This morning in Tokyo, Nintendo held their long-awaited full product launch briefing for their upcoming console, the Nintendo Switch. Previously unveiled back in October of 2016, Nintendo has been keeping a fairly tight lid on specific details about the console, including its specifications, capabilities, and software lineup. Now with just less than 2 months to go until the console goes on sale, Nintendo is ramping up their promotional campaigns, releasing a good deal of new details on the console, though in a very Nintendo way.

Back when the Switch was unveiled, we learned that the handheld console would be powered by an NVIDIA SoC, NVIDIA’s first console win since 2006. At the time Nintendo and NVIDIA had been very quiet on the specifications of the SoC, and while the full specifications were certain to be off the table, I had been hoping that Nintendo would open up at least a bit more on the SoC. Unfortunately, in admittedly traditional Nintendo fashion, the company has skipped right past anything involving the SoC, and I suspect we’re going to be waiting for the console launch and full teardown before we get any more hard facts here.

For what it is worth, Eurogamer strongly believes that the underlying SoC is a Tegra X1 – NVIDIA’s 20nm Cortex-A57 CPU + Maxwell GPU SoC that’s also used in the NVIDIA SHIELD TV – and while I can’t confirm this at this time, for the moment I don’t have any reason to doubt their suspicions. Tegra X1 is ready and available in volume, and in this respect Nintendo has been conservative for quite some time. Still, it will be interesting to crack open the Switch in March to see if it’s actually Tegra X1 under the hood, or if it’s some sort of Nintendo-specific derivative.

Handheld Game Console Specification Comparison
  Nintendo Switch New Nintendo 3DS XL Sony PlayStation Vita Slim
SoC CPU 4x ARM Cortex-A57? 4x ARM11 4x ARM Cortex-A9
GPU NVIDIA Maxwell? DMP PICA200 IMG PowerVR SGX 543MP4
Display 6.2-inch 1280x720p LCD
(HDMI: 1080p60)
Top: 4.9-inch 800x240
Bottom: 4.2-inch 320x240
5-inch 960x544
IPS LCD
Size 102 x 239 x 13.9 mm, 297g (tablet only)
398g w/Joy-Cons
160 x 93.5 x 21.5 mm, 329g 85.1 x 183.6 x 15 mm, 219g
Battery 4310mAh (16Whr?)
2.5 to 6.5 Hours
1750mAh (6.5Whr)
3.5 to 7 Hours
2210mAh (8.2Whr)
4 to 6 Hours
Storage 32GB NAND + microSDXC 1GB NAND + microSDHC 1GB NAND or Proprietary Card
Wireless 802.11ac
Bluetooth 4.1
802.11g 802.11n (2.4GHz)
Bluetooth 2.1
I/O Console USB Type-C Proprietary (USB Compatible) Micro-USB
Dock 1x USB 3.0
2x USB 2.0
1x HDMI 1.x
1x USB-C (power only)
Launch Date 03/03/2017 10/14/2014 10/10/2013
Launch Price $299 $199 $199

Moving on to new information, while Nintendo held off on SoC information, they have published some new information on the console as a whole. As long suspected, the Switch features a 1280x720p capacitive touch screen LCD. Though lower in resolution than comparable phones and tablets, this is a logical fit for the console giving its performance characteristics, battery life needs, and cost concerns. Nintendo’s website does not specify the type of the underlying panel, though I will be surprised if it’s not IPS or *VA.

For storage, the console will feature expandable storage. 32GB (presumably eMMC) is built in to the console, while the console can be further expanded using microSDXC cards, similar to the current-generation 3DS consoles. And as revealed in Nintendo’s teaser video last year, there will also be a separate game card slot for games released on physical media.

Meanwhile Nintendo isn’t being quite as forthcoming on the underlying specifications of the console’s integrated battery, but they are providing some ballpark power figures. The Switch is rated to last between 2.5 and 6.5 hours on a single charge, depending on the game, with the forthcoming Zelda game said to run for 3 hours. This is roughly comparable to the New Nintendo 3DS XL, which is rated for 3.5 to 6 hours, with the Switch having a slightly wider range (ed: though well short of the DS Lite’s 8+ hours). Still, for a long trip it’s clear you’ll need to bring some extra power.

The good news here is that for the Switch, Nintendo is giving up on proprietary chargers and power connectors. The Switch will charge via a standard USB Type-C connection, so it’s possible to use USB power banks with the console. Though without more details on the battery it’s hard to say just how large of a power bank will be required; given the higher power consumption of a gaming console, I expect the Switch will need a larger power bank than similarly sized tablets (perhaps something iPad Pro-sized). The Switch will also come with an AC adapter (curiously, with a hardwired cable), a welcome change after Nintendo didn’t include a power adapter with the New Nintendo 3DS.

As for the Switch’s companion dock, Nintendo has previously confirmed that it would largely be a “dumb” device. That said, today’s unveiling does confirm that it includes a single USB 3.0 Type-A port and a pair of USB 2.0 ports, the former presumably using two SuperSpeed lanes off of the Type-C connector, and the latter using the two USB 2.0 channels built-in to USB Type-C. Nintendo hasn’t officially announced any USB peripherals at this time – and it will be interesting to see what does arise, since this is a portable console – though a quick straw poll around here is that we’ll be disappointed if Nintendo doesn’t support the GameCube adapter for the obligatory Super Smash Bros. game.

