Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition New Widescreen Modes Review

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First of all, I would like to extend my apologies to Matrox and the readership of the WSGF. The updates to support the Widescreen Surround modes came out over six months ago, and I am just now able to get this review completed. First was my saga with ASUS and my set of VW198T's. Three months and ten monitors later, I finally gave up and started over with three new monitors from Dell. Mix that with the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, Christmas and overhauling my gaming rig (and don't forget day job, the wife and the three kids), and I'm just getting this up.

That being said, I think some of the time has been beneficial to my experience. Not only have I been able to put in quality time with the hardware, but in that time Matrox has made significant strides in its software support. And, we've been able to get our hands on beta software that fixes many of the issues experienced in Vista. Again, my apologies for the delay; but I hope it's been worth it.

This review should be considered third in a series. The first two are Paddy's reivew of the original TripleHead2Go and my review of the TripleHead2Go Digital Edition. If this is your first exposure to the TripleHead2Go or Surround Gaming, I would strongly advise that you read the first two reviews - especially the TripleHead2Go Digital Edition. This is a review of the new enhanced widescreen modes of the TripleHead2Go Digital Edition (DTH2Go), and builds upon that original review.

The recent firmware and software update to the DTH2Go adds two new resolutions - 5040x1050 (3x1680x1050) and 4320x900 (3x1440x900). These new resolutions add significant functionality and capability to the DTH2Go, and are a very welcome addition. This update is only available with the DTH2Go, and not with the original analog model. The USB connectivity of the DTH2Go allows for user-implementable firmware updates.

I am hoping to get a video review done soon. I didn't want to delay publishing the print review any longer, so will be updating this space once the video review is finished.

New Widescreen Resolutions

The recent enhancement to the DTH2Go brings support for the next two major resolutions: 3x1440x900 and 3x1680x1050. The DTH2Go previously supported 3x16:10, but only at low resolutions such as 3x1280x800. These resolutions were not very enticing to users. The only panels to offer native 1280x800 were small 15" panels. Otherwise, users would be required to stretch the 1280x800 image across something larger, such as 1680x1050 (considering that 1440x900 panels are uncommon). Additionally, the limited vertical height of 800px often meant that the onscreen HUD took up large portions of the screen real estate.

The inclusion of 3x1440x900 or 3x1680x1050 allows users to invest in "mainstream" panel sizes such as 20" or 22". Additionally, users can opt for 24" panels, and scale the 1680x1050 image across the native 1920x1200. The scaling of 1680x1050 over 1920x1200 is far less obtrusive than 1280x800 over 1680x1050. Panels in the 20" or 22" range can now be found for ~$250, far less than when the DTH2Go originally shipped.

The DTH2Go does not support 3x1920x1080, 3x1920x1200 or higher. This is due to the bandwidth limitations of the Dual-Link DVI interface. Any enhancements there will require new hardware built upon something like HDMI or DisplayPort. The DTH2Go now supports the following TripleHead resolutions:

Standard Resolutions Widescreen Resolutions
3 x 5:4 3 x 4:3 3 x 16:10 3 x 16:9
1280x1024 3840x1024 1280x960 3840x960 1680x1050 5040x1050 1360x768 4080x768
    1024x768 3072x768 1440x900 4320x900 1280x720 3840x720
    800x600 2400x600 1280x800 3840x800    
    640x480 1920x480 1280x768 3840x768    
        800x480 2400x480    

Widescreen = Greater Functionality

Moving from 5:4 to 16:10 monitors offers a number of advantages. The primary advantage is that the user now has the best of both worlds. Previously with the DTH2Go, it was an all or nothing proposition. You were able to play games in Surround or 5:4 (1280x1024) - nothing in between. Now, the user has the advantage of also being able to play games at 1680x1050 widescreen. So, if a games does not support Surround, or is Vert- (which essentially breaks Surround gameplay), the user is now able to enjoy the game in "normal" widescreen.

Additionally, the increased size of the monitors serves to further enhance the immersion. Three 19" 5:4 panels average about 45" across. Three 22" 16:10 panels stretch out to a total of 60" on the diagonal. While this still doesn't completely fill my peripheral vision, it comes very closes. Finally, having a 20" or 22" widescreen places the middle bezels outside the center focus of your vision. While the bezels on my 19" panels were never a large distraction; they are now even less so. Even with silver bezels on my current monitors, they "disappear" quite easily. Also, utilizing widescreen displays allows the user to watch widescreen HD content maximized on one screen (via disk, download or stream), while working or surfing on another.

The left-hand picture is my new setup with the widescreen monitors installed. For comparison, the single panel on the right is 30". The right-hand pictures compare the physical size difference of the 3x19" and 3x22" panels.

