Triple screen gaming has a lot of competition these days. The HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Ultra Wide Monitors, even complicated projector setups. All of these devices are competing to create the most immersive, and user friendly experience.
Each device has its own strengths and weaknesses in achieving these two goals. For example, VR setups easily provide the most immersive gaming experience, but can also have a number of drawbacks such as the screen door effect, eye strain, etc.
Over the last few years I have experimented with most of these technologies, including:
- 3×24″ triple monitors
- Oculus Rift DK2
- Acer Predator x34
Below are my thoughts on each one, and why I have arrived at my current solution today.
My experience with the Rift was an interesting one. I bought the DK2 as soon as it was released and fired it up on a number of ready-made sims such as Live For Speed, and Elite Dangerous. The ability to look in any direction, including forwards and backwards means that it is easily the most immersive gaming experience you will ever have, almost completely fooling the brain into thinking you are experiencing the real thing.
My first impression was that “this is the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen”, and “this is the future of entertainment”. That lasted about 10 minutes, which is when my eyes started to hurt. I, like many users, suffer from serious eye strain when using VR devices. For the uninitiated, VR solutions basically have you looking at a mobile phone screen 2 inches in front of your face, through two lenses.
That is a very unnatural way to get light into your eyes and for me, any session longer than 10-15 minutes and I had to take it off. There are many debates as to whether or not VR is safe but the reality is that the tech is very new, and not much is known about any potential long term health hazards.
There are other immersion braking issues as well. I live in sunny Australia and the heat/perspiration from having the device on my head meant that it often started to fog up after a few minutes. Especially if I was playing a racing sim which requires you to move your arms a lot. Perhaps the largest issue is the need to use controls that you can’t see, such as keyboard buttons or a mouse. Often you will have to take the device off to have a quick look where you are, and re-orientate your hands.
Some of these issues can be dealt with. Custom or dedicated controllers such as a wheel or flight stick can take over the major functions, and the fogging issue can be dealt with in a number of ways. But it also depends on the individual, and what is acceptable to some users will simply not be the case for others.
The other issue is the so called “screen door effect” . Because you are looking at a screen through lenses the dark gaps between the pixels can be seen quite clearly. This makes it look like you are looking through a screen door, even at the high resolutions of current gen VR devices. This will probably disappear with future versions, but the current generation of VR devices all have it. I believe this may also be a contributing factor to the eye strain that I experienced.
Eventually I decided to sell my Rift and moved back to a 3×24″ monitor setup. Whilst most of these issues can be dealt with, the eye strain that it caused meant that I simply could not use it for any meaningful amount of time. This was particularly difficult when trying to learn a new game like Elite Dangerous, which has a large number of controls and a steep learning curve.
- Most Immersive, by far
- Latest Technology
- Probably the future
- Comparatively Cheap
- Screen Door Effect
- Eye Strain
UltraWide monitors such as the Acer Predator X34 are becoming increasingly popular. Not only do they provide a wider 21:9 ratio, but they also have higher resolutions such as 3440 x 1440p, and refresh rates of 100Hz plus. There are also G-Sync and FreeSync options available, depending on your choice of video card manufacturer.
One of my good friends has the above mentioned monitor, and I was keen to check it out as soon as he got it. After all, a single UltraWide monitor at 1440p would get higher FPS than 3 x 1080p monitors, whilst still providing that larger FOV. Whilst on the topic, the table below shows the total number of pixels at different resolutions. This can be a rough guide to performance comparisons at different widescreen resolutions.
Note that 3 x 1080p monitors is a higher pixel count that 3440 x 1440p, but both are still less than 4k.
My first impression when using the X34 was that it’s actually not that big. Sure it is significantly wider than a 27″ monitor, but its also only about 13″ tall, roughly the same height as a 27″ monitor. Compared to the largest 16:9 gaming monitors (31.5 and 32″) its only slightly wider, whilst being a good 2″ shorter. This means it also has a smaller overall viewable area than a 31.5″ monitor.
Coming from a 27″ or smaller 16:9 monitor something like the X34 would feel like a significant upgrade. But compared to a triple screen or VR setup, I personally don’t feel that it is anywhere near as immersive. Especially for the price which in AUD is $1450 at the time of writing. Quite a lot of money for not a lot of screen.
- High Res
- High Refresh Rates
- 21:9 Ratio
- Not that big compared to 3 x 24″ or 32″
This brings us to good old triple screen setups, which if you couldn’t tell by now is where I have arrived at. I used a 3 x 24″ 1080p setup for years before replacing it with an Oculus Rift, mostly due to the space it would save me, and the advent of VR.
My not so great experience with the rift lead me back to widescreen gaming, first having a go of the UltraWide predator but now finally with 3 x 31.5″ AOC AG322FCX monitors.
You can read my full review of this triple screen setup here, but the major motivation to go with this was for the significantly higher vertical height and FOV that I could achieve over an UltraWide monitor. Sure its not 1440p, but trying to run a res of 7680 x 1440 is beyond what my ageing R9 390 can handle. I doubt even the mighty GTX 1080 could run that resolution at ultra settings and 60+ FPS.
With two monitors connected via DisplayPort and one via HDMI, I am currently running 5760 x 1080 @ 120Hz and achieving between 50-100 FPS in most games at medium settings. At over 2 meters across the FOV on this setup is very wide, and the aggressive 1800R curve means it wraps around your head position nicely. I would not hesitate to say that this is the best monitor-based solution for immersive gaming available today.
The AOC monitors are also only $481 each, meaning I walked away with 3 of these for less than a single Acer Predator.
One thing I will stress, even this enormous amount of screen real-estate does not compare to VR. Even head tracking solutions like TrackIR, EDTrack, etc are no comparison to a proper VR experience. The ability to track your movements in all directions is just so immersive, no monitor based solution will ever compare. But that experience is rendered useless if you can’t stand it for more than 10 minutes!
The major thing to consider with a setup like mine is desk space. I had to buy a 2-meter wide desk just so that I could get all three monitors lined up. That’s what you’ll have to do though, if you want to achieve that ultra wide FOV.
- Huge FOV
- Large Vertical height
- High Refresh Rate
- Large Curve
- 1080p Vertical Res
- Desk Space