Gaming in 3D
With the 3D revolution in full swing, it’s no surprise that gaming system manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon. 3D movies haven’t been this popular since the 1950s, and emerging 3D television technology has caught the interest of many consumers. Early adopters have been snatching up 3D TVs for nearly two years now and, despite some growing pains, the sales seem to be remaining stable. Video game and console manufacturers have started trying to capitalize on some of the 3D hype with titles that are compatible with 3D television sets. However, to date, only Nintendo has put forth an entirely self-contained 3D gaming platform.
The Nintendo 3DS is a handheld gaming device that uses auto-stereoscopic technology to render images in 3D. Auto-stereoscopic is just a fancy way of saying that you don’t need any specialized glasses to see the 3D images. The screen itself is structured in such a way that parts of the image are directed to the viewer’s left eye and other parts of the image are directed to the right eye. This parallax barrier technology (another fancy word, eh?) allows the viewer to experience 3D gaming without bulky, battery-hogging active shutter glasses or the lighter, but equally unstylish, polarized glasses. When it works, parallax barrier 3D is an effective way to render 3D gaming images—when it works.
The first problem with a handheld gaming device that uses parallax barrier technology has to do with how the technology works and what people expect from a handheld platform. To work properly, parallax barrier screens have to remain in a relatively fixed position relative to the viewer’s eyes. For the 3DS, this means that, to enjoy the 3D images, your line of sight needs to remain almost perfectly perpendicular to the screen with your eyes remaining about 12 inches from the screen. This would be difficult enough with a TV-based console with a fixed screen, imagine doing this with a handheld unit. Don’t imagine—hold your hands 12 inches in front of your face and keep them as still as possible. Keep holding your hands in that position, without moving your head either, for the estimated 3 hour batter life of the 3DS and you’ll get a sense of the difficulty involved.
For parallax to work, the right images need to reach the right eyes. A slight change in the position of your hands, head or eyes, and the 3D image will start to fall apart. This is one of the major stumbling blocks of parallax technology; slight changes in the field of view can cause major changes in the quality of the 3D image. So, even if you can hold your head and eyes perfectly still for hours on end, you would still have the problem of moving the 3DS. This seemingly minor problem becomes more serious when you consider that the 3DS uses and internal gyroscope and accelerometer to track the motion of the 3DS for use in augmented reality games.
That’s right, the 3DS is designed to work with 3D games that allow you to move the device around, interacting with the 3D images that you won’t be able to see while moving the 3DS. Confused? It seems impractical to have motion controlled games on a platform that loses its most notable feature when used with motion controlled games. The motion feature would seem more reasonable if it were only for 2D games, but there are 3D game titles for the 3DS that are designed to work with the motion sensors. In practice, it may work better than it sounds; however, it may take some time to get objective reviews about this feature from 3DS users.
Battery life is another major concern with the 3DS. With the WiFi feature turned on, expect about 3.5 hours of gaming and about 4 hours with WiFi turned off. For consumers who have owned previous incarnations of the Nintendo DS, this is a significant loss of playing time. The first generation Nintendo DS could be played for 6 to 10 hours on a single charge, and battery life with the DS line consistently improved with each iteration—until now. If you’re buying this to play around the house, it’s not a big deal; however, the main selling point of a handheld gaming platform is portability. We buy handhelds so we can play games on the go—if your “on the go” is going to take more than 3 hours, you’ll need to find an outlet to recharge. If you’re buying this to keep the kids quiet on long trips, a car charger is an extra expense you’ll probably need to look in to.
The 3DS is backward compatible with the older DS and DSi games but will not work with games that use a Gameboy Advance port. Of course, the 3D feature won’t work with DS or DSi games, as it only works with newer games specifically designed for 3D functionality. Older games may appear stretched due to the larger screen on the 3DS, but native resolution is available with a few key presses.
One of the more intriguing, but, as yet, unrealized features of the 3DS is its ability to play 3D video content. Nintendo has announced partnerships with several studios, including Disney and Dreamworks, to release 3D content for the 3DS. Since watching movies doesn’t require moving the 3DS around, this may be the best use of the 3D feature on the system. You could sit the 3DS on a fixed surface, start a 3D movie and veg out on a long trip.
The 3DS has some problems that early adopters should consider before making a purchase. Parallax barrier technology has some serious limitations that make it problematic in a handheld gaming unit. Short battery life limits the usefulness of the 3DS for people who spend a lot of time playing games away from a power outlet. And, with a $250 price tag, the 3DS is the most expensive in the DS line without really offering any substantive gains. So, the question is, do you give up battery life and shell out 250 bills for the novelty of 3D?