Nintendo is looking to add VR functionality to their upcoming home-and-portable console, the Switch. Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima recently stated that it could be added once they solve some VR-specific issues.

According to games industry consultant Dr. Serkan Toto’s translation of a recent Nikkei interview with Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima, the company “will add VR to Switch once they figure out how users can play for hours without problems”. This is a surprising statement, considering what we know about the Switch specifications, although perhaps easily misinterpreted.

The Nintendo Switch is one of the most innovative console designs in years, being both a home system and a handheld in one, transforming device. The Switch Dock, used for TV output, provides no performance assistance, meaning that the console’s rendering hardware is contained within the ‘tablet’ section of the Switch body. While its custom SoC based on Nvidia’s Tegra X1 represents only a modest jump in performance above Nintendo’s current Wii U console, and is no match for Sony’s VR-capable PS4, the Switch is a notably powerful portable gaming device. It can certainly be compared to the current crop of high-end smartphones that run good-quality mobile VR, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S7, and Google’s Pixel.

nintendo-switch-portableBased on its sleek industrial design alone, the Switch console looks almost ideal for a mobile VR concept, with an LCD screen of an appropriate size, removable motion controllers and connecting rails on the sides that could slide easily into a VR headset shell, similar to that of a Gear VR or Daydream View. Unfortunately, that’s about where the good news ends. According to Digital Foundry’s spec analysis, the SoC only runs at 40% of the full clock speed when in handheld mode, which limits the prospect of good VR performance. And while Nintendo doesn’t mention the LCD technology of the 6.2-inch, 720p screen, Digital Foundry believe it to be an IPS panel, not the preferred-for-VR OLED. Unfortunately, a 1280×720 panel – a lower resolution than the Oculus DK1 – is hardly appropriate for VR, nor would it be capable of low persistence (significant motion blur reduction) if it is indeed IPS.

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If Nintendo want users to “play for hours without problems”, comfort has to be a high priority, and the Switch display specification alone makes this seem very unlikely. A report by Digitimes last year suggested the Switch (then codenamed NX) was being delayed to 2017 to add VR functionality, but there was no mention of it at the recent launch event or in any of the press materials. Perhaps Mr Kimishima was speaking about the Switch brand in general, and considering a more powerful version with a more suitable display in the future.

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The trial version of Microsoft’s Monster Truck Madness probably had something to do with it. And certainly the original Super Mario Kart and Gran Turismo. A car nut from an early age, Dominic was always drawn to racing games above all other genres. Now a seasoned driving simulation enthusiast, and former editor of Sim Racer magazine, Dominic has followed virtual reality developments with keen interest, as cockpit-based simulation is a perfect match for the technology. Conditions could hardly be more ideal, a scientist once said. Writing about simulators lead him to Road to VR, whose broad coverage of the industry revealed the bigger picture and limitless potential of the medium. Passionate about technology and a lifelong PC gamer, Dominic suffers from the ‘tweak for days’ PC gaming condition, where he plays the same section over and over at every possible combination of visual settings to find the right balance between fidelity and performance. Based within The Fens of Lincolnshire (it’s very flat), Dominic can sometimes be found marvelling at the real world’s ‘draw distance’, wishing virtual technologies would catch up.
  • Raphael

    Once again corporations out of touch with reality (pun)… Check frontier forum VR sub-forums… Elite Dangerous players spend hours in space with CV1 and Vive.

  • MosBen

    How could you write a whole article on this topic and not mention battery life? That seems like it has to be what he’s talking about when discussing “playing for hours”. If I remember correctly, the Switch can only run the new Zelda for about 3 hours on a charge. Adding an HMD on top of that seems like it would drain the battery faster.

  • Matt

    The Switch has a custom chip that took 500 man years of engineering that’s FINAL the X1 is nothing to do with Switch that was a rumour from when devkits used a X1 but last October the devkits went way more powerful….

  • Switcheroo

    They are trying to shift the question away from whether or not it can to the question of when. It’s a misdirection tactic.

    Honestly, I think they don’t want to outright admit that Switch can’t do VR because they are afraid it would negatively impact the sales.

    • Doctor Bambi

      If my Galaxy S6 can provide a great VR experience then the Switch undoubtled could.

      They could make a $200 peripheral headset with a 1080p pentile RGB Subpixel display, like PSVR that plugs into the basestation so you’re not limited by power. Then intigrate the joy cons for motion control. It wouldn’t be the most robust system on the market, but it wouldn’t be the least either. It would sit somewhere between Daydream and PSVR.

      • Iown You

        PSVR is not pentile, it’s RGB Subpixel which is superior to pentile (which funnily enough both Vive and Rift share).

        Can’t compare Galaxy S6 to Switch because the S6 is 1440p. Switch is 720p @30fps undocked. VR on the Switch would be utter garbage that would cause a ton of headaches and motion sickness.

        • Doctor Bambi

          Nice catch, thanks.
          That’s what I’m saying, the tablet itself is nowhere near up to the task of providing a good VR experience, the headset would have to be an entirely separate peripheral from the tablet. It would have it’s own screen with it own resolution and refresh rate, similar to PSVR. It would plug into the Nintendo Switch dock, so the device would be restricted to home use, but that by extension, does away with the notion that it would run down the Switch’s internal battery as the entire system is being fed power from an outlet.

  • hyperskyper

    There is absolutely NO way that Nintendo can make a good VR experience using the Switch hardware. The low processing power and screen resolution, as well as the size and weight of that thing on your head, would make a terrible VR experience.

  • I see issues with Nintendo VR unless they are targeting the really low end.

