Talking Point: 3DS XL's Media Potential

Look ma, no glasses!

One of the biggest shifts of the last generation has been the evolution of games consoles into entertainment centres, allowing almost all forms of media to be played back through your TV. It’s a far cry from the old cartridge systems when gaming ruled supreme, but thanks to their knowledge outside of video games both Microsoft and Sony have evolved consoles into multi-functional media units. This has changed expectations of gaming machines, and when something proves popular with the public the competition has to follow.

It has often been said that this is one area where Nintendo has fallen behind in the past generation, a fair statement as neither Wii or DS had much potential outside of providing a gaming experience. While stalwart gamers continue to maintain that a gaming console should always focus primarily on gaming, the simple fact is that the general consumer expects more from their system than ever before, and this is an area where Nintendo arguably needs to catch up.

The push towards more media-centric systems has even spread to handhelds, driven by the rise of tablets and smartphones and the wealth of software available at the touch of a screen. Sony’s most recent handheld endeavour, the PlayStation Vita, attempted to compete with this by offering a suite of entertainment options alongside the expected games line-up, but has so far struggled while offering, at best, equal software to smartphones.

Nintendo also discovered this problem with DSi when it first entered the realm of entertainment software on a handheld system. The portable itself offered a handful of media options, ranging from an MP3 player to a camera, but smartphones already offered both of these and in most cases exceeded the potential of the handheld. While it was a step in the right direction, it offered the same as existing technology, providing no reason to choose it over a smartphone.

And then 3DS arrived, which once again offered a suite of media options, including photo and MP3 software. While once again neither provides a particularly compelling argument to use the 3DS as a portable entertainment centre, the 3DS had one killer feature that put it above the competition – glasses-free 3D.

Pushed heavily in the pre-launch period, the glasses-free 3D is a feature that provides that all important exclusivity factor... offering something different and potentially better than the competition.

Pushed heavily in the pre-launch period, the glasses-free 3D is a feature that provides that all important exclusivity factor – outside of a few expensive smartphones or PC laptops/monitors — offering something different and potentially better than the competition. While the cameras may not be as powerful as a true 3D camera, it offers a cheap alternative to photograph or record moments in 3D, while also providing a brilliant handheld gaming experience. The net result is that the 3DS represents more of an intelligent purchase for the cash-strapped consumer.

But perhaps the biggest potential draw for the 3DS is the fact that the glasses-free 3D can also be used for downloaded video and media content. Nintendo’s pre-release conference played up this fact, showcasing deals with major movie networks to provide content to the system; since then we’ve only seen the introduction of Nintendo Video – in terms of 3D content — a weekly service that provides short cartoons or other videos, and the occasional eShop option to download 3DS game trailers.

The problem is that these are all short-form content, and are unlikely to make the 3DS an instant buy for someone looking for a portable 3D device. Another reason that may detract from a purchase is that the original model isn’t particularly suitable for watching video over a length of time — after all, the screens aren’t much bigger than a smartphone, making details harder to pick out. But now, Nintendo has an answer in the form of the 3DS XL.

The 3DS XL boasts 90% larger screens than its predecessor, and with enhancements such as battery life and a larger storage card it becomes a better 3D device for a consumer. The issue of screen size is diminished and it’s almost as portable, when closed, as its predecessor. There’s also the fact that 3DS now has a strong library of games, and with a price point not too dissimilar to the original system, 3DS XL becomes a very real contender in the 3D device realm for those on a budget.

But to really sell the system in this way, something has to change with the content available. A portable 3D device is still something very unique, and while the public’s love affair with 3D may be dwindling from previous heights, the promise of 3D content, available cheaply, alongside a stellar line-up of games could be a key selling factor for the 3DS XL moving into Christmas. That content needs to be available, however, and this is where Nintendo need to embrace more forms of entertainment to sell a console.

Clearly Nintendo is not a movie publisher, so it needs to create partnerships to put this content onto 3DS. We’ve already seen with Wii U that, if asked, Nintendo can and will go out and make partnerships with the biggest content providers in the business. In the U.S the 3DS already boasts Netflix support — as does Wii — out of the box, yet the actual media on offer is in 2D.

So if the providers are in place, where is the content? That is something Nintendo needs to be asking the providers. Nintendo doesn’t have the capacity to distribute long-form content, so instead it needs to turn to the providers such as Netflix to provide the 3D media that could push the 3DS XL as a real 3D entertainment centre. It’s certainly a technological possibility – allowing for longer download times for 3D movies, for example — and with the infrastructure in place, it seems remarkable that this content is still not available.

Of course, there are many other reasons to go out and buy a 3DS XL when it launches later this month, but as we approach the end of year sales period Nintendo could do with a secondary reason for consumers to love its new system. For the gamer there are titles such as Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon on the way, to name just two, but for the gamer that wants all that and more, there’s room for improvement. It’s up to Nintendo to actively pursue this market and create a unique portable entertainment centre, and 3DS XL is a real opportunity to do this. Doing the same as everyone else doesn’t work, but with its super-sized auto-stereoscopic handheld Nintendo has the chance to stand out from the crowd once again.