And now to the star of the show: Nintendo’s deeply lovable 3DS. We’ll talk about the design and the specs in a minute, but what you really want to know is whether the glasses-free 3D effect actually works. Well, it does. Using a form of parallax barrier technology, the 3DS really does create an image of perceptible depth, where objects in the foreground seem to sit on the surface of the screen, and objects further back recede believably into it. Looking at animated sculptures of key Nintendo characters, the sense of looking at a 3D object really is something, and in the game demonstrations we’ve either played or viewed, effects like falling blossom or overhanging branches really have to be seen to be believed.
Like all glasses-free 3D technologies, there is a definite sweet spot, and if you move your head too far to either side or move the DS suddenly, you may lose the effect for a second or so while you readjust. The size of the sweet spot and the severity of this problem seem to depend on the eyes of the player; swapping notes with fellow journos, some suffered worse than your correspondent, while others felt the sweet spot was more than generous. Kudos to Nintendo, in any case, for making the effect adjustable with a slider that goes between full 3D and no 3D to suit your own vision.
3D aside, the 3DS is a formidable bit of handheld hardware. Nintendo has stayed typically quiet about chips and specifications but, in terms of graphics capabilites, the 3DS is roughly on a par with the Gamecube judging by the most impressive demonstrations. Metal Gear Solid 3DS looks staggering, with detailed characters and jungle scenery, while a real-time demo of a new Resident Evil game also made it clear that this is a much more powerful machine than the PSP, and more than a match for Apple’s current hardware.
The 800 x 240 resolution top screen (which actually operates at 400 x 240 per eye) is bright and crystal clear, and the bottom screen works pretty much like the one on the current DSi. Stereo cameras on the lid allow the 3DS to function as a very basic 3D camera, while one inside works to capture images of the player.
Most importantly, Nintendo has added new control options. Accelerometers and tilt sensors now provide motion-control, while the old digital D-Pad is now joined by an analogue slider pad, that trashes the PSP’s unfortunate analogue nub.
Like the iPad, the 3DS takes you into a zone where logic doesn’t really seem to apply: play with one for five minutes, and you’ll have the credit card out within the hour. Of course, it’s going to help that – while pricing has yet to be announced – it’s going to be a lot more affordable than Apple’s overpriced tablet. Expect a launch in later 2010 or, more likely, early next year.