DTH2Go Cmd Center

I use one of the monitors as a secondary display with the laptop for my day job. This wasn't feasible with the 19" displays, as their native 1280x1024 didn't match up with the 1680x1050 of my laptop. I was forever resizing windows as I moved them back and forth, and Windows often had issues with the difference as well. I'm now have double the work area, and have become much more productive and efficient in my multitasking. I'm actually considering a second TripleHead2Go, so that I could expand my work environment across the internal laptop display and three additional screens (over the VGA connections). I've found that the productivity argument for the TripleHead2Go is just as strong as the gaming argument.

Finally, moving to widescreen monitors will generally offer HDCP support, and additional connection types such as component and HDMI. These additional connections allow the user to hook up additional devices such as HD-DVD/Blu-Ray players, HDTV Cable Box, Xbox360 or PS3. I've found that I often watch TV on one of the monitors (through the HDTV Cable Box), or stream a Netflix movie with the Xbox 360, while working at night (either on the laptop for the "day job," or on my Mac to update the WSGF or edit video). While this may seem like a small capability, these additional features have allowed me to get significantly more use out of my monitors.

I am using all nine inputs on my monitors. The DVI inputs are connected to the TripleHead2Go. The HDMI inputs are connected to an HDTV cable box, an Xbox 360 Elite, and a Toshiba HD-A3 HD-DVD player. The VGA inputs are connected to my work laptop (extending my WinXP desktop, as described above), a Nintendo Wii (via the VDigi VD-W2 Wii VGA cable), and a Sega Dreamcast (through a DC VGA Box). The monitors use 1:1 aspect scaling for the DTH2Go and the Xbox 360 (thanks to 1680x1050 support in the NXE Dashboard update); 16:9 scaling for the HDTV, HD-DVD and Wii; and 4:3 scaling for the Dreamcast.

Additionally, I have sound bars on each monitor. With a couple of splitters, I am able to route audio signals from every device. For my gaming PC, I am routing the left and right signal to the left and right monitors, while routing the center channel to the center monitor. I am also running the sub signal to a JBL Radial that sits on my desk. So with the Widescreen Surround visuals, I am also getting 3.1 Surround audio.

This kind of setup wouldn't have been possible without the new Widescreen Surround modes on the DTH2Go allow me to place widescreen monitors at the center of my rig design. My Surround setup is now the center of a true multimedia hub.

DTH2Go Setup

Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition New Widescreen Modes Review - Hardware & Software

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DTH2Go Hardware

The new Widescreen Modes are an enhancement to the original DTH2Go, and thus it uses the same hardware and connections. One side has the three outputs from the DTH2Go to the individual monitors. The other side has the Dual-Link DVI input from the video card, and a USB connection. The USB connection provides power to the unit, and allows for firmware updates.

DTH2Go Box DTH2Go Connections

Selecting a Monitor

An area of utmost importance is the selection of a monitor. The DTH2Go runs 5040x1050 @57Hz. Due to bandwidth issues over a Dual-Link DVI, 60Hz was not possible. You will need to select a monitor that is capable of running 1680x1050 @57Hz. Not all monitors are capable of this. Users have even reported problems on monitors claiming to support 57Hz. Our recommendation is to pick a monitor from our "known working" list, or to purchase from a manufacturer or retail source with a good return policy. Even monitors that run at 1680x1050 @57Hz have seen problems with 5040x1050 @57Hz.

I would strongly recommend that you look into the warranty terms and service policy of your monitor maker. LCD panels have basically become a commodity, and the true differentiator is service. Take my ASUS experience to heart. Paying to return a DOA monitor for service, and then waiting 10 days for a repair, is a big kick in the pants. I would recommend a company that offers an "advanced exchange" warranty. This is where they send the replacement first to you, then you return the defective. Monitors with this type of warranty may be a bit more expensive, but it's well worth the investment.

Finally, I would pick a monitor with a three year warranty; and pick a company that doesn't rotate quickly through varied models. You want to having matching monitors in your Surround setup. Users who have mixed and matched different monitors have reported issues. If you purchase three matching monitors, you want to try and ensure that any needed replacements are the same model (or at least very close).

A company that sells one model for an extended period of time, and has a three year warranty is expecting to keep replacement stock of that monitor for about five years. During my ASUS experience, I was shocked to learn that the model I had purchased was already being discontinued (after a short time on the market), and was going EOL (End of Life). This meant that no exact replacements would ever be available.

Monitors are a long term investment. A Surround setup requires a level of forethought and planning not required in a single monitor rig. The short list of recommendations is: advanced exchange warranty, long lifespan, and slow model "churn." I am not recommending any one vendor over another. I am simply providing a set of criteria to help ensure a satisfied experience.

Matrox PowerDesk (GXM Suite)

Along with the new firmware, Matrox has provided a new software suite to support the DTH2Go. The PowerDesk software now provides a wizard environment for setup, and walks the user through a step-by-step process for validating the install and the hardware connections.

