The Asus VG236H is 23in PC monitor capable of delivering 3D images for films and Windows games, using nVidia 3D Vision technology. Supplied with shutter glasses and USB infrared-emitter adaptor, you just need a recent nVidia card and some 3D content to enjoy the third dimension

To those who’ve followed a couple of decades or more of consumer technology, the enthusiasm of today’s entertainment world for all things 3D will come as nothing new.

After all, there’ve been several phases in the past where film companies have eagerly pushed the third dimension as the next big thing in cinema. To date, the hype has dissolved into nothing within a very short space of time. But the sheer number of companies involved, and the intensity with which they’re embracing the new wave of technology, suggest that it could be different this time. The next ten years really could be the decade in which 3D gathers substance.

We’ve seen a steady stream of both 3D film and game titles coming out recently. And media behemoths like Sky have been throwing much of their substantial marketing clout into securing the future success of this technology in the UK.

Perhaps most significantly, the technology in PCs, televisions and monitors is now sufficiently advanced to make 3D work, and work effectively. The Asus VG236H is one of few full-3D monitors, but there are a sizeable number being promised for upcoming months.

But first, let's take a look at what's required to see images in 3D on this screen

nVidia 3D Vision technology

In common with other 3D screens today, the Asus VG236H takes advantage of nVidia’s proprietary 3D Vision technology, and this means you’ll need a compatible nVidia graphics card to get started – bad luck for those using ATI. A good number of nVidia cards will work with 3D Vision, including most of those available today - there’s a full list on the nVidia web site.

Should you want to use the Asus VG236H on a gaming machine, you’ll undoubtedly want to ensure you have a graphics card with plenty of speed. In practice, this eliminates most of the cheaper options.

Besides a compatible graphics card and 120Hz screen, you’ll also need nVidia’s 3D Vision Kit. One of these should be supplied with the Asus VG236H (although always check before buying), and consists of a pair of 3D glasses and a USB controller/IR emitter.

The 3D glasses are lightweight (looking rather like a cheap pair of Ray Bans) but rather more robust than the typical shades you’ll get for 3D. A mini USB cable allows them to be plugged in for recharging their integral batteries. The glasses last for several hours between charges. When not charging, the glasses are completely wireless, and communicate with a Windows PC via the IR emitter.

Should you want to use the glasses for viewing films, you’ll need a Blu-Ray drive (either a writer or a BD-ROM like the Plextor PX-B120U) and suitable playback software. The latter must have 3D support. CyberLink PowerDVD version 10 will be fine, for example, as will the 3D edition of version 9.

Finally, your PC must be running Windows, either Windows 7 or Vista, and it’ll need to be equipped with at least an Intel Core 2 Duo or an AMD Athlon X2 CPU.

Refreshing rates

The crucial feature of the Asus VG236H is its ability to refresh at a rate of 120Hz. Standard screens refresh at 60Hz, and the Asus’ higher figure means that it can operate two separate 60Hz images at once.

The screen uses alternate-frame sequencing to display a different image for each eye. You then put on active-shutter glasses which ensures that each eye only sees the image intended for it – the images will be displayed in quick succession, and each eye will be blanked out when the image on the screen isn’t intended for it. The final effect is that appropriate images are seen in three dimensions.

NEXT PAGE: Setting up the Asus VG236H, and performance >>

Setting up the Asus VG236H isn’t an easy task. You can run through a series of stages to get the various components up and running, although in practice we had to reinstall the Windows drivers several times before the IR emitter for the 3D glasses would work. And we had to hunt down an additional software patch to get the flat-panel working properly in 3D.

Clearly the software will need to be tweaked and the drivers improved before this becomes as easy a process as it needs to be.

Once up and running, the Asus VG236H grabs the attention immediately with a number of three-dimensional JPS files. These are stills which contain two images, so allowing them to create a three-dimensional still when viewed through the glasses. 3D users can download a number of impressive JPS images over the internet.

Alternatively, you can take in-game 3D screenshots or use compatible cameras (such as the Fujifilm Finepix Real 3D W1) to create your own 3D snaps.

However, the excellence of these stills is no substitute for full-motion 3D.

