August 19, 2011

How The 3DS Screen Works

The Nintendo 3DS was unveiled for E3 2010 and turned out to be the surprise hit for both Matt and I.  We were sort of underwhelmed at the Nintendo press conference from a distance, but later when we got actual hands-on time with the pocket handheld, it quickly changed our minds.

The ability to show a 3D image on a flat 2D screen without clunky 3D glasses was just incredible.  No need for battery powered 3D glasses, no hassle in trying to sync them with the screen, and no clunky headgear to give you headaches over time - your eyes are the only tools you need to create the 3D image.

After the jaw dropping first couple of minutes with the unit we quickly started to wonder how on earth something like this works.  I was fine with the “black magic” answer, but I feel like I’ve found the real answer.

The technology is called an auto-stereoscopic parallax barrier.  Try saying that three times fast.  Auto-stereoscopic displays are used to allow depth perception without the use of specialized headgear or glasses. These displays and the technology have been around for years and have been used to provide stereoscopic vision in research environments since the 1980’s.  The auto-stereoscopic displays fool the brain by providing a stereo parallax (3D) view for the user.  Essentially, each eye sees one of two different images on the screen.  The parallax barrier helps to separate (or bring together) the 3D image and send them to the correct eye.

With this technology, the parallax barrier is placed over the screen to allow the user to adjust the settings of the barrier (this is where the 3D slider comes in on the 3DS).  This slider allows the user of the 3DS to adjust the parallax barrier to select how much or how little of the 3D image is entering the eyes, and how much of the image is separated.  Essentially, the image is drawn twice on the screen in both red and blue, with the parallax barrier over that helping to send the correct color to the correct eye, creating the 3D image inside your mind.  Yep, this is starting to sound like black magic to me.

Nintendo has tapped into great, proven technology for this new handheld console with the 3DS.  Getting hands on with the handheld at E3 was quite the eye opener (literally) for both Matt and I to see it in action.

You may also be wondering why don’t they create TV’s with this.  The answer to that is simple: the viewing angle.  Trying to sit dead center and in perfect view of your TV in your apartment or home is hard to do on a normal day, let alone with a 3D image on the screen.  Any variation to the optimal viewing angle and the image on the screen begins to distort and separate.  I’ve seen a 3D movie in passing at my local electronics store, and I’ve tried to look at Killzone 3 in 3D without glasses and after awhile it begins to numb my brain.  This type of technology wouldn’t be good for extended home viewing at long distances or weird angles from your TV, but turns out to be perfect for the smaller handheld that you can adjust to your sitting position and viewing angle on the fly naturally, without you even knowing your doing it.

The 3DS uses existing technology in a fresh way to continue to urge people to buy something most everyone on the planet has already.  This is the way Nintendo gets into the 3D market without them having to completely redesign their flagship Wii console.

You can also read more on parallax barriers, auto-stereoscopic image technology and more at the3D forums.

[via 3D Forums]