The new software enables the new widescreen modes by installing custom resolutions in the display properties and video card control panel. The PowerDesk software doesn't hold the resolutions itself, but only installs them within the existing Windows components. The custom resolution is assigned to the graphics card itself. If you upgrade graphics cards, you will need to re-run the wizard. I ran into this when upgrading my 9800GX2 to a GTX 295, and it all worked flawlessly. Below are screenshots of the new install wizard.

Th2Go GXM Wizard

Game Compatability

By and large, any game that will run properly in "normal" Surround will work in the new Widescreen Surround modes. There are a few exceptions to this rule, as there are a few games whose available resolutions are hardcoded to 60Hz. You can run these few games at 4320x900, but not at 5040x1050. Additionally, some games may require additional tweaking to run. For instance, Devil May Cry 4 will crash if your Windows desktop is set to anything below 60Hz. But, the game runs fine at 5040x1050 @57Hz. So, you have to change your Windows resolution to 4320x900, launch the game, and then select 5040x1050 from the options.

Problems unique to the widescreen modes are few and far between. If it works in Surround, it should work in Wide Surround. And if it doesn't work in Surround, at least you can play it in 1680x1050 widescreen. And, if you've opted for 24" panels, you can play in 1920x1200 in single monitor mode.

Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition New Widescreen Modes Review - Performance

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Gaming in Wide Surround

The move from "normal" Surround to Widescreen Surround continues to push the boundaries of immersion and peripheral vision. Moving to Wide Surround offers a 50% increase in FOV, versus 4:3, a 40% increase over 16:10, and a 16% increase over "normal" Surround. The increased physical size of the monitors, and the movement of the bezels further into the periphery, allow for an even greater immersive experience.

Edge Distortion is exaggerated more at the edges of the image, but the edges of the image are pushed further into the periphery of your vision. Please note that Edge Distortion is present, even in 4:3 ratios. It does become more exaggerated as the FOV increases, but the screen edges are pushed further from the focal point of your field of vision. If you aren't familiar with Edge Distortion, watch the video from my original review of the DTH2Go. It provides a good visual reference.

Widescreen Surround modes are truly the last major frontier in immersive visuals (aside from IMAX style domes, which would be impractical for home use). While future hardware may expand resolution support (we are maxing out bandwidth on DL-DVI with 5040x1050 @57Hz), it will not increase the Field of Vision. The new Widescreen Surround modes are truly immersive, and allow for both greater FOV and greater physical screen size.

Widescreen Surround is not to be missed, and it is not to be rivaled.

Image Quality & Scaling

As before, image scaling is not handled by the Matrox TripleHead2Go. The DTH2Go offers no scaling support, so any scaling duties are offloaded to your video card and/or monitor. Scaling can be used in one of two circumstances. First, scaling can be used to increase performance. An example of this would be running 4320x900 on three 1680x1050 panels. Secondly, scaling can be used to fill non-native panels. An example of this would be running 5040x1050 on three 1920x1200 panels.

Previously, scaling 1024x768 across 1280x1024 (for performance reasons) resulted in a scaling of approximately 20%. Scaling 1280x1024 across 1600x1200 (in order to use 20" 4:3 panels) also resulted in a 20% scale. This latter option also resulted in an aspect ratio distortion, as 1280x1024 is a 5:4 image being stretched across a 1600x1200 4:3 panel.

Current hardware scenarios and options offer less distortion, when scaling images across larger panels. Scaling 1440x900 across a 1680x1050 panel only results in a 14.3% scale. And stretching 1680x1050 across 1920x1200 results in a 12.5% scale. This means that imagine distortion under the new hardware scenarios is significantly less than that of the original "normal" Surround.

Performance & Benchmarking

By and large, 3840x1024 performs on par with 4320x900. That means you could comfortably upgrade your panels from 1280x1024 to 1680x1050, and experience less image scaling (while running 4320x900 across 5040x1050) than you would have experienced going from 3072x768 to 3840x1024. This allows for a staggered upgrade path. Upgrade your panels to enjoy the new widescreen modes (and the additional functionality they offer), and then upgrade your graphics card if needed. The decision to upgrade graphics card can be made after purchasing the new monitors, while knowing that overall performance won't take a huge hit.

But, make no mistake, 5040x1050 is over 5.3 million pixels. Many MMOs, and other less demanding games will run admirably with the equivalent of a 9800 GX2. But, FPS titles and more demanding games will require a top end current-gen card, or possibly SLI.

