Nintendo 3DS First Impressions: I'm Pretty Impressed!
As I previously mentioned back in mid-March, iFixit’s Kyle Wiens and I will be resurrecting our earlier DesignCon live teardown shtick on Tuesday, May 3 at 3:30PM, this time focusing on the Nintendo 3DS portable game console with its no-glasses-required parallax barrier autostereoscopic 3-D display. We’ll actually have two 3DSs with us (both in Cosmo Black, not Aqua Blue, yours truly’s color pallet preference in case you were wondering); one to tear down and the other to give away to a lucky audience attendee. And, taking advantage of a recent promotion via my and a friend’s Amazon accounts, I bought both consoles early so that I could give one of them a hands-on tryout prior to its dissection. Don’t worry, lucky audience attendee, the other one will remain safely sealed until after its transfer to you.
The two discounted games I got via the Amazon promotion (Pilotwings Resort and Steel Diver, in case you’re curious, both selections culled from others’ reviews of various launch titles) haven’t yet arrived, but the Nintendo 3DS contains plenty of built-in capabilities to explore in the interim…although not everything is apparently ready for prime time yet:
After charging the Nintendo 3DS up overnight, I fired it up earlier today and thought I’d pass along some of my initial observations. Below is the initial setup screen:
I initially struggled with the touchscreen interface (i.e. the lower 2-D display; the non-touchscreen 3-D display is above it), presuming that it was the now-pervasive capacitive touch variant. Fine-detail input scenarios such as the virtual keyboard were particularly problematic:
until I realized that interface activation required that I not only touch but also press down on the display’s outer protective surface. A device settings option to recalibrate the touch interface:
also implied that I was dealing with a resistive touchscreen, and a perusal of the stylus (after, with chagrin, I remembered its existence) revealed a non-conductive tip that sealed the deal:
The initial setup session also included a multi-screen calibration routine for the 3-D display:
Note that in the above instructions, you’re supposed to hold the unit 10-14 inches away from your face. I concur; any closer than that, and the individual parallax barrier-generated viewing ‘regions’ are too pronounced, whereas the 3-D effect becomes muted from further away. The upper screen presents (if enabled by the slider) 3-D variants of all built-in user interface screen. I initially tried to shoot video of the demo presentation below (which moves the Nintendo 3DS logo, along with its accompanying plus-sign graphics, first closer and then further away in a repeating pendulum-like effect) before remembering that ’seeing’ it required two ‘eyes’; a single-lens camera wouldn’t suffice:
The two shots that follow, of the system settings overview screen (wherein the ‘wrench’ rotates) may still provide some insight into the parallax barrier-generated implementation of the effect:
And one of the nine customization options in the parental controls settings menu:
enables parent-defined PIN code-protected complete disable of the 3-D effect, for those grownups paranoid that it might harm their kiddies’ heads and/or eyeballs:
Another settings sub-screen handles system power management; the default settings shown below might in part explain why some reviewers have been underwhelmed with the device’s battery life both in an absolute sense and relative to Nintendo DS series predecessors:
I also spent some time with the cameras built into the Nintendo 3DS, snapping shots of the various under-roof mammals. The back-side of the unit contains a dual sensor/lens setup that captures 3-D images, while a companion front-side single-lens camera is located above the upper-LCD bezel. In both cases, the resulting images are VGA resolution. Below is (brace yourself) yours truly, via the front-side camera, which I’m happy to say my ugly mug didn’t break in the course of this particular experiment:
Each image captured by the back-side camera creates two files; a 2-D JPG and a 3-D MPO (a ‘wrapper’ format containing two JPGs, one captured by each lens/sensor combination…JPS is the other common JPG-based stereo image format now found in the industry). I suspect that the 2-D JPG is simply the output of one of lens/sensor combinations. The Nintendo 3DS 3-D effect slider seems to have…err…no effect in this case; it’s either full-3-D or nothing, at least to this reviewer’s old, tired eyes. Below are the JPGs for my three critters; Moo Shu:
Charlene (yes, her):
and here are the MPOs, for your-experimentation purposes:
Enthusiasts are crafting homebrew Nintendo MPO support (like this, found via a simple Google search) by leveraging open source programs such as ImageMagick and ExifTool. Nvidia’s graphics drivers’ bundled utilities also support them. And I was even able to preview MPOs in Mac OS X 10.6’s Finder:
A few final thoughts…whereas I focused my prior analysis of iFixit’s late-February dissection of a Japan-shipped Nintendo 3DS on the autostereoscopic LCD, other subsystems are equally interesting. Chipworks, for example, found that Nintendo was using Fujitsu-proprietary fast-cycle DRAM in the design. While the ARM SoC has a Nintendo logo and part number stamped on it, my bet (derived from past loose-lipped executive slips) is that it’s supplied by Marvell. And speaking of touch interfaces, I was also surprised to find that the buttons underneath the lower LCD bezel were mechanical switches, not capacitive touch sensors…I can feel them ‘click’ as I press down on them.