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Today it is becoming more commonplace to have two graphics cards in your system and dual displays are also becoming more popular. I run two displays in my office here at Driver Heaven headquarters and it is extremely useful for multitasking, go into any stock brokers in London and they have anything up 6 or 8 monitors running from one system.

Those of you who remember back to the time of the Geforce 3 and Radeon 8500 may remember the Matrox Parhelia which allowed users to connect three displays while the competition were only offering dualhead. Now Matrox have come up with a clever way of utilizing a similar technology for the gaming community who use non Matrox graphics cards. That product is the Triplehead2Go and recently Matrox sent us over a sample.

We have seen a lot from this product in the last couple of months, colleagues have been talking about it and we caught our first glimpse of it in action at IDF in January. The idea is - take three monitors that can handle the same resolution (preferably the same monitor), ensure they have fairly thin sides to the screen, connect them into Matrox’s new box , plug the other end into your PC or laptop and you can transform three monitors with 1280 x 1024 each to one monitor with a maximum resolution of 3840 x 1024. A fantastic, extra extra wide screen!

Test system:

4400+ AMD Dual Core
1 Gig of Corsair 4000LL memory
ATI X800 XT
Abit AN8 main board
3x standard 17” TFT’s
1x Eizo 20” TFT (to get the higher resolutions)

Installation:

Out of the box and the unit is fairly self explanatory, the TripleHead2Go itself requires power from the provided DC power supply and it has three outputs for the monitors, labeled right, left and center. The input on this model is analog however there is a converter lead in the box should you only have DVI on the back of your graphics card. Matrox have told us that a DVI version of the unit is possible however its unlikely to be released until more cards have Dual-link DVI as standard. (Standard DVI doesn’t have the bandwidth to supply the TripleHead). With all of the hardware connected and the pc powered on, the center screen springs into life and the rest is down to software. The hardware in the unit does very little besides splitting the signal from the input across each monitor.

The unit is supplied with a software CD, manuals on the disk and are provided in a PDF format. There are two pieces of software that need to be installed with the TripleHead2Go, firstly the software that interacts with windows to let it know that there is a monitor capable of running the new widescreen resolution and secondly a program called Surround Gaming. This application is a game optimizer and configures the games to run the wide resolutions. After installing both pieces of software it asks what resolution should be used in a 2D environment (Windows) and the choices depend on your graphics card. The ATI card that we tested with is capable of running the massive 3840 x 1024 resolution in a 2D environment however in 3D we would have to drop it down to a lower resolution.

The Triple Head supports the following resolutions:
3840 x 1024
3072 x 768
2400 x 600
1920 x 480
*Note Currently Nvidia graphics cards support higher 3D resolutions than ATI cards. This is a driver issue which will hopefully be addressed by ATI soon. Additionally Crossfire is not currently supported where as SLI is. Here is the current compatibility list from Matrox:


Once we had selected the largest size resolution both left and right monitors switched on to display probably the longest task bar ever seen in Windows!

Normally the TFT align themselves to a new resolution without a hitch, however we did run into some problems when flicking between displays, the auto setup on the TFT (that ensures that the image is using the full potential of the monitor) seemed to have a few issues during the testing and we found ourselves having to manually correct this using the monitors OSD, this may well have been an issue with the slightly older monitors we used, however we imagine most people who want three monitors are not likely to go out and buy a brand new set!

A further limitation of the device became apparent. Opening the manual from the PDF then expanding the window (using the maximize button) made it cover all screens, windows thinks that there is only one screen, it simply has no idea where each screen joins to the next, unlike when you extend your desktop to another monitor under normal circumstances. This could well be a problem for anyone wanting to use the system to have multiple windows open. The only way around this was to manually expand each window to fit each screen.

Those issues aside lets move onto the real reason anyone would want the unit, for gaming! The 3 games we decided to test with where Half Life 2 Lost Coast, Counter Strike Source and F.E.A.R. These games are just 3 of the 120 or so that are now supported by Matrox. Before running each game the first time on the TripleHead you must optimize the game to run on the unusual resolution, if you don’t do this then the game will simply appear on your central screen. If the game has been installed on your system the Matrox software will automatically show it as an available game in the menu, if like us you have moved Half Life 2 from machine to machine and do not re-install then you can manually point the software at a specific .exe file, shown below.

Next, select which resolution you wish to use at the top and click “optimize” and the game will be setup to run the new display. Upon loading your game most copyrights and warnings appear very stretched on the screen and virtually all video intros only play on the center screen, but once in the game all the other issues you had getting there fade away.

Having a play

A whole new field of view is available to TripleHead users, even being forced into running the game at a low resolution because the X800 XT limitations in the test bench didn’t really matter. We kept turning off the left and right screens and playing for 5 minutes then turning them back on again just so we could look around with that awe at the huge difference it makes.

The outer screens seem to have this very slight goldfish bowl distortion to them but if anything it just adds to the experience, looking directly at the left or right during a game just isn’t necessary – instead it is a case of using natural peripheral vision, … being able to catch someone coming in from the side really does add to the immersion factor.


 

 


 

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