As an aside, this hardware revelation also gives us just enough information to figure out how Nintendo is supplying HDMI out of the Dock. Since the Switch only offers USB Type-C connectivity, there isn’t a dedicated HDMI port/path coming out of the console. I had thought Nintendo might be using HDMI alt mode for USB-C, but the USB 3.0 port inside the dock rules that out since it consumes 2 of the 4 high speed lanes that HDMI alt mode needs. Instead Nintendo has to be using DisplayPort alt mode with 2 lanes, and then doing active conversion from that to HDMI. This handily explains why Eurogamer’s sources point to 1080p60/4Kp30 being the maximum output of the console – this being what 2 lanes of DisplayPort 1.2 can support – and it means that the Dock is not a dumb plastic shell, but rather has some basic, active electronics in it (it’s essentially Apple’s USB-C Digital AV dongle with some extra features). Though this does make me wonder whether the active conversion of video signals adds any appreciable input lag.

Otherwise, as far as hardware goes the bulk of Nintendo’s focus with respect to hardware has been on the console’s two detachable controllers, the Joy-Cons. Besides being the console’s primary control mechanism (ed: a tablet with buttons, thank you!), the Joy-Cons are actually a lot more sophisticated than Nintendo originally let on last year. In terms of controls, each Joy-Con features the previously depicted 4 face buttons, a large shoulder button, an analog stick; also confirmed today is that on the inside, rail edge of the Joy-Cons are a pair of smaller shoulder buttons for when a single Joy-Con is used as a controller. So the Joy-Cons are essentially miniature versions of the SNES controller with an analog stick in place of the D-Pad.

It’s what’s under the hood that’s particularly interesting though. As one might expect, Nintendo is sticking with motion controls. Each Joy-Con contains a gyroscope and set of accelerometers, making it roughly equivalent to the Wii remote with Motion Plus.

Beyond that, each Joy-Con features its own special set of features. The right Joy-Con contains an NFC reader/writer for use with Nintendo’s Amiibo figures, and what Nintendo is calling a "IR motion camera,” An IR camera would imply that it’s the same basic functionality as the Wii Remote, which used an IR camera to orient itself relative to the IR LEDs in the console’s sensor bar, however Nintendo also quickly demonstrated that the Joy-Con could measure distance and motion from a human hand facing the camera, something the Wii Remote could not do. Finally, the left Joy-Con contains what Nintendo is calling “HD rumble” functionality, their name for high fidelity rumbling. Given the diminutive size of the Joy-Con, coupled with Nintendo’s examples, I suspect that we’re looking at multiple linear actuators for vibration (similar to Apple’s Taptic Engine), as opposed to traditional motors. Not too surprisingly then, a second set of Joy-Cons won’t come cheap, with Nintendo listing the MSRP at $80.

Finally, taking a brief look at the software side, retailer pre-release information has unveiled that Switch games will go for $60. This is the same price as Wii U games and $20 higher than most 3DS games. The one bit of good news here is that Nintendo has done away with region locking, so it’s possible to buy and play games from any region. Launch day games will include the previously announced Zelda game, and Nintendo’s new mini-game collection, 1-2-Switch.

Wrapping things up, the Switch will be receiving a world-wide release on March 3rd (coincidentally the final day of the 2017 Game Developers Conference). It will be priced at $299 in the United States, with similar regional prices elsewhere across the globe. Ahead of the launch retailers have already put up pre-order pages (and some have started taking pre-orders), including Amazon, Best Buy, and GameStop.

Source: Nintendo

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  • Morawka - Friday, January 13, 2017 - link

    sorry nintendo, you dont get to charge $60 for 720p gaming... you will see how this is all gonna work out soon Reply
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Friday, January 13, 2017 - link

    I think you're gonna eat those words. This will be another Nintendo MEGA-HIT. Like the original Wii - selling over 100 Million consoles in 5 years. Surpassing both PSFail and XBone. Reply
  • ChefJeff789 - Friday, January 13, 2017 - link

    With their dismal launch lineup and lukewarm stage presence of third-parties during the announcement, I doubt this will do all that well. They need to build a large initial customer base in order to entice companies to make NEW games for the system. A new Zelda game and a throw-away mini-game collection that doesn't come with the console does not a Sony/Microsoft-killer make. Reply
  • SquarePeg - Friday, January 13, 2017 - link

    The Switch can't help but sell better than the Wii U, but I would be surprised if it sold more than the N64 at 33 million units. This is after all just the Wii U concept again with the cpu/gpu moved into tablet for increased portability. If you look at the Wii U tablet and Switch side by side they even look very similar. I want one for Nintendo's first party games, but not at $299. Maybe by Christmas they will bundle Zelda with it at that price. Hell, 2 years from now they may have to fire sale it at $199. Reply
  • CaedenV - Friday, January 13, 2017 - link

    This will only happen IF they also kill off the DS... which seems unlikely. If they can converge the DS and console fans on a single product then this will be huge... but killing their cash cow that has kept them in business the last generation probably won't happen any time soon. Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Friday, January 13, 2017 - link

    In my case, Nintendo certainly can. Resolution, past a certain point, just isn't that important to me and 720p