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The New Nintendo 3DS: Is the Upgraded Technology Worth it?

Posted by Jess on February 16, 2015

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The latest iteration of Nintendo’s 3DS portable system, “New Nintendo 3DS”, finally hit US shelves on Friday. It’s surrounded not just by the usual bigger and better boasts of new hardware, but massive hype created by the elusive Majora’s Mask limited-edition New 3DS XL. But is this just another hardware upgrade or something truly “new”? Let’s delve into the technological improvements of the New Nintendo 3DS and find out whether it’s worth it for you to fork out the extra cash.

new nintendo 3ds - is it worth the upgrade?

Let’s face it: the 3D technology on the “Old” Nintendo 3DS was a novelty at best. In a world of ubiquitous electronic waste, Nintendo needs something more than a fun but dubiously effective gimmick to incentivize skeptics to pick up a new system. It’s a great platform to play remastered classics, Smash Bros, or the latest Pokémon, but has the 3D of the 3DS experience evolved?

How We See Things

To understand how Nintendo brings 3D to life, we need to understand a bit about how our vision works. Humans have binocular vision – which essentially means that we have two eyes, and they work together to send images to our brain. While each eye has an independent field of view, portions of that view overlap.

Easy example: Focus on an object about 15 inches from the center your face and close your right eye. Open both eyes and then close your left eye. Assuming you’re not suffering from some type of eye illness, the object probably stayed relatively centered in your field of vision – albeit with a slight perspective change.

Now do the same thing for an object much further away from you, say, 15-30 feet away. You’ll notice a significant difference here. Perhaps the object became obscured by some closer object or appeared to shift slightly as you closed each eye.

The closer an object is, the more our optical fields overlap. The further away an object is, the less they overlap. This difference in overlapping optical fields is what gives us our depth-perception.

How the “Old” 3DS Technology Works

The 3DS plays on this phenomenon to achieve autostereoscopy (3D without glasses). It does so using a parallax barrier (Which, no, will not prevent Parallax from consuming you with living fear. Sorry.).

The parallax barrier is a thin layer of material placed on top of the 3DS’s LCD screen. When activated, slits in the material ensure your right eye only sees right pixels, and left eye only sees left pixels. This prevents any overlap in vision, allows the viewer to see depth, and creates the 3D effect.

parallaxbarrierHow the parallax barrier works. Image courtesy of Cmglee.

Why You Hate Playing in 3D

Don’t be coy. You know you despise playing in 3D on your 3DS. Sometimes you might pop that slider bar up a bit just to remind yourself that it really is an awful medium, but then the headache starts to set in and you’re back to your standard 2D-playing mode.

So while the 3D on the Nintendo 3DS certainly works, why does it suck so hard? Essentially, it’s because the parallax barrier is static and is designed for players to be looking straight at the screen at all times. Any angular shift from 90-degrees means that your left and right eyes start seeing views they’re not supposed to. Your eyes strain in an attempt to adjust, and this strain causes the headaches.

In addition to angular shifts, the parallax barrier also requires the optical overlap from our eyes to remain constant. Any time you move the handheld outside of the desired 10-14 inch range, the field of view in your eyes changes, and the stereoscopic effect is lost. More strain, and more headaches.

Improvements in the New Nintendo 3DS

The true Achilles heel of the old Nintendo 3DS is the fact that in order to play in 3D, you need to hold it in one magical position and not move from there…ever. The New Nintendo 3DS makes that requirement a thing of the past.

new nintendo 3ds

The technology in the New Nintendo 3DS remains essentially the same: a parallax barrier blocks pixels from our left and right eyes and adds 3D depth to our gaming. However, thanks to improvements to microprocessor speed, the parallax barrier is now no longer static. It adjusts as you move.

This is thanks to the implementation of an infrared sensor and a face-tracking camera. The infrared sensor detects whether a face is in range of the screen and sends a signal to activate the face-tracking camera. As the camera tracks your line-of-sight, the barrier will adjust accordingly to maintain a constant 3D image. Check out the animation on Nintendo’s 3DS landing page for a demonstration on how this works.

So long as there’s nothing to impede the face-tracking (low light, wearing something other than glasses over your face…) the tech speaks for itself – this is 3D you’d actually want to have on during the 30+ hours to get Majora’s Mask to 100% completion.

Added Bonuses

The New Nintendo 3DS has more than improved 3D too: added analog C-stick, added ZL and ZR, buttons, automatic brightness adjust for environmental conditions, and built-in Amiibo support so you can wreak havoc with your Level 50 Smash Bros on the go.

The Verdict

The introduction of facial tracking has brought the Nintendo’s 3D technology from novelty to practicality. Now you can game in 3D without becoming a living statue. If the notion of truly going through the looking glass into the twisted world of Majora’s Mask sounds awesome to you, then the New Nintendo 3DS absolutely warrants purchase, especially if you’re still rocking the OG hardware.

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About Jess

She's is just your average cat-herding, world-traveling, tech-loving otaku. She'll brazenly defend her love of Harry Potter and Sailor Moon to any who challenge it, and can usually be found under a stack of unread books and graphic novels.

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