VirtualFX 3D TV Converter Reviewed

[[3D Myths and Facts]]

As gaming has increased its overall market share, a variety of companies have begun surfacing promising a million and one enhancements that guarantee a unique gaming experience. A common pattern has arisen from those promises and guarantees, indicating that what gamers want is The Third Dimension. In the quest for added realism, 3D is the obvious next big step and has evolved into the holy grail of gaming. At first graphics cards promised that with the move from simple 2D games to visually improved, 3D-Games. Then, more recently, companies have started offering monitors promising anything from high definition 3D-Like experiences to holographic projections.

Sifting through the noise of revolutionary gaming extras has become a tiresome procedure but every now and then we are rewarded with a true gem.

eDimensional was founded in 2000 by a group of gamers, dedicated to improving gaming and entertainment realism. The company has grown rapidly and has established itself in the market focusing on high-quality 3D gaming accessories. Our flagship product, the E-D 3-D Gaming System, was released to critical acclaim. eDimensional's patented stereoscopic conversion software promises an enhanced 3D experience through simulation.

In order to celebrate the fact that the company now offers a UK-ready version of the converter as well as the U.S. version, we have put the device through its paces in an attempt to discover the effectiveness of the...

[[VirtualFX 3D TV Converter]]

eDimensional has long been known for the PC software allowing you to play games in 3D using your computer, the VirtualFX 3D TV Converter however, moves the 3D experience to the living room. By implementing its technology through a standalone device, eDimensional, in fact, allows gamers who own game consoles such as the PS2, XBox and GameCube to also experience the 3D effects as well as people with standalone DVD and Divx players.

The VirtualFX 3D TV converter, as we discovered during our tests with the unit, is a very flexible device and with enough imagination can do a lot more than what is advertised but more on that later.

The Technology

We first have to give you a brief overview of what the device is supposed to do, in order to later examine how that compares with what it actually does, so we will quote the creators of the VirtualFX 3D TV converter:

The Virtual FX receives an ordinary video signal through a wire from your DVD, Video player, Cable box or Game console (XBOX, PS2, or Game Cube). It then sends the converted 3D Video signal through a wire to your TV set. The Converter System performs complicated mathematical algorithms which convert standard 2D video into Real 3D that can be viewed by watching your TV with the included 3D glasses. It does this by creating separate and distinct left eye and right eye images on your TV screen and displaying those images in an alternating format. The wireless 3D glasses included with this system operate by receiving an infrared signal transmitted from the converter box. The lenses of the glasses open and close in sync with the televised images ensuring that your left eye sees only the left eye image and vice versa, thus producing true stereographic 3D!

What You Get

The main bulk of the VirtualFX 3D TV converter system is made up of the actual standalone unit which looks much like a very small digital terrestrial or satellite receiver. The buttons on the front side of the device offer some control over how the unit will process and output its signal and although the labels will not mean much to you at first the instructions are very good at guiding you on which options are right for you.

The rear of the unit offers a few connections which you will need to connect the device to your console and TV.

The main options are video and audio ins and outs which should be straightforward for most of you, the power connection point and a master On/Off switch.

The Glasses


Included with the device are a pair of glasses which are essential for using the device, something you should know if you were good and read the how it works description above. One complaint we had from the glasses was the discomfort we felt after wearing them for a while. Considering this device will keep gamers stuck on their screens for hours on end, it is surprising that more effort hasn't gone into their design. It is possible that it was our, abnormally large heads may have something to do with this or that the choice of design options for the glasses was restricted due to the functions they perform but we still believe that more could be done about that.

IMAX DVD

Included with the package, not sure for how long, is an IMAX 3D DVD movie which, while offering impressive use of the 3D effects, did not keep us busy for too long.

Remote Control

Also included is a tiny (credit card-like) remote control unit which allows you to change all the settings available at the face of the device.

[[When Is 3D Really 3D?]]

Now that we have discussed what the VirtualFX 3D TV converter is supposed to do and how it's supposed to do it, let's have a look at what it did for us.

One thing we have to make clear from the get go and in order for our results to be replicable is that this device, much like the PC software will only work on CRT TVs or monitors. This is one limitation of this technology since much of the effect relies on the TVs refresh rate which, for CRT type Televisions, is 60Hz. LCD, Plasma and Projection TVs will not work as they use random refresh rates making it impossible for the glasses to sync their shuttering. Until a way is found round this problem and I am assured eDimensional are looking into it, it's only CRT. Another limitation is that for that the device performs optimally when using NTSC, the U.S. broadcasting standard. The device also works on PAL but since it is a slower frequency, you may notice slightly more flicker than normal. Most TV's nowadays support both systems although you may have to check your games console to see if it also does.

