came with my review VRJoy was a 110/120 volt model, unsuitable for Australia's 240V mains. No matter; I purloined a suitable 9V wall-wart from elsewhere. There are also thumbscrews on the VGA passthrough plug, which on the review VRJoy were installed backwards, so you couldn't actually plug it in without removing them and putting them back in the other way around. But this was no big deal, either, and setup still took only moments. You don't need to open your computer or change your video driver.
The VRJoy glasses, as appears to be traditional for cheap shutterglasses, feel something like a device created by the Spanish Inquisition. They've got an adjustable nose-rest and the arms don't clamp your head that hard, but they're still not what I'd call comfortable. All may well be forgotten when you're playing games in 3D, though.
How it works
VR Standard proudly proclaim that "VRJoy needs no software drivers", which is sort of true. If you're viewing something that's already got different images on alternate lines (a 3D screenshot or video clip, for instance), then the hardware is indeed all you need. Playing games, however, is a different kettle of fish.
The VRJoy Controller is the core of the system. If the Controller doesn't have power, you get no picture on your monitor; the Controller has to be plugged into its wall-wart, even if its power button is off, to do its basic pass-through work. No problem. When you turn the Controller on, and press its Mode button to switch to 3D mode, your screen is instantly and magically interlaced. Never mind what the video driver thinks it's doing; the Controller does the interlacing work for it. This is pretty cool, since you can easily switch back and forth while you're figuring stuff out.
Interlace is needed because just peering at a regular screen through shutterglasses doesn't create any 3D effect. The monitor needs to be running in "interlace" mode, where all of the odd numbered lines are painted on one refresh of the screen, with all of the even numbered lines painted on the next refresh. The image for one eye is displayed on the odd numbered lines, while the image for the other eye is displayed on the even numbered ones. The shutterglasses have little LCD panels in them that can practically instantly become opaque or clear, and they synchronise with the interlaced monitor so each eye only gets to see the image it's supposed to see.
There's a Reverse button on the Controller as well, which reverses the order in which the two sides of the shutterglasses flicker. If everything looks vaguely 3D but sort of weird, it's because your eyes are seeing the wrong images, and the Reverse button solves the problem. Again, it's pleasingly instant, and I amused myself checking out the included 3D screenshots for a little while.
Interlace is only half of the story, of course; something has to actually generate those two images, splitting the standard display into two similar but different interleaved views. Pre-rendered 3D video clips and images have the effect built in, but to do it for games you need something that'll turn the standard single-image view into the dual images needed.
In the VRJoy's case, that "something" is a piece of software called VRCaddy. And this is where the problems start.
The idea is simple enough. You need a vrcaddy.ini file for the game you want to play. You put the file in the game directory, whatever that happens to be, and you run VRCaddy and then run the game. Pressing Scroll Lock activates VRCaddy, which reads the simple settings in the ini file and does its screen-splitting magic accordingly. You can roll your own vrcaddy.ini files for games - you can twiddle the settings with hotkeys while you play and save a vrcaddy.ini file with another hotkey when you get it right - but it's much easier to use a pre-made one.
VRCaddy works with anything that uses Direct3D, and you also get a "wrapper" driver that allows OpenGL games to use Direct3D as well, making it possible to play Quake 1 and 2 and 3 and other OpenGL-and-Glide games in 3D, albeit a bit slowly.
This problem of different settings for different games, by the way, is endemic to the 3D glasses world. The ASUS VR-100 glasses make you roll your own settings for everything; better specs like the Elsa Revelator ones come with settings for umpteen games.
Game support, though, was the least of my problems.
I tried the VRJoy out first on my bash-around spare computer. On this machine, I could view the static screenshots just fine (there's a handy-dandy slideshow program on the CD), but VRCaddy did precisely nothing. This is because the video card in the computer, a not-very-exciting Trident Blade 3D (reviewed here), is not supported by VRCaddy.
OK, fair enough, it's a weird card. But VRCaddy doesn't work with quite a few other cards, as well. It works, according to its manual, with all models of Diamond Viper V770, Voodoo3 2000, 3000, and 3500, ATI Rage 128 cards including the Rage Fury, S3 Savage 4, Matrox G400, Canopus Spectra 2500 and Creative Labs 3D Blaster Banshee. It expressly doesn't work with, well, pretty much everything else.
