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Stereoscopic Imaging with NVIDIA 3D Vision technology

NVDIA no longer sells the 3D Vision product and have removed support for it in the newer releases of their device drivers, effectively obsoleting the technology described below.


Stereoscopic imaging is of particular interest in molecular modeling applications because the structural models under consideration often have components with complex spatial relationships that are difficult to discern when viewing on a 2D display. Older CRT displays could readily be augmented with liquid crystal shutter glasses for viewing in stereo, but until recently flat-panel LCD displays were limited to 2D viewing only.


The NVIDIA 3D Vision works with NVIDIA's GeForce Series of graphics cards. The system uses active "shutter" glasses for viewing and requires an LCD monitor capable of 120Hz refresh rate. (The active shutter glasses approach is in contrast to passive glasses used with the Miracube 3D stereo display and in most movie theaters.) NVIDIA lists many monitors on their web site that work with their glasses. The glasses are synchronized to the monitor wirelessly using an infrared emitter with each lens alternately turning opaque. Thus each eye sees a full 60 frames per second and potential flickering of images is minimized.


We tested the NVIDIA 3D Vision system with UCSF Chimera and a NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700 graphics card driver version 266.45 on Windows 7 Professional using a Samsung Syncmaster 2233RZ monitor (now discontinued). For Chimera, you must use version 1.4 or later.

The NVIDIA Quadro graphics driver has two places where its stereo capabilities are configured. The obvious Stereoscopic 3D section is only for fullscreen applications using Direct3D. For OpenGL stereo, which is what Chimera uses, you need to go to 3D Settings / Manage 3D Settings:

Stereo - Display mode On-board DIN connector (with NVIDIA 3D Vision)
Stereo - Display enable On
Stereo - Swap eyes Off


The NVIDIA 3D Vision glasses and Samsung 2233RZ display produce images that have a very good three-dimensional effect. Users have the sense that the model is "floating in space" in front of the display and the temptation is to reach out and grab it. The stereo effect is maintained over a wide viewing angle and contrast ratio is excellent.

One reason the Quadro graphics card provides such good results is because it uses quad-buffering (two display buffers for each eye). Quad-buffering eliminates artifacts that occasionally can be seen when the previously rendered frame is combined with the currently-incomplete rendered frame, although in practice this is not a significant problem.


The NVIDIA 3D Vision combined with the Samsung 22" display provide high quality 3D images, with good color contrast and viewing angles. This combination represents a relatively low cost solution for viewing interactive molecular models in stereo on a desktop computer. The 3D Vision kit comes with a second pair of glasses and thus allows a collaborator to also view the models. The computer gaming and 3D movie industries are driving the 3D stereo viewing marketplace, with new products being introduced regularily, and prices continue to fall.

See the description of our Visualization Vault for a room-size implementation of 3D stereo molecular visualization.

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