There are other tips in order to get the most of your 3D experience, such as turning all light sources (other than the TV) off, but they are discussed in detail in the instruction manuals provided with the device.

There are two main aspects related to the use of the VirtualFX 3D TV converter and those have to do with its performance in games and while watching movies or TV.

Gaming

The most exciting use of any device that promises 3D results has to be that of gaming. The promise of adding depth to your visual experience is one that will have most gamers salivating uncontrollably while some console games are extremely well suited to such an offering.

We tried using the VirtualFX 3D TV converter on console games, attempting at least one of each major genre while we also tried PC games by connecting the TV Out of our X850XT and 6800Ultra in-house graphics cards (the type of card was unlikely to make much of a difference but we wanted to examine if the different drivers had an impact on the experience).

While it is hard to put into words exactly how the device performed we will try to let you know what we thought the VirtualFX 3D TV converter added to the overall game experience with a rating. We will give you the game we tried and the rating (1 to 10 with 10 being the highest and meaning the device offered a maximum positive 3D effect).

Game: Burnout 3: Takedown, NFSU 2 Format: XBox, PC Genre: Racing Rating: 9


We chose to start with Burnout 3 and NFSU 2 since we had a sneaky suspicion that the racing genre was the one that had the most to gain from the 3D conversion. We get plenty of joy from saying, we were right. Both games, already relying heavily on speed for their impact, completely take off on 3D. The action becomes explosive and even gamers not fans of the genre will be astounded. The gamer's chosen car and all other vehicles seem to project outside the screen while the streets, bridges buildings etc. offer a perfect backdrop for intense adrenaline flow. This is, for all intents and purposes, as good as Burnout 3 and NFSU 2 will ever look or play.

Game: Far Cry, H-L 2, Doom 3, Painkiller Format: PC Genre: FPS Rating: 8, 7, 8, 9

Next we moved on to 3 of our favorite games of the year just to answer the what if question which had been bugging as from day one. Far Cry was the game that seemed to gain the most overall from the device although Doom 3 also received the same rating since some levels really went beyond impressive. Half-Life 2 also improved considerably but the effects were most pronounced in some of the outdoor driving levels. Painkiller, possibly because of its intense use of physics was the FPS which showed the most dramatic visual improvement while using the converter.

Game: Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow Format: XBox Genre: FPS Rating: 6

FPS games are not at home in the console but RS 3 has been a success for the XBox and not without reason. The single player and XBox Live modes were both tested with the single player producing the best 3D effect. The device made the weapon teammates and terrorists look closer to the player compared to the maps adding an important depth perception aspect to the game. The effect however, did not add much to the excitement provided by the game, even though the initial WOW effect was definitely there. The 3D effect also produced a confusing effect when close combat was taking place.

Game: FlatOut Format: PC Genre: Racing Rating: 9


Since Burnout 3 proved so successful on console and Painkiller seemed to do so well possibly due to the enhanced use of physics, we decided to try and see how a combination of those features, as manifested in FlatOut, would fare.
The results did not disappoint. FlatOut was by far the PC game that demonstrated the biggest aesthetic and immersive effect as a direct result of the VirtualFX device.

Game: Madden NFL 2005, PES IV Format: XBox, PS2 Genre: Sports Rating: 9, 8

Both sports games gained from the 3D conversion since it seems the deep green of the pitch as a background added an extra effect to the overall 3D impact. Madden gained the most since some of the intense action moves were truly beautiful to watch. In PES IV the use of the goal-replay and the camera control became a true joy.

Game: GTA:SA Format: PS2 Genre: 3rd Person Rating: 8


Another game we were very interested in was GTA:SA. We were curious as to how, if at all, the device would affect gameplay. It proved to be a mixed bag and while the walking around and shooting at things did show improvement, the real positive effect was obvious when driving, flying etc. in the game.

We tried plenty of games including Rome: Total War, WoW and Viewtiful Joe 2 but we could not recommend VirtualFX 3D for those games since it would be obvious that Role Playing and tactical games, as well as side-scrolling 2D games are not obvious candidates for 3D viewing.

