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Nintendo ‘studying’ Switch VR support

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Comfort is the concern

Nintendo Switch press event Joy-Con controllers
The Nintendo Switch’s “neon” blue and red Joy-Con controllers.
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

The Nintendo Switch will support virtual reality “in one form or another” someday — if the company can figure out how to make the technology comfortable, said Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima in an interview with Nikkei.

Kimishima said Nintendo is “studying” the possibility of adding VR to the Switch, the company’s upcoming portable/docked hybrid console. “If we are able to resolve the issues with playing [VR] comfortably for long hours, we will support it in one form or another,” Kimishima told Nikkei.

Nintendo appears to slowly be coming around on VR. Reggie Fils-Aime, the president and chief operating officer of Nintendo of America, dismissed the technology in an interview with Polygon at E3 2015. “We’ve been experimenting with [VR] for a long, long time,” said Fils-Aime, perhaps referencing the fact that Nintendo got into the VR field in the ’90s with the ill-fated Virtual Boy.

Fils-Aime added that Nintendo believed VR needed to be fun and social in order to succeed. “Based on what I’ve seen to date, it’s not fun, and it’s not social,” he continued. “It’s just tech.”

Of course, that was nine months before the current wave of high-fidelity VR headsets arrived — Oculus VR launched the Rift in late March 2016, and HTC and Valve released the Vive in April. Sony became the first console manufacturer to support VR in October, with the PlayStation 4’s PlayStation VR headset.

By February 2016, Nintendo’s frosty position on VR appeared to be thawing a bit. During an earnings call, Kimishima characterized VR as “interesting technology” and said that Nintendo was doing further research into it. However, he noted, Nintendo had no specific plans to launch a VR product.

Nintendo Switch VR accessory
A possible VR accessory for the Nintendo Switch.
Nintendo/U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Nintendo finally revealed the Switch in October. Two months later, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a number of Nintendo patents showing off potential use cases for the Switch — including a virtual reality peripheral.

VR on the Switch would work similarly to the way it does with smartphone-based VR headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View, according to the patents in question. A diagram in the patents showed the Switch unit sliding into the top of an accessory to form a head-mounted display. A user would view the Switch screen through lenses meant to expand the viewing angle to increase immersion, and the console could warp the image accordingly.

The Switch features acceleration and gyro sensors, which the system could use in this configuration to calculate the position and movement of a user’s head — a key aspect of bringing a player into a virtual world. And since the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers can be used wirelessly, a player would be able to slot the display into this accessory, strap it to their head and then interact with a game using the controllers.

Considering the Switch’s hardware, something like the aforementioned peripheral would likely be the only feasible VR solution for the system. The Switch features a custom system-on-a-chip based on Nvidia’s Tegra series of mobile processors, so the console would almost surely be incapable of powering a stand-alone headset like the PlayStation VR.

Nintendo will release the Switch worldwide on March 3 for $299.