Hands on with 6-screen ATI Eyefinity

Written by Clive Webster

March 10, 2010 | 10:02

Tags: #displayport #eyefinity #hands-on #hd #image #multi-monitor #multi-screen #picture #preview #productivity #radeon #rated #setup #tested

Companies: #ati

Gaming on Six-Screen Eyefinity

Gaming on such a large display is initially a lot of fun – the screen surrounds you to such an extent that there’s a heightened sense of immersion. It’s a bit like watching a film at an iMax cinema rather than your telly at home. There’s also an added benefit regarding what you can see on the screen. As the view-cull is so much larger, you can see more of the game you’re playing.

At one point some sneaky Schumacher-wannabe barged into the side of our car, and not only could we see this happening out of our peripheral vision, but we were amused to see that our right-hand side window had smashed. This isn’t (as far as we know) an extra feature of Eyefinity validation, it’s just that with a large view size, there’s automatically a degree of wrap-around visuals from the game.

However, it soon became clear that we were all rubbish at GRID on a six-screen setup. Part of the problem may be that we just haven’t played the game for a while, but we suspect it was more to do with the huge black stripe passing through the centre of our eye-line. The screens we were supplied with had chunky bezels, and as the screens can only be used in a 3 x 2 configuration, we were always staring right at a double-width of bezel.

Hands on with 6-screen ATI Eyefinity Gaming on 6-screen Eyefinity, and Final Thoughts
The double-height bezel can get in the way, but screens with thinner bezels are coming. Click to enlarge

In this writer’s preferred view in GRID (floating outside and above the car), the double-bezel completely obscured the track ahead, making it impossible to see what was coming. This made playing the game in a way I was unfamiliar with and our natural feeling was to try and look around it, which is impossible. I certainly couldn’t blame the frame rate, which even at 5,040 x 2,100 was perfectly smooth and stutter-free – although its’ worth noting that despite the visuals being turned up, we were playing in DX9 mode.

However, even outside of games the double-thick bezel across the middle of the display caused continual problems – it’s here that Windows wants to show its pop-ups and notifications. Every time it did so, we had to drag the notification up or down to actually read what Windows was moaning about, and as the preview driver we were using was only compatible with Vista, rather than Windows 7, our PC moaned a lot. Some notifications were too small to burst outside of the double-bezel area as well, meaning that we had no idea why Vista was preventing us from getting on with what we actually wanted to do until we clicked around blindly between the two middle screens.

Screens with thinner bezels are in production, and these will be seen as real necessity for a six-screen setup if you want to use bezel correction. We were also told that Samsung was developing a completely bezel-less screen, which will help things no end, but we haven’t yet got a date. As we’ve reported before though – there will be no “Eyefinity kit” as AMD claims it’s impossible to bundle such an item. We haven’t yet tried Eyefinity without bezel correction enabled, but will aim to do so in a future update.

Hands on with 6-screen ATI Eyefinity Gaming on 6-screen Eyefinity, and Final Thoughts
You'll need some kind of scaffold to hold six screens - this one cost around €600, roughly £550 or $820. Click to enlarge

Final Thoughts

It’s a fact at the moment that most games are still DirectX 9 and aren’t pushing PC hardware particularly hard – a mid-range £120 graphics card can handle quite a few of the latest games at 1,680 x 1,050, which is a fairly standard resolution for a typical PC gamer. Even at 1,920 x 1,080 you only need to spend £230 or so on a Radeon HD 5850 to get very playable frame rates. That’s the situation that ATI is trying to address with Eyefinity – not to push more frames per second through one screen, but to deliver a playable and immersive performance across multiple. While not a direct competitor to Nvidia’s Stereoscopic 3D, it’s an alternative technology that adds more options for the (rich) consumer in addition to just being faster. Yes, both are proprietary technology, but you’re hardly going to chop and change when you drop a significant amount on either setup: you’re going to be committed. We may complain that both this and 3D have limitations and are novelty items to some extent, but we still give kudos to the value add factor.

What we have been firmly behind: is the virtues of widescreen panels for ages – they fill more of your peripheral vision, yielding a more immersive experience – triple-screen gaming is a natural extension of this theory and not only more accessible in terms of cost and graphics cards that can support it, but it just works better as the centre view has one whole monitor to itself rather than being split between two. It’s for this reason we’re yet to be convinced of the merits of six-screen gaming due to issues with chunky bezels, and in this regard three-screen gaming doesn’t seem so ludicrous. Even Nvidia agrees, as it’s shown a three-screen 3D Vision gaming technique dubbed nFinity Surround.

However, like multi-GPUs, we’d also like to point out that we’re hugely in favour of buying a single, large quality monitor rather than many cheap and crap ones. The accurate colours and contrast of a good PVA or IPS panel give a noticeably more interesting, more vibrant and more engaging game than the dull flatness or clearly wrong colours of a bog-standard TN screen. To get a three-screen setup that we’d really want to spend money on is going to get expensive; many people are still going to be more than happy with a single 24-30in high-quality screen and putting quite a bit of the budget into their graphics, CPU or other purchases too.
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