While testing out the new Widescreen Surround modes, I updated my original NVIDIA 9800 GX2 benchmarks, and added new ones when I upgraded to an Intel Core i7 920 and an NVIDIA GTX 295. You can see all the iterative steps in the benchmark process by hitting my Core i7 920 & 9800 GX2 and my Core i7 920 & GTX 295 benchmark suites. To see the end-result for Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Far Cry 2, and Crysis: Warhead, check out these charts:

HL2: Episode 2
Benchmark of HOC Benchmark #2 in HL2 Ep 2

Far Cry 2
Benchmark of the Ranch Medium demo from Far Cry 2

Crysis Warhead High

Benchmark of HOC "Frost" Demo in Crysis Warhead: High Settings

Crysis Warhead MedBenchmark of HOC "Frost" Demo in Crysis Warhead: Med Settings w/ 4xAA/16xAF

Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition New Widescreen Modes Review - Benchmark Videos

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Below are three videos to showcase the runs done for the benchmarking in the article. Beyond showing the gameplay that produced the results, these also show the impact of Wide Surround gaming.

Half-Life 2: Episode 2

Far Cry 2

Crysis Warhead

Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition New Widescreen Modes Review - Conclusions

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Opportunities for Improvement


As with the original TripleHead2Go releases, ATI drivers do not support the top end resolutions. You can run at 4320x900, but you cannot run at 5040x1050. Forum members have worked with the authors of Powerstrip to try and set up 5040x1050 as a custom resolution, but have not been successful. Additionaly, 4320x900 may not be available to Crossfire users. At this point we are hoping that ATI will provide driver updates soon.

NVIDIA, Vista & DX10

While NVIDIA drivers support the top end resolution, some users initially reported problems in getting the custom resolutions installed under Windows XP. The major problem is that the custom resolutions would be removed upon the installation of updated drivers from NVIDIA. This issue was resolved through the new PowerDesk GXM Suite.

Additionally, an issue arose with NVIDIA cards in Windows Vista. In this scenario, 5040x1050 was not available as a custom resolution. The resolution was originally available, but an NVIDIA driver update broke the functionality. Forum user Mach1.9pants received a beta version of the PowerDesk that fixes the issue. You can download this version from the WSGF. Please remember this is beta software. Use at your own risk. The WSGF makes no guarantees on its working, nor it not screwing anything up.

Finally, DX10 does not work for NVIDIA at 5040x1050 (this is a moot point for ATI, which does not work in 5040x1050 at all). To play games at the top end, you need play in DX9 modes. Hopefully NVIDIA will release a driver update that addresses this problem.

HDCP Support

In my original review of the DTH2Go, I lamented the lack of HDCP support. At the time, even my 19" 5:4 monitors were HDCP compliant, as was my video card. But the DTH2Go broke the HDCP chain, and I was unable to watch protected content. At the time the only feasible option was to use the Xbox HD-DVD drive, so the "real world" impact was not significant for most users.

Fast forward a few years, and my predictions of cheaper drives were spot on. When building my new system, I was able to purchase the LG combo HD-DVD/Blu-Ray drive for right at $100. The lack of HDCP support is now a "real world" issue, with a sizable impact on the value proposition of the DTH2Go. So, now I have a cheap HD combo drive, an HDCP graphics card and HDCP compliant widescreen monitors. Seems like a perfect recipe, except for the DTH2Go. To overcome this deficient, I picked up AnyDVD HD by SlySoft.

The software works great, and plays back my HD-DVD and Blu-Ray discs perfectly. I bought into HD-DVD last Christmas, when the Toshiba HD-A3 hit $150. With the combo drive I picked up, I can now watch my existing HD-DVD collection and rent Blu-Ray from Netflix (while I wait for BD players to come down in price). AnyDVD HD is a great solution for overcoming the lack of HDCP support, but it could have been avoided.


Though not a perfect experience, the additional widescreen updates are extremely welcome to any existing DTH2Go user, and should help alleviate some of the major concerns and fears of potential users. The first few months were bumpy with driver and installation issues. The updated GXM Suite wiped away these initial issues in XP, and the beta GXM Suite fixes the NVIDIA-Vista issues that cropped up recently.

I equate Widescreen Surround to overclocking your displays. Much like overclocking a CPU to its limits, things don't always go right the first time. There were some initial difficulties with pumping out 5.3M pixels and a increasing your FOV by 50%. There is some trial and error; but once you get it set up, oh man... There is nothing like Widescreen Surround. With an NVIDIA card, the beta drivers, and a known compatible monitor, things are now pretty smooth sailing.

Widescreen Surround offers even more immersion, and a "Plan B" of normal widescreen when a game doesn't offer proper Surround support. The usage of widescreen monitors offers much greater flexibility, far more options, and greater usage of your hardware. Prices on 20" and 22" monitors are now very mainstream, and the new modes address the greatest concerns of the initial release.

If you've been waiting to jump into Surround Gaming, there is no reason to wait any longer. If you are an existing DTH2Go user, do yourself a favor and grab three new widescreen monitors, and throw your old ones on eBay.