Handheld offers true stereoscopic 3D on a 3.5 screen

While there has been a lot of talk about the future of 3D in gaming, Nintendo on Tuesday made the clearest statement yet that the technology is about to become a major factor.

The company officially unveiled its Nintendo 3DS handheld system, managing to live up to the high expectations surrounding the device. As promised, the 3DS offers true stereoscopic 3D on a 3.5 screen without the need for any special glasses.

Nintendo left a lot of unanswered questions about the device. Price and street date were not announced – and will not be made public at E3. And the company is not discussing any of its tech partners – including who is making the 3DS screen.

But it did point out a few features that are bound to whet appetites. The 3DS will be equipped with a 3D camera built in, will be backwards compatible with all titles from the current Nintendo DSi handheld system and will have a gyroscope built into the system, giving it the same ’tilt’ functionality as an Apple iPhone.

The system will also have heavy support from independent game publishers in its early days. Over 20 companies have vowed to create games for the 3DS, bringing several of their biggest franchises, including “DJ Hero” from Activision, Konami’s “Metal Gear Solid” and Capcom’s “Resident Evil” games.

“Nintendo introduced the first 3D video game,” said Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo. “And since then 3D has been a constant consideration for us.”

A slider along the right hand side of the sytem will allow users to turn the 3D effects off if they chose – or lower the intensity. A second screen will be touch sensitive, offering some consistency from the existing DS system – which has become the best selling hardware in the video game industry’s history.

While games remain the focus of Nintendo, the company hinted the 3DS may also become a portable 3D movie device. Though it announced no specific plans, the company is showing trailers from films from Warner, Disney and Dreamworks.

“In case of the Nintendo 3DS, we are hopeful and anticipate it to have a large installed base as soon as we launch the system,” said Iwata. “Nintendo is going to be in an important position to provide a device that may be able to show 3D movies with such a large installed base. … For the movie studios, we thought this could become a good business opportunity.”

Beyond the 3DS, the company showed a number of exclusive titles for the Wii, including a new Zelda game (due in 2011), a remake of “GoldenEye,” one of the most beloved action games in Nintendo history and a new installment in the “Donkey Kong Country” series.

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