Movies

We tried watching standard DVD and Divx movies using the VirtualFX 3D TV converter, using both standalone DVD players and the TV out connectors of our graphics cards (it turns out the graphics drivers did not have any significant impact on the conversion to 3D).

There is no one way to describe how the device performed. It all depends on the movie you choose to watch. As you may have anticipated action movies with shots from a distance etc. benefit the most out of the 3D conversion while close-ups, especially of faces seem to produce a disorienting effect rendering the movie unwatchable.

One example during which the device really shone was Spiderman 2. We watched the DVD version of the movie using both a standalone DVD player and a DVD PC drive and in both cases our jaws dropped. It was like watching a completely different movie while the converted Xvid of the same movie streamed from our PC was met with the same reaction.

Most action movies we tried, Behind Enemy Lines, Star Wars Episodes I and II (pod racing was awesome), Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (the tricky colors limited the effect), Blade 2, The Incredibles (simply stunning), Finding Nemo (also stunning) the list goes on and keeps growing, all gained the maximum possible in enhanced viewing pleasure. We tried the new Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason DVD however and were left with a confusing effect, or maybe that was the movie... In any case if that is the type of movie you enjoy or if you are into French movies exploring the depths of the human psyche, well then this device may not be able to add much to that.

TV

While we did try to watch as wide a variety of TV shows as is possible, we quickly noticed that the same rules, as for movies, apply. Fast moving action is always improved while talk-shows, much as you'd expect, showed no positive and in most cases negative effects.

The biggest beneficiaries of the 3D conversion on TV are sports games. We watched the Super Bowl wearing our glasses and thoroughly enjoyed the action. The control made it easy to switch modes and although the glasses do make you look... well strange, you are safe since women that watch the Super Bowl won't probably care about your glasses.

[[Final thoughts]]

We began trying out the VirtualFX 3D TV converter in a suspicious mood but with the hope that it may be similar, at least, to the IMAX experience. It turns out that it's not really comparable to that. IMAX, after all, relies on its gigantic screen size for much of its effect and you are limited to your TV.

The effect of the device however and the extreme flexibility we discovered, makes it a very appealing option. We used it with game consoles, with DVD players and with the TV out connections of our PCs and in all instances the device performed admirably.

Performance Summary
Gaming

Racing and fast moving games were the ones that had to gain the most from the 3D transformation. When in full swing the 3D effects produce stunning results which greatly improve the overall gaming experience. Games such as Burnout 3, FallOut, Painkiller etc. produced stunning results, while games in which the background is not that visible were the ones that did not benefit from the conversion and in some cases could even produce a negative, detrimental for gameplay result.

Movies

In all cases, action movies produced impressive results and were extremely pleasant to watch. Romantic flicks, slow moving comedies or cultural allegories examining the human condition have absolutely nothing (to gain from a 3D conversion).

A device such as the VirtualFX 3D TV converter will increase your interest in creating a DVD library or will generate newfound interest in the one you already have.

TV

Certain TV programs such as sports shows, especially motor- car, truck or bike racing and football will become extremely enjoyable. Slow moving, non-action TV shows will not be affected and in some cases can produce a confusing effect while viewing.

...but

Before you do purchase one however, make sure that you have the correct hardware to actually be able to benefit from the VirtualFX 3D TV converter; you can read some of those requirements in page 3 of this review or from the eDimensional website.

We would also like to see the creators address the discomfort issues arising from the poor design of the 3D glasses as well as the support of other non-CRT monitors, now that TFT and Plasma are gradually replacing PC monitors and TVs, some solution will have to come up.

Bottom Line

Considering that this device now retails for USD 129.95, it is obvious that we highly recommend it for all gamers who enjoy the type of games, Movies and TV shows we mention above. The 3D conversion adds greatly to the overall enjoyment and the great variety of functions means that you will enjoy using it for a long while.

Now that the manufacturers are offering a UK enabled power supply and considering the strength of the GBP compared to the US Dollar lately, it seems that the device may become more appealing to Europeans, especially now that most TVs support NTSC and most PC Graphics Cards will output that system, all you need is a wireless keyboard and mouse to play in front of your TV if you don't have a CRT screen.

Until we get true holographic projections to replace our screens, we will have to accept that VirtualFX 3D TV converter, basically the manipulation of our brain's information processing abilities, is the only way we can get a 3D-like experience and eDimensional have done a pretty good job producing it.

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