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The Basics of Multi-Monitor Gaming

Date: October 1, 2012
Author(s): Brandon Mietzner

The world of multi-monitor gaming is a small but ever growing community of dedicated individuals who enjoy a rich and immersive game-play experience. Multi-monitor gaming can be a complicated transition, however, this how-to guide is here to help ensure you have as few problems when you decide to pass through the veil of multi-monitor gaming.



Introduction

Multi-monitor gaming began with external hardware solutions, it was a tremendously expensive and complicated mess but now it’s all at your finger tips with one video card, with usually little to no effort on your part, however, strange things can happen if you don’t like doing a lot of research.

This guide is meant to cover many of the surprises that might come up when you decide to join the world of multi-monitor gaming. I currently only have an NVIDIA rig that I can work with but this doesn’t mean that many of these facts will not also play true with an AMD setup either.

To begin, let’s get one thing clear and out of the way; not all of your favorite games (past or present) are going to support multi-monitor properly. The thought of this may sound unnerving but there are many games that do properly support multi-monitor, we even took a look at the benefits of multi-display gaming here at Techgage a few years ago, showing off how some of these games would look.

The community over at Widescreen Gaming Forum does an excellent job at giving you all the information you need to get your game running and what it would look like on your multi-monitor setup, this includes games that might not natively support multi-monitor as well. There are times when a game might need to be bent into shape to display the in-game information correctly. The WSGF community has done much to address the lack of support with such programs as Flawless Widescreen and Widescreen Fixer, but they are not always perfect because they change the game’s programming in memory, while it is running.


Multi-monitor immersion

*DISCLAIMER* I have been running these programs since their inception and I have not been banned from a single game in multiplayer, be it games that use Steam’s VAC or proprietary anti-cheat technology such as Battle.net. This does not mean it will not happen to you, but I know many other users who have been using them since day one and they’ve not had a single ban either. This is because we only use one of these programs to correct whatever maybe wrong when using multi-monitor resolutions in multiplayer. We do not use any other third party programs to alter the game in any other way at the same time, and if you choose to do this it could lead to you being banned. Thus we take no responsibility for any problems that may arise with use of these programs.

Now that we have the most shocking bits of information out of the way, you’re going to have to decide what video card manufacturer you are going to buy, be it either AMD or NVIDIA. For the sake of simplicity and continuity I am going to reference the NVIDIA 680/670 and the AMD 7970 for rest of this guide. The AMD 7970 has a two different models out on the market; one unit has one DVI-I and the other unit has two DVI (one DVI-I and DVI-D) ports. I will reference the one with a single DVI-I port since it is the most common.

The simplest solution in my opinion would be to go with NVIDIA; not because it’s the only platform that I can personally talk about, but because they don’t require you to obtain an active DisplayPort adapter. If your monitor doesn’t have a DisplayPort (DP) or if your AMD video card does not come with one of those adapters in the package, it will set you back another $30 to $100 depending on your monitor’s resolution. I will talk about this resolution cost difference more in-depth a little later on when I specifically go over monitors.

The 7970 can be setup a number of ways to drive your Eyefinity setup; it does require that you connect at least one your monitors to a DisplayPort connection and there is no way around it. Another reason that might cause your cost to go up is that the 7970 now uses Mini-DisplayPorts instead of the full size connection. Just like the active display adapter, some video cards may come with an adapter, but some do not. The configuration options are as follows:

The following picture does not reflect how the back of your 7970 will look; this is from a generic how-to guide on AMD’s website.


AMD Multi-Monitor Port Setup

The NVIDIA GTX 680 and 670 are both configured the same exact way for Surround. The configuration options are as follows:

The DisplayPort adapter is required if your monitor doesn’t have a DisplayPort connection, but you DO NOT have to use DisplayPort to run Surround. The active DisplayPort will still cost between $30 to $100, again I will cover this when I specifically go over monitors. When running Surround in SLI the DisplayPort and HDMI ports are no longer used for Surround, now all of your monitors will be connected to the multiple DVI ports and those connections will vary if you run 2 way or 3 way SLI.


NVIDIA Multi-Monitor Port Setup

At this point I would like to encourage you to keep all of your connections to your monitors the same, thus I recommend you buy a cheap HDMI to DVI adapter for both of these multi-monitor solutions. Now, a question you might ask is, “Why don’t I just use HDMI if my monitor supports it and not spend more money on another adapter?” The answer is simple; there are certain monitors out there that allow you to access all of its features via DVI or DisplayPort, but not HDMI. Making these changes on your monitors is recommend, rather than using your video card’s software; any changes you make with your video card’s software might not be saved when you update your drivers. This is more about convince than anything else.

Personally, I would prefer to spend $10 and not worry about the hassle at a future date. If you choose to run SLI, you then do not have to worry about this adapter because DVI is required for Surround in SLI mode.

Setting Things up

The prices of monitors have dropped significantly over the past few years, putting some of the larger sizes like 22″ and 24″ within a reasonable price range when you need to get three of them. The largest size you will probably want to consider is 27″, unless you have a large amount of room on your desk. I will touch on this when I discuss optional hardware.

