Whether or not the Nintendo 3DS takes off, it represents a seminal moment for 3D. The game player — rolled out for the U.S. market at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco today — is the first mass market hand-held device that shows 3D images without glasses. A swarm of other 3D devices, mostly phones, is expected to hit the market over the next few years.
Besides 3D games, the device will also be able to play 3D trailers, starting with The Green Lantern. This summer, you’ll be able to stream Netflix movies and TV shows — although whether in 3D or not wasn’t immediately clear. The 3DS goes on sale in the U.S. on March 27.
Curiously, 3D without glasses — still considered years away for movies and television — is much easier to achieve with mobile devices. Traditionally, the lenses and mirrors required to create the illusion of 3D have only worked on large screens if the user stays at a fixed point from the image; move a bit in either direction, or add additional viewers, and the effect is lost. It’s much easier to stay in a fixed position for a tiny mobile screen, making 3D without glasses much more practical.
Although it’s revolutionary, it’s not clear that the 3DS will dominate the market. For one thing, it’s expensive: at $250, it’s as much as 60% more expensive than Nintendo’s last portable release. And a new breed of smartphones capable of 3D is also in the works, making the value proposition for parents — who are shelling out hundreds for kids’ phones that already play games — much less clear.