Tricia Duryee

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Risks of Children Viewing 3-D Fading Into The Background In Time for Nintendo’s Handheld Launch

With less than a week to go before Nintendo launches the 3DS in the U.S., safety concerns about whether children should view the three-dimensional images have largely disappeared–right before our eyes.

As recently as January, safety warnings about the new handheld gaming device were dominating headlines after the company issued warnings that the 3-D screens shouldn’t be viewed by children six or younger because it may harm their vision.

Now, U.S. eye specialists are even welcoming the technology, saying it could help catch vision problems that are hard to detect.

“The 3DS could be a godsend for identifying kids under 6 who need vision therapy,” Dr. Michael Duenas, associate director for health sciences and policy for the American Optometric Association told the AP.

Nintendo has a lot riding on the new handheld gaming device since it is the only new hardware it has coming in the near term. The device has already launched in Japan, and will go on sale in the U.S. on Sunday for $250.

The clamshell device is similar to the original 3DS that has been a long-term hit among children. In the new version, it has two screens with the top one having the ability to display 3-D images without the need for special glasses. The 3-D images can be turned off with the flip of a switch. When on, they look somewhat like a hologram.

Many of the device’s capabilities are similar to features found on the iPhone and other smartphones.

For example, the new 3DS has an online store, called the eShop, where users will be able to download games. It also has three cameras and a built-in gyro, so the device can be tilted and turned to affect game play. It will also have location-based features, where users can elect to receive new content from Nintendo or other 3DS users as they travel around.

The device can connect to Wi-Fi hotspots, even when in sleep mode, to collect this content or to function as a pedometer, which counts a user’s steps.

Some features won’t be available at launch, but will be released later through a software update.

At one point, the warnings that Nintendo issued about concerns over children viewing 3-D images seemed like a major impediment for the device.

Now, it’s being viewed as a potential way to identify early signs in kids who may have a vision disorder such as amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” which can cause problems with reading.

In an interview with CNBC in January, Nintendo’s President and COO of North America Reggie Fils-Aime downplayed the concerns: “The fact that the younger consumers are not to view 3-D images is not a big deal for us, and you can manipulate the device to only have 2-D visuals shown, so it will cater to all consumers. The 2-D screen is dramatically better than our current DS.”

Last week, said preorders of the 3DS have been robust. It said the best-selling game titles are Capcom’s Super Street Fighter IV, followed by Nintendo’s Pilotwings Resort and Sega’s Super Monkey Ball.

However, even with the upcoming launch on deck, the top handheld game releasing next week with the most preorders is not for the 3DS, but for Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP). The game is Dissidia duodecim Final Fantasy by Square Enix.