Nintendo’s 3DS: 3-D Television’s Trojan Horse?

The latest system announced by Nintendo, just a few days before the release of the DSi XL, is the 3DS. As the name implies, it’s a 3-D iteration of the company’s DS handheld. Nintendo Japan made the announcement earlier than expected, and they haven’t released much in the way of details. What we have a lot of so far is rumor and speculation.

Nikkei, a Japanese business and technology newspaper, says that Nintendo’s going to be using a Sharp parallax barrier LCD screen. Sharp showed off a 3-D parallax display today that might just be the same as the one used in the 3DS. It’s got an 854×480 resolution, a 1,000:1 contrast ratio, and people that went hands on with it describe it as amazing.

And that’s the first part of it, really. If the 3DS can give us a high quality 3-D picture without the need for glasses, they’ll be perceived as being leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else. It’s not like motion control, which was doable before the Wii; this is 3-D the way people want to see it.

How many surveys have you read, and how many forum posts have you seen, where people sing the praises of 3-D but for the glasses? Putting on a pair of glasses (or in my case an extra pair of glasses) to watch a movie is just more than a lot of people are willing to do. They want 3-D without having to compromise comfort, and Nintendo’s apparently giving it to them.

There’s no pricing yet announced for the 3DS, but if the success of the Wii and DS Lite have taught Nintendo anything, they’ll keep it as low as possible. If they can release this system for under $200, it’ll be in countless homes across Japan and the US.

The 3DS is one of those perfect storms. Kids will want it, because it’s the newest Nintendo system, Non-gamer parents will want it for the novelty and to play ‘Brain Age’ in 3-D, and unless Nintendo fails to prepare a strong launch title, hardcore gamers will want it too.

Not only does the announcement of a glasses free 3-D handheld from Nintendo make TV makers seem a little bit behind the times, it makes Sony’s PSP seem downright archaic. The PSP is a great system. It has better screen resolution than the DS and it’s capable of a lot more, but Sony hasn’t done a major update in a while; aside from the wholly disappointing PSPgo.

The rumor is that Sony has something similar in the works, a 3-D handheld system of their own. If they didn’t already, they’ll have to now. Both Microsoft and Sony are still playing motion control catch up to try and recapture some of the ground they lost with the release of the Wii, and you can bet neither of them intends to let that happen again.

Microsoft has stayed out of the handheld market, but Sony isn’t Nintendo’s only competitor. As Steve Jobs frequently points out, the iPhone has become a legitimate handheld gaming system. When the 3DS breaks Christmas records next year (and unless Nintendo prices it ridiculously high, it will), there’s no doubt that Apple’s going to look at it and say “how can we do that?”

Unless the 3DS flops, it’s going to send waves through the handheld market that will spread to the PSP, the iPhone, and then out to other media friendly smartphones. We’ll have 3-D on our handhelds before anywhere else, and we won’t want to give it up.

Think about high-definition television. It started out as a bit of a novelty. It was amazing looking, but out of the reach of most consumers. HD has become commonplace now, and expected. Standard definition sets are becoming more uncommon and unless you stay in a hotel, you’ll probably never watch one again.

Similarly, think about your speaker system. Sure, you got along fine without it. You watched TV through the built in speakers and you did just fine. Now that you’ve had some nice speakers and a good subwoofer, try going back. Unplug those speakers and listen to the tinny bass-free 10W television speakers. It’s just downright uncivilized!

There’s no reason to expect 3-D will be any different, given the right circumstances. 3-D TV is going to take a while to filter in to most homes, but the 3DS will be there, letting you play games in 3-D. It’s getting people used to the experience, so they just can’t go back to 2-D viewing without it seeming less than great. It’s the 3DS that’s going to convince the public that 3-D is worthwhile.

9 comments

  1. Arkadin

    imo the 3D on the new Nintendo handheld won’t be anything close to good 3D that comes out of the screen, and will instead be a very limited type of “3D” effect whereby there is perceived depth “behind” the screen, like watching a play. you can watch a video on youtube already of what it will most likely look like.
    It looks ok, but is not anything to get that excited about.
    I honestly have a hard time believing any truly immersive 3D can be created without the need for glasses.
    I also think you praise the psp way too much.
    It’s dearth of really good games is ridiculous compared to the ds even with its better resolution.
    overall I would say the psp has been a massive disappointment in most gamers minds.

  2. Isaac

    Personally I think 3d that goes into the screen is the only way a hand held should be. in the theater where the edges of the screen are in your peripheral vision popping out is fine, but on a small screen the edges would be to distracting and the effect would be limited to the very center of the screen. glasses won’t help this, its just a matter of screen size. don’t expect anyone to offer pop-out 3d on a portable device.

    • Dick Ward

      I actually prefer ‘pop-in’ 3-D. When things start coming out of the screen it starts to look really fake to me, but popping in is natural and realistic.

      When I had a chance with some 3-D PC games thanks to Nvidia’s 3-D tech, they were all pop-in and they looked amazing. It was like looking into a window that contained this world. Mirror’s Edge even made me a bit dizzy!

      3-D that pops out suffers a lot as soon as I become aware of the edge of the screen. Characters that are cut off or not fully in the shot look strange. You never see half a head floating in front of you with pop-in. You just see a head half hidden by the window you’re looking through (if I may stretch the metaphor)

  3. PS360WII gamer

    hmm..If they improve the graphics of the DS-3D, then I’ll buy one. I have a DS and PSP at home collecting dust.

  4. Axe99

    Agree that the 3DS (somewhat like the Wii) doesn’t look to be as large a revolution as the hype, but it could still very much bring gaming and the tech forward, and that’s a good thing.

    @Arkadin – the PSP has _tonnes_ of great games, not sure which planet you’re on mate – it’s got great racers, great RPGs, great shooters, great puzzle games and some pretty good strategy. I think you’ve been listening to too much Ninty fanboy disinformation ;). (The DS has great games as well – but writing off the PSP for a lack of great games has about as much credibility as writing off the PS3 these days ;))

  5. elmer

    I don’t see how anyone could possibly pass judgement on the quality of the 3DS seen as no one knows the specs, no one’s seen a picture and I’m sure as hell no one’s seen it in front of them.

    I’m hoping that Nintendo will use a player-facing camera (like that DSi video everyone saw) to perspective correct the 3D image via eye-tracking. Usually images that pop-out in 3D look wrong because the scene is shot/rendered for an idealised viewer distance/viewer angle/ocular separation that almost never matches the user’s set up, even if they sit still. Near objects are more sensitive to these factors than distant ones and the result is usually eye strain and perceptually unconvincing object scale. Eye tracking can cure this (and allow limited object ‘lookaround’ that somewhat replicates a holographic effect), heightening the immersion – for one player anyway. It can also correct the ‘inverted’ viewing angles that parallax displays suffer from.

    Also, if we’re to learn anything from Nintendo’s hardware design philosophy, it’s that the physical interface is key. I expect Nintendo to spring some kind of 3D sensor/tracker/joystick that no one really expected.

    • Dick Ward

      “I’m hoping that Nintendo will use a player-facing camera (like that DSi video everyone saw) to perspective correct the 3D image via eye-tracking”

      That’s the beauty of doing it in a handheld system. I’ve always got my DS right in front of my face and within, say 2-3 feet of my eyes. I’m sure most people are going to be right in that same range, so it shouldn’t actually need an eyetracker.

      Physical interface, maybe. That’s only been the case for one system though. Price? Definitely. The DS and Wii are both nice and cheap, which makes them seem even more affordable. I think keeping the price down is way more important than any sort of peripherals.

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