Nintendo 3DS, Hands-On

After a long wait and (too?) many rumors, the Nintendo 3DS has finally been announced today. The form factor is not a surprise, but the quality of the display is, and it’s a very good surprise. I had it in my hands for about 20mn and I was able to real-time 3D demos of Mario Kart, Metal Gear Solid (3), Nintendogs and more. I also a couple of blockbusters movies (clips).


In my previous job, the moto was “The display is the computer” and in gaming, it is even more the case than in any other computing domain. That’s why I was quite anxious to see how the 3DS display was going to perform. The surprise is good: the stereo 3D is among the cleanest that I’ve seen for a 3D display that doesn’t require glasses. This is amazing stuff. Just two years ago, we were still seeing some crappy “prototype” displays at CES.

Nintendo had the foresight of including a slider to increase, or attenuate, the depth effect. It is very handy because games don’t react the same way to stereo 3D, and some could require less (or more) depth than others. Secondly, if you ever get tired of looking at the stereo stuff, you can turn it off completely. So far, I found the display to be easy on the eye, and to be honest, I’m not even a huge fan of stereo 3D in general.

One thing that caught my eyes is that the resolution didn’t seem all that high. We’ll have to look at the specifications, but we have to keep in mind that pixels are splitted into left+right images. So the screen itself might be high-res, but some of the resolution has to be sacrificed to show stereo 3D.

The second display at the bottom does not feature 3D, but it is touch-enabled. It works with the finger, or with the integrated stylus. I have not done any advanced test, but it performed well – no problem there.

Of course, all the apps have been selected with care to show the benefits of stereo, but not all games react the same way: it works better for games with a bunch of small objects on the screen, like platform games (Mario, Nintendogs). But in scenes where characters are bigger than the screen because of the cinematic screenplay (Resident Evil), it doesn’t look as good. But with the right content, oh boy, this is good. Small characters come to life, and “pop”. This is typically what happens to real-time strategy games (RTS) on PC: they tend to look the best in stereo 3D.

3D movies also look very good, and there is some potential, although I wonder if the small screen size would entice users to buy/rent movies. We’ll have to see… The idea of watching a movie on a small display isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I wake up.

I also tried to shoot a few photos in 3D. It is dead simple and works quite well. You can also tweak the stereo 3D separation to increase, or attenuate the depth effect. Once saved, photos can be shared among 3DS consoles, but there is no export path today. That might change as Flickr supports 3D, we’ll see.

I suppose that the back cameras could also be used to extract depth information from two images, and I suppose that the 3DS might even have the horsepower to run some decent augmented reality apps.

The rest of the console (buttons, analog pad…) aren’t very different from older Nintendo console – they feel the same, even though they aren’t identical of course.

In conclusion, I would say that this is quite a bold step for Nintendo, as no-one has tried this before. So far, this is looking good and should nicely build on the existing Nintendo franchise.

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