IHS iSuppli delves deep inside Nintendo's portable 3D wonder
Since its UK launch in spring 2011, the Nintendo 3DS has eagerly been snapped up by consumers. In its first two days on sale this March, some 113,000 units were sold.
The console's defining feature is an auto-stereoscopic display that allows for 3D display without the need for glasses.
The glasses-free display, supplied by Sharp, uses a special parallax barrier LCD sandwiched to the rear of the primary display. Nintendo has further licenced the PICA200-embedded 3D graphics core developed by Japanese firm DMP (Digital Media Professional).
To project images at sufficiently effective resolution when in 3D mode, the 3DS has a non-standard 800x240pi, 3.5in primary colour display panel. This doubling of the vertical resolution against previous generations allows the new console to project 400 lines of information to the left eye and, with the aid of the parallax barrier, project the other 400 lines to the right eye. This gives 3D resolution of 400x240pi.
Nintendo has then added a 3D 'volume' control that essentially controls the width of the parallax barrier created by the monochromatic LCD sandwich layer so that users can adjust their 3D focus relative to arm length.
The Sharp 3D display is the first IHS iSuppli has encountered that uses a parallax barrier design. 'Although it does not have a very high pixel density, the manufacturing of the glass-less 3D display is a marvel of precision engineering,' says principal analyst Wayne Lam. 'The alignment of the parallax barrier to the vertical pixels of the color display panel must be achieved in tight tolerances in order to achieve believable 3D imaging for the discerning human eye.'
To maintain this alignment, Sharp opted to adhere the parallax barrier LCD panel directly to the rear of the primary display. The entire module is then mounted into a module enclosure along with LED backlights.
Glasses-free moving 3D images is just half of the story, though. The 3DS can capture 3D images via its onboard stereo camera. Two VGA resolution imagers are mounted in a parallel imaging plane to capture images just like a pair of eyes. The combined image yields the proper depth perception for display on the auto-stereoscopic display.
Like the DSi and DS Lite devices before it, the 3DS features an ARM-based CPU, which we believe to also be manufactured by Sharp. However, Nintendo has significantly increased the processing power of this latest generation processor, particularly its graphics processing capability.
Because of the extra demands being placed upon the CPU, there were rumours that the apps processor was a dual core solution. However, based on the pin outs of the package and comparisons to other single core and dual core ARM-based processors, iSuppli concluded that this is likely a single core processor.
Beyond the auto-stereoscopic display, 3D camera and improved 3D graphics processing, Nintendo has otherwise stuck to a similar set of component suppliers. NEC (Renesas) provides the microprocessor, Texas Instruments delivers the battery/power and touch solutions and the Mitsumi WLAN module features an Atheros WLAN IC.
With regard to the user interface the 3DS retains a smaller resistive touch-based secondary screen along with the usual d-pad controls and a new analogue joystick. Just as with the previous DS lines of mobile gaming consoles, the 3DS accesses SD memory card as well as proprietary Nintendo game cards.
The 3DS sells in the UK for between £230 and £180, and in the US for $250 (£155). The iSuppli forecast is for a lifetime manufacturing volume of 50 million units.
Analyst group IHS iSuppli provides detailed teardowns for many leading electronics devices. Find out more about its commercial reports at www.isuppli.com