The most common question is; “Why can’t I just use my old monitor and try to find others like it?” To find the exact model of your current monitor is going to be hard going, especially if you bought yours 5+ years ago. There are several reasons it is important for you to have the same model monitor for all three displays: You might run into resolution detection issues when enabling Eyefinity or Surround; one monitor might have a tint of grey and another a tint of blue, making color matching difficult, if not impossible to resolve; if there is any dynamic contrast, one monitor might be brighter than the others. I am not saying everyone will run into these exact problems, but these or other problems might happen and this is why I implore you to use the same model of monitor for your multi-monitor setup.

Multiple Display Setup

The size selection is just one part of your equation when you look at a monitor to purchase. One of the other most important things you need to look at is the resolution. I mentioned before that resolution would be a factor in the price of your active DisplayPort adapter and that is because a 2560×1600 resolution requires a dual-link active DisplayPort adapter which can cost about $100. If the resolution is 1920×1080 or lower, it only requires a single-link active DisplayPort adapter, which costs about $30.

Therefore, if you plan to run monitors that use 2560×1600, it would probably be cheaper if you get them with the DisplayPort already included if you’re going to go with AMD. If you’re going to go with NVIDIA and use SLI, this will not be a problem. If you use a single card, you would want to use the DisplayPort over HDMI because I have heard of technical issues popping up when people have converted from HDMI to DVI for that resolution.

The software is straight forward when it comes to configuring either AMD or NVIDIA’s multi-monitor solutions. I have used both; even though I haven’t used AMD’s in a while and I don’t recall it being problematic what so ever, NVIDIA was the worst of the two when it first entered the multi-monitor revolution, but have learned from its mistakes and setup is just as simple. As you can see with NVIDIA’s Surround configuration utility, you’ll be shown a graphic illustrating, what ports you need to plug your monitors into, and it will tell you if you need to adjust if it’s not hooked up correctly.


Setting Up NVIDIA Surround

I cannot honestly recall if AMD does this the same way, but NVIDIA will place numbers on your screen and give you a set of virtual monitors with numbers; all you need to do is match up those virtual monitors with the ones on your screens. Once you reach the end of the setup, you can opt to setup Bezel Correction. What this does is correct the distance between your monitor’s edges (bezel) so when you look at an image they are perfectly aligned with no separation. The left side of the below screen capture shows a perfect image, but that is without taking into account your monitors bezel. On the right, it may look like the image is broken, but when viewing this image from a distance, it was perfectly lined up and seamless. This has to be setup manually every time with NVIDIA’s drivers, I know that it’s working on making it possible to retain those setting, but as of right now it isn’t perfect, thus I never use bezel correction but you might want to.


NVIDIA Bezel Correction Setup

As of right now, NVIDIA’s Surround is the only multi-monitor solution to offer something called a Bezel Peeking Hotkey. What this does is toggle your bezel correction on and off in game so if the game doesn’t properly line up between the monitors with bezel correction enabled, you don’t have to change anything in game. The reason this will happen is because bezel correction adjusts your 3D images to appear seamless, but in a game with a 2D element like an inventory or HUD, it will be partially hidden.


NVIDIA Bezel Hotkey Setup

With the hardware and monitors picked, now you have to decide where you are going to put it all. It’s possible you might not be able to support all three monitors on your desk at once, even if you have the space. A solution might be to acquire a monitor stand. This is purely optional but it does require you consider something else when purchasing a monitor; it must support the VESA mount option. There are many monitor stands out there and I encourage you to explore your options based on your needs and the quality of the stand before making any purchase.

I currently use a monitor stand myself. The one I ended up purchasing was the Ergotech Triple Horizontal LCD Monitor Arm Desk Stand. The reasons for me buying this stand was simple, the wide heavy base and the overall quality. I had read many reviews of other stands and this was one that would not wobble when it had only two monitors mounted on it. If you purchase this from any distributor, the manufacturer will promptly replace any defective part if they were damaged in shipping. The maximum monitor size is 24″ per monitor with the standard unit; there are replacement parts that you purchase that will extend the stand’s support up to 27″.


Ergotech Multi-Monitor Mount System

I purchased the standard unit from Amazon but the folks over at Widescreen Gaming Forum have begun to offer the Ergotech stands on their site. They even offer the 27″ upgrade in one package at a cheaper rate then buying all the additions separately. The additions do not end there; they include a 3×1 option if you choose to run a fourth monitor above the center of your multi-monitor setup. This is possible with any of the multi-monitor solutions, but you might have to buy another active DisplayPort adapter for AMD and if you run one 680/670.


Multi-Monitor Full Gaming Rig

I personally own two NVIDIA GTX 580s in SLI for my Surround setup, and for me to run my fourth monitor I had to install my 9600 GT. Unfortunately, owners of previous generation NVIDIA cards are required to add a third card if you want to have a fourth monitor. This is why I recommend the 680/670 card if you plan to start your Surround experience from scratch. The NVIDIA GTX 690 is on the market and does support up to four monitors, but it does require a Mini-DisplayPort adapter and an active DisplayPort adapter if you change it to DVI or HDMI.

This concludes this guide to multi-monitor gaming. I have tried to cover the basics along with some of the hidden problems associated with it, but I hope it doesn’t stop you from seriously considering the move to multi-monitor gaming. The experience is unlike anything you’ve had before and I am quite sure you will not want to go back to a single monitor for gaming if you have the choice. Happy Fragging!

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