As luck would have it, I have a plain OEM V770 in my regular machine, so I moved the VRJoy over and... discovered that VRCaddy causes games to crash like a bastard when you use NVidia's reference drivers with your otherwise supported V770. The VRCaddy readme file tells you this, by the way, but I had to check, because I found it so weird that VR Standard would be selling a product which didn't work with so very many things.
Presumably the VRJoy would work fine if I installed the stock Diamond drivers for the V770. I wouldn't want to keep those drivers, though, and shuffling TNT drivers is a well-proven way to scramble Windows' video setup badly enough that you need to nuke from orbit and reinstall the OS. So, at this point, I said "stuff this for a joke".
I feel I can get away with this, because I know exactly what the VRJoy's 3D will look like. Partly because I peered at the 3D screenshots, and partly because all LCD glasses 3D looks pretty much exactly the same; lousy.
Welcome to crummyvision!
The trouble with the VRJoy, and with all LCD shutterglasses, is that it's not possible to prevent each eye from seeing, at least dimly, the other eye's image. Phosphor persistence, the glow briefly retained by illuminated parts of the screen, means there's probably going to be a dim version of the previous scan's image still visible on alternate lines at any given time.
And you also just can't make LCD shutters properly opaque. Some light always gets through, even when your line of sight is perfectly perpendicular to the shutter. The less on-axis your line of sight is - and it's difficult to perfectly align the glasses, and impossible to look only through the exact middle of the lens - the more clear the shutter will appear.
The result of not being able to fully blank off the eye that's not meant to be seeing at any given moment is a dim, ghostly image of the other eye's view. This creates an odd, and annoying, double-ghost effect on either side of everything on screen. The more contrast there is, the worse the ghosting is, and I, for one, can't stand it.
And, speaking of dimness, you get a lot of it from shutterglasses. Throwing away more than half of the brightness of the screen (even when "clear", shutterglasses eat a bit of light) takes its toll, and you really need to play your games in a darkened room to be able to make things out properly.
And, of course, running in interlace mode means half of your vertical resolution is lost. Your 800 by 600 (say) screen is chopped into two 800 by 300 fields, displayed alternately.
Add to this the fact that in order to get pretty much flickerless video you need to be running about 175Hz refresh rate, which practically no screen can manage at decent resolution, and the other fact that most shutterglasses, including the VRJoy ones, are rather uncomfortable, and the whole thing just turns into a recipe for migraine.
I am charitable about ASUS' 3D glasses because, if you've already got an ASUS video card they work with, they'll only cost you $69 Australian for the glasses and their adapter board, or only $45 if you've got one of the top-spec cards with the shutterglasses socket already on it. They're a novelty, and their support software is built into the video driver; you may have to fiddle around to make them work with your games, but work they will, as long as you're happy just to play Direct3D stuff.
$69 Australian is, at present, about $US45; I'm sure you can get the VR-100 in the States for less than that, if you shop around. The VRJoy setup has cleverer hardware, but it's $US35 more expensive - us poor benighted Australians will pay about $AU170 for the thing if we buy it direct, and probably $AU200 or more if someone stocks it locally. This will more or less buy you an ASUS V3400 TNT1 card, as well as their glasses.
The big VRJoy advantage, of course, is that you don't need an ASUS video card, or any other special brand; it should work with anything. With the current software, though, it doesn't.
Essentially, this looks to me like a not uncommon phenomenon in the computer world; properly engineered hardware, released before the software's ready. I don't like shutterglasses, but plenty of people do, and these people would probably be well pleased with the VRJoy, if it worked on their system. If you've got one of the few supported video cards, check out the VR Standard site for the latest list of supported games and other news, and see if you like the idea. The glasses are as good as any other shutterglasses, the Controller is actually quite elegant and, when the software's ready for prime time, this will be a good package for the money.
At the moment, though, it's bleeding-edge stuff. And, at the moment, I don't care to bleed.