Analysts Intrigued by Nintendo's 3-D Handheld

U.S. analysts were intrigued and curious Wednesday (March 24), following the overnight release of a brief statement by Nintendo saying the company plans to launch within the next year a handheld video gaming system that offers 3-D effects without requiring the use of special glasses. Nintendo provided few details, leaving analysts to speculate on the technology that the company plans to employ.

"There are only a few technologies for autostereoscopic displays, which don't require special glasses. We suspect they are using one of those," said Chris Chinnock, principal of Insight Media. According to Chinnock, there are currently no more than a dozen commercial products which use autostereoscopic 3-D displays, including a mobile handset from Hitachi which is available in Japan.

Pamela Tufegdzic, a consumer electronics analyst at market research iSuppli Corp., said she didn't know how Nintendo would implement autostereoscopic 3-D, but said it could have something to do with face-tracking technology, which can shift the perspective of the game's view with using a front facing video camera to capture where the player is looking portraying that 3-D effect. "It could be something similar to motion sensing game play tracking your movements with sensors," Tufegdzic said.

Chinnock said all of the known autostereoscopic display technologies suffer from poor image quality for the most part, requiring tradeoffs in viewing angles and viewing zones. "That's okay in a handheld device because it's easy to move your head around the screen," Chinnock said. But Chinnock acknowledged that using an autostereoscopic display for a gaming system could be problematic. "If it's a detail-oriented game, yes, it's going to be a problem. If it's more like icons and graphics that have larger scale, it may not be a problem."

Nintendo said the successor to its popular DS line of handheld gaming systems, which is temporarily being called 3DS, will include backward compatability so that DS games could be played on the system. The company promised to provide more details on the system at a video gaming conference in Los Angeles in June.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Nintendo President Satoru Iwata told analysts in January that the company has been working on 3-D gaming technology for years and experimented with a 3-D feature for its GameCube console, the processor to Nintendo's Wii system.

According to Tufegdzic, Sony Corp. plans to release a 3-D version of its PlayStation 3 gaming system following the launch of the company's 3-D Bravia televisions, currently expected this summer. Microsoft announced that the Xbox 360 is fully equipped to handle 3-D games, but the company plans to sit on the sidelines to see how the consumers embrace 3-D technology in the living room, Tufegdzic said.

Several companies, including Sony, demonstrated stereoscopic 3-D technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, widely claiming that many 3-D products would ship during the 2010 holiday season. Others say there is much work to be done hammering out standards and silicon before stereoscopic 3-D TV is ready for the home.

ISuppli anticipates that all the next-generation gaming consoles will support 3-D due to the technology's expected growth, Tufegdzic added. Since 3-D TVs are needed to view the 3-D content from gaming consoles, iSuppli believes that 3-D gaming in consoles will follow similar trends of the 3-D TV market, she said.

"TV manufactures are working on bringing 3-D TVs to market that do not require 3-D glasses to be worn, Tufegdzic said. When these types of TVs become mainstream, that's when the console gaming market will see 3D gaming fully take off."

Philips Electronics had been working on an autostereoscopic display designed to eliminate the need for special 3-D glasses, but folded the unit last April, saying the point in time where mass adoption of autostereoscopic 3-D TV will occur has shifted significantly.

Tufegdzic said adding 3-D technology to gaming will add additional revenue streams and create more opportunities for software game developers and publishers. "3-D gaming will give gamers a more real and immersed experience, which will likely become a required standard technology in the future of video games," Tufegdzic said.

By Dylan McGrath, EE Ttimes