Up close and personal with Nintendo's 3DS: it's good, not perfect (videos)

Nintendo threw its hat into the 3D viewing ring today with the announcement of its 3DS video game handheld. It’s another vote by a major company which is declaring that 3D is ready for prime time.

I’ve had a chance to get up close and personal with the new 3D viewable handheld game system from Nintendo. The 3DS is unlike any other handheld out there because you can see 3D imagery on its 3.5-inch screen without using stereoscopic glasses (there is also a 3-inch bottom screen that is not 3D). While it’s not perfect, it certainly raises the bar in the handheld video game business.

The images on the screen look a lot better than I thought they would when I first hear a rumor about this months ago. I’ve made this assessment after look at the 3DS for a matter of minutes on two occasions, but it’s clear from what I’ve seen that the screens are good quality, as long as you keep your head still. (pictured right: Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Amie).

There is a lot of depth to the 3D, as if you were looking at a window for a box that was a few inches deep. You do not need glasses to see it, but you do have to adjust it so that it is the right distance from your eyes. It looks very good. And now that I’ve heard the thinking about the design from Nintendo’s top designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Koji Kondo, I understand why Nintendo made some choices in designing the device.

Full told, Nintendo has been working away on this handheld for about 3 years. Miyamoto said that while he was making the last Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess game (which debuted in 2006), he thought it would be so much better in 3D. Then the 3D screens became available (Nintendo hasn’t identified the source yet), and Nintendo decided to greenlight the new handheld project. (pictured right: Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata).

“I thought that if you could run around in a field of grass, ” Miyamoto said. “Then you would really feel like you were in the land of Hyrule,” on the land in the fantasy Zelda games.

Miyamoto said he believes that it is easier to navigate through a 3D animated world if you view it in 3D. But 3D also carries some negatives with it.

There are some secondary images that appear behind the true image on a screen if you are not in the right spot. This ghosting effect pretty much means that you cannot view the 3DS from the sides. If you do, everything is thrown off.

Fortunately, Nintendo included a 3D Depth Slider, which adjusts the depth of the screen to fit your eyes. It makes the ghost images go away, but you have to reset it if you move much.

Nintendo was smart in having lots of these handhelds ready to show for the press. And it’s smart to include headphones in the demos, as Nintendo did, because sound actually does add to the illusion of 3D.

But the 3.5-incscreen is not very large, and it means that you have to concentrate on the screen. You can’t play this casually or move around while playing it. It’s sort of like a book that way. You have to give it your undivided attention. The good thing is that the processing power for the device is better than it is for the older Nintendo DS family of devices. That helps sharpen the images in the games.

The good thing is that Nintendo upgraded everything else along with the 3D touchscreen. It has added extra processing power. It reportedly has an Nvidia Tegra chip, but Nintendo has not confirmed that. It has built-in Wi-Fi and the ability to update automatically without interrupting the flow of a game. And it has an accelerometer and gyro, which are nods to the motion-control scheme of both the Nintendo Wii and the Apple iPhone. With the 3DS, in addition to the front camera, there are a couple of back-side cameras that you can use to take 3D pictures. You will be able to watch 3D movies on this as well as play 3D games. These improvements will go a long way toward creating the desire among gamers that they will have to upgrade to the new device.

Of course, software is what will make this title shine. So far, Nintendo showed a scene from the Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time (an older game) and a still shot of what Mario would look like in 3D. Now Kondo of Nintendo is in charge of both the hardware and software design for the 3DS. One of the games under design is Nintendogs + Cats. The extra processing power in the 3DS enables the creators to come up with better fur and color for the animals.

Nintendo is also working on Kid Icarus: Uprising and Mario Kart 3DS. There are more than 20 game developers and publishers working on third-party titles. That’s plenty of support for the launch of a new game system. It’s too bad that Sony didn’t launch the PlayStation Portable 2 as rumored. Because it looks like Nintendo is going to clean up in the fall with this device, which launches sometime in the fiscal year that ends March 31, 2011. The only thing we are waiting on is the price.

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