    It’s too big to be comfortable and the screen is not good enough:

    1. Try putting a iPad Mini 2 (+30 grams) into a Homido V1 and see how that feels, its just too heavy.

    2. And the screen resolution is reported to be 1280×720, so each eye’s maximum view area is 640×720. For comparison with a iPhone 6S+, each eye could potentially see 960×1080. Now the raw numbers are not true, you still need to take into account the distortion layer, which causes you to lose pixels.

    3. Also the switch screen size is physically larger then my iPhone 6S+, which should make it better, but the lowered DPI 158 vs 401 will make a difference. The screen door effect will be extra visible with each chunky pixel in view. For reference I used to VR with a iPhone 5S / Homido and at it’s 326 PPI, the pixels will super visible as a grid, but when I upgraded to 6S+ / Homido the 401 PPI made the screen door effect almost not apparent.

    • Doctor Bambi

      If Nintendo ever did bring a headset to market, it would most likely be a completely separate peripheral, similar to PSVR.

      • I see them going the cheap cardboard route, they already have the screen + sensors and the joy cons can be removed and used while you can’t see. The experience would still be terrible, maybe the best hope would be 360/180 video playback, but it would be so chunky.

        • Doctor Bambi

          By your own observations, you’ve clearly laid out how the display of the Switch tablet is not up to the task of providing a comfortable VR experience. Certainly wouldn’t pass Daydream certification, theoretically speaking. It might be the cheapest route, but would be horrifically impracticle.

  • Foreign Devil

    I’ve got a new refrigerator with LCD display that can do VR too!

    • NextDoorGuy

      I expect it to be little front heavy when wearing, but otherwise VR experience should be fine

  • Nigerian Wizard

    Nintendo Might Add VR Functionality to Switch Once “When Pigs Fly”
    Fixed that for you.

    No way the 720p 30fps 2.5 hour battery calculator can play any modern 1080p 90~120fps VR games.

  • Here’s a solution:

    Although the software Nintendo must develop for Switch to do this.

    But at least anyone with one can play on the same machine :)

  • I think we are missing the point. The TX1 in the Shield TV is at least twice as fast as the Snapdragon 820 as my own tests and benchmarks have proven at 1080P/60Hz. There is no reason a 1080P AMOLED HMD for $200 tethered to the base station would not work. In fact I know it works pretty damn good with my Unreal 4.14.3 “Sun Temple” mobile VR demo that runs very smooth versus the lag and latency seen in both the Pixel XL/Daydream N7.2.1 & Note 7/GearVR M6.2 versions (before Oculus bricked it). Plus NVIDIA has one the most mature Vulkan APIs for a mobile device. That is all I can say for now other than new Shield TV 16GB (after a few modifications) fits pretty good on your belt in the small of your back. :)

  • Taun

    Won’t happen until the Switch Pro VR comes out in 3 years with a 1440p screen & 4K docked capabilities. The Switch’s power is too low & the resolution is WAY too low. They would also have to have a screen with low persistance.

  • Stefan Eckhardt

    So… it will be in day 1? With my PS VR I “play for hours without problems”, did it all week, will do again this evening.

    And I can say that 1080p is just barely high enough resolution, absolutely not a pixel less would suffice.

  • gruguir

    It seems obvious that it would be an external hardware… Plus i guess it has already been suggested previously in an interview. I really don’t get some comments. And as it would not be ‘powerfull’ high end pc VR, i don’t get the point neither about the hardware, the myth as already been proved to be wrong.

  • OgreTactics

    That’s why the Switch will be, as such, a failure (no more than 35mil units sold lifetime). The fact that ruined a very interesting, but actually compulsory, hybrid concept to end-up make the same conceptual non-sense mistake they did with the Wii U, more specifically a console that is not mobile in the age of smartphones (it doesn’t fit into a pocket and has 3h hours autonomy, and more importantly…will not fit in a VR headset), neither is hybrid since you need a dock to plug it into any TV which adds to the bulk, that is underpowered to a 3 years old PS4, and managed to have such a messy launch event in japanese (even though 80% of their market base is international) with such a weak line-up of events the worst indicator of things to come being the promotion of Skyrim, a 6 years old game, as a big AAA launch title…are all signs that the Switch, as new as it is, a conceptual failure in it’s current state which already wrote it’s probable destiny in marble.

    • David

      Just out of curiosity what’s the first video game you remember playing?

      • OgreTactics

        Probably not the first one but Hocus Pocus on a computer disk.

        • David

          The reason I asked is because Nintendo was pretty much the foundation of my gaming career so it has always held a special place for me. In particular Zelda since I have finished ever game in the series except for spirit tracks. I think one of the biggest flaws for the Wii U is they never came out with Zelda in time. I was literally waiting to buy one till the new game came out but it never did. Now I’m trying to decide whether to buy a switch or a used wii U off of Craigslist because the new Zelda looks amazing!

          I am an early adopter of VR so it’s not like my gaming purchase decisions are the norm.

          • OgreTactics

            “I think one of the biggest flaws for the Wii U is they never came out with Zelda in time”

            Well I think it’s more complex than that, but simple as well: the Wii U failed because, well first of all that’s the first time Nintendo released a console that has the same name, design and strategy than the previous one (since the Super Nes/Famicom), which was a bad idea because the Wii’s success derived from the just exploding casual gaming market, while the Wii U emerged at a time when the casual market had grown-up in a context where graphics and immersion became more important. Also the concept was non-sensical: you can’t look at two screens at the same time, so the pad controller was gimmicky and stupid.

            If you’re going for a new console, I would definitely advise the Switch, as the Wii U really seems to have ended it’s support straight-up, most of it’s main games like Super Mario 3D World or Super Smash are likely to end up on the Switch, and the Switch is not that expensive.

  • Titan

    I have an awesome graphics system that allows me to play for weeks and weeks at a time.. it’s called a pencil and paper. I can 100% confirm that I ‘might’ add VR functionality once enough people buy my special pencil and paper.