We next tried a number of different Windows games on a system kitted out with an nVidia GTX 470. The most impressive of the titles was Metro 2033. Until you’ve experienced 3D gaming for yourself, you can’t imagine how immersive it feels – nor is it easy to describe.

The characters and objects aren’t fully-rounded (the effect is a little like looking at a series of flat cardboard cut-outs placed at different distances), but the impression of depth still manages to impress.

On many an occasion, we couldn’t believe that we couldn’t just reach out and put our hand through the flat-panel screen – which is surely a sign that the magic of 3D is working.

Whether moving through crowds of characters, opening heavy doors, or fighting lunging monsters, the 3D effect made a huge difference, and every time we took the glasses off and went back to 2D mode (you can switch from 2D to 3D and back at the touch of a button), the game felt very distant and dull in comparison.

The film experience

Watching films was no less impressive. We tested the screen with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and found the 3D to be quite amazing. Again, it feels as though you can peer right into the screen, and the sequences where the camera floats through groups of people gives an incredible feeling that the action is happening around you.

The 3D isn’t entirely without drawbacks. We were never able to get a totally smooth picture from the Asus VG236H, and the feeling of wearing glasses was slightly offputting. Would we want to sit there for hours a day looking through these glasses? No. We’d almost certainly have a headache and/or strained eyes if we used it for prolonged periods.

Some users have remarked that the 3D wears off after a bit. In our experience, that wasn’t the case though, and we were still finding 3D effects amazing a significant time after first firing it up.

It does take some time to adjust to the glasses when playing games, and for the first few days we found ourselves being slightly less accurate than normal. Also, games were noticeably less smooth, so for situations where top framerates are vital we can imagine gamers might want to keep the 3D switched off.

We stress that we couldn’t see 3D being something we’d want on the whole time. But if we wanted to spend an hour immersed in our favourite game title of the moment, it would be hard to imagine how the experience wouldn’t be enhanced considerably by slipping on the glasses. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but gamers and movie enthusiasts need to at least see this technology in action. Gamers, in particular, might find the lure hard to resist.

The Asus VG236H screen

Take away the 3D aspect, and the Asus is still a very decent (if a rather expensive) 23in flat-panel. Its sleek black casing is attractive, and the stand is height adjustable. No separate RGB connector is included, although you do get both HDMI and DVI, as well as YPbPr component video. We like the menu system, and the preset screen modes are conveniently accessed from a single key.

Capable of using the full 120Hz in 2D mode, the Asus feels extremely smooth to use. Given the price, it’s disappointing that the Asus only uses a TN (twisted nematic) panel, although the viewing angles are actually quite adequate in reality.

Image quality is sharp and packed with colour (aided perhaps by Asus’ Splendid Video technology). The glass screen is extremely reflective though, making it a difficult flat-panel to use in well-lit rooms. It’s also very bright, so you’ll want to tone it down a touch for everyday PC tasks.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

See also: Group test: what's the best LCD display?

See also: Group test: what's the best budget LCD display?

Asus VG236H: Specs

  • 23in flat-panel
  • 1920 x 1080
  • 0.265mm pixel pitch
  • 400cd/m2 brightness
  • 2ms (GTG) response rate
  • 1000:1 specified contrast ratio ‘100,000:1 max’
  • 170/160 degree viewing angle
  • DVI-D, HDMI connectors
  • YPbPr inputs (3 x RCA phono sockets)
  • 550 x 250 x 420mm
  • 7kg
  • 3-year warranty
  • 23in flat-panel
  • 1920 x 1080
  • 0.265mm pixel pitch
  • 400cd/m2 brightness
  • 2ms (GTG) response rate
  • 1000:1 specified contrast ratio ‘100,000:1 max’
  • 170/160 degree viewing angle
  • DVI-D, HDMI connectors
  • YPbPr inputs (3 x RCA phono sockets)
  • 550 x 250 x 420mm
  • 7kg
  • 3-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

Although the Asus is expensive for a 23in LCD monitor with a TN panel, the cost may be more than worth it should you have the necessary 3D kit as well. The reflective glass screen is annoying, but otherwise this is a very decent flat-panel and a suitable introduction to the world of 3D. We’d suggest you should try before buying, if possible. For those who want a fully immersive visual experience, and want it now, the Asus VG236H could literally unlock a whole new dimension.

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