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How to upgrade your PC for real 3D

Play stereo 3D games and movies on your PC with our guide

So, you want to use your PC to play 'real' 3D games? It's easier than you might think. Here, we explain what you need to know.

See also: how to get 3D on your PC for free

Graphics card

The first thing you’ll need to upgrade your PC to display real 3D is suitable a suitable graphics card or integrated graphics. We spoke to the three manufacturers of graphics solutions and the good news is that most recent PCs already have what’s required.

3D graphics card

See all graphics card reviews

According to Intel, what you need to look for is any processor that has either Intel HD graphics 2000 / 3000 or Intel HD graphics 2500 / 4000. In practice this means you need either a Sandy Bridge or an Ivy Bridge variant, respectively, of the Core i3, i5 or i7 with a built-in graphics chip.

AMD indicated that the A-Series APUs (Accelerated Processing Unit: CPU plus GPU) support 3D.

If, on the other hand, your processor isn’t 3D capable you’ll need to buy a suitable graphics card. NVidia told us that you don’t need to spend a fortune, citing the GeForce GTX560 Ti or GTX550 for entry into the world of 3D gaming and the GTX600-series cards which are capable of generating stereoscopic 3D photos or video / Blu-ray decoding.

Similarly AMD said that any graphics card from the Radeon HD 6450 upwards would do the trick. Given that you can pick one of these up for just £25, this provides a low-cost route into 3D if your processor doesn’t have the necessary capability.

3D monitors

The other piece of the 3D puzzle is of course the monitor. If you’re in the market for a 3D upgrade, you might prefer to pick your monitor first and then turn your attention to the graphics card. This is because the monitor will probably be your most expensive purchase and, because some monitors only support a particular 3D standard such as nVidia’s 3D Vision, it could restrict your choice of graphics card.

Due to the huge number of combinations, we can't say definitively which monitors will work with which graphics cards, it’s vitally important that you get an assurance that your proposed purchases will work with each other.

Many monitors are available with the 3D glasses bundled to make life easier. £155 will buy you an entry-level passive monitor such as the 23in LG D2342P-PN but if you prefer to go for an active shutter version, these start at about £260 for the 24in Acer Aspire 3D GD245HQA which comes bundled with the 3D Vision glasses and a built-in wireless transmitter which keeps everything neat and tidy. Naturally, you can spend much more than these prices, so check our reviews on other 3D monitors.

3D TVs

If you already have a suitable graphics card, an Intel processor with at least Intel HD graphics 2000 or an A-series AMD AGU, and you happen to own a 3D TV, the two can be used together to experience full stereoscopic 3D at virtually no cost. However, there are one or two potential pitfalls you need to be aware of.

First, even a HD TV will have a lower resolution than the best monitors (which have up to 2,560x1,600 pixels). For applications such as gaming, you might be prepared to sacrifice resolution for size but it’s something to consider. Second, you’ll need to buy a cable to connect your TV to the graphics output connector on your PC. If your PC has an HDMI connector then a simple HDMI-to-HDMI cable will do the trick and will cost only a couple of pounds.

If, on the other hand your PC only has a DVI output you’ll need a DVI-to-HDMI converter that will cost around £5. In this case you’ll also need to route the audio separately since DVI doesn't carry audio.

Finally, if you’re using a nVidia graphics card, you’ll need a software product called 3DTV play which is essentially a driver allowing output to a TV as opposed to a 3D Vision monitor. This costs £26.53 from nVidia's website.

See all monitor reviews

LG D2242P-BN3D Monitors, like the LG DP2242P-BN use passive 3D glasses; others require you to wear active shutter specs.

Software

None of this hardware is any use without software, of course, so you’ll need to invest in some suitable applications. If your prime interest is watching movies, the latest versions of the big name movie playing software will handle 3D Blu-ray and some will also 'upscaled' 2D films and photos to 3D. As you might expect, upscaled content won’t be nearly as impressive as watching genuine 3D movies or photos.

Some examples include CyberLink Power DVD 12, Roxio CinePlayer BD with 3D and ArcSoft Total Media Theatre. The cheapest of these will cost you around £35.

For gamers, the list of native 3D games is growing and converting 2D games to 3D on the fly by interpreting the DirectX stream is also achievable. Again you should watch out for compatibility as some will only support nVidia 3D Vision while others might need the TriDef 2D-to-3D conversion middleware to work with Intel or AMD hardware.

Laptops

You can't uprade your laptop's screen, but if it doesn't have a 3D-capable display, all hope might not be lost. As long as its graphics card can produce stereoscopic images, you may be able to connect an external 3D monitor (or a 3D TV as above).

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