Six monitors, bolted together, might make your gaming better. It will certainly make it take up more room and, as Kotaku learned yesterday, it introduces a couple of new complications.
Complication 1: It's expensive.
Yesterday, in New York, I got to see graphics-card-maker AMD's six-monitor gaming set-up in action. They call it the Eyefinity 6, an arrangement that is powered by a $480 graphics card called the ATI Radeon 5870 (Eyefinity 6 Edition.) Various monitors can be wired together for an Eyefinity 6 set-up, but the unpriced all-in-one version was what I got to check out. It uses 19"x10" Samsung monitors (which sell separately for about $400 or $500).
Video counter-argument: Here is HAWX running on the Eyefinity 6, shot by me with my iPhone 3Gs.
A man named Evan Groenke talked me through my Eyefinity demo, booting up games and swiftly configuring each game to run at its best resolution. He said that well-programmed games would be able to detect the massive resolutions offered by the assembled six monitors. Dirt 2, for example, recognized the opportunity to run in 5760x2160 resolution.
Complication 2:: Plastic can get in the way.
The Eyefinity 6, as you've probably noticed, is not one giant monitor. It is six, and each has a plastic frame, the bevel. That bezel can obstruct some of the detail you'd want to see in a game or force graphics to be split across a gap.
Either condition should be familiar to people who have played any Nintendo DS games that try to treat that machine's two screens as one tall one. Developers of such games have to decide whether to have their game pretend the gap isn't there, causing a ball shot from the bottom screen to appear on the top screen as soon as it leaves the lower one — or to have that gap between screens treated as part of the playing field, just a part of the playing field you can't see.
The Eyefinity 6 set-up is designed to offer either style, which Groenke showed me by switching between a resolution like the one mentioned above that pretends the plastic edges of the monitors aren't there and a "bezel compensating" mode that upped the resolution to 5940x2254 and allowed some of the playing field to simply exist where, in the real world, the plastic edges of the monitors were.
Note that in the three-by-two monitor set-up in these videos, that puts some plastic in the way of the center of the screen. That dead center zone is where a first-person shooter often displays its cross-hairs. As a result, Groenke recommended that we try Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on a 3x1 monitor set-up instead, leaving the top array of monitors for other tasks.
In other games the bezels got in the way of menu options and other on-screen text. These are issues AMD is working on with publishers and developers, Groenke said. A development kit for this technology was recently made available to game creators, with the intention to make it easy for PC game-makers to compensate for these issues by, say, lowering the cross-hairs position in a first-person shooter.
Video counter-argument: Battlefield Bad Company 2, Kotaku.com, YouTube and The New York Times running simultaneously.
Complication 3:: It doesn't look easy to set up without the help of professionals.
I was shown how easy it is to assign and align the graphics being displayed in each monitor. There are very simple software tools built into the AMD tech that ensure the graphics from one monitor line up with those in the adjacent ones. That's not a problem. But I don't think I could wire this rig together without getting a headache.
This is the back:
Video counter-argument: Battleforge running on six screens.
Even if you were rich and had lots of desk space, would you want to play video games using six monitors? Based on what I saw, it should depend on how well game makers support the set-up. AMD wants to ensure developers do it right, which means that your mini-map shouldn't be on one monitor and your health bar on another. Graphics shouldn't just be scaled up; games should be tailored to allow a player to look to the center and enjoy the advantage of having peripheral view of the graphics as well. Eyefinity 6 isn't quite there yet, but if that is where AMD and gaming's publishers take it, this will be one of the most impressive way to play games on a computer.
The Samsung monitor set-up I saw is not on the market yet. It's coming soon, I was told, price to be announced.
UPDATE: Here are a couple more resources for you.... The official Eyefinity website and the recommended specs from AMD: Quad Core CPU, 2.8GHz or higher, 4GB RAM (6-8 GB "highly recommended"), Windows Vista or beyond, plus the ATI Radeon 5870 Eyefinity 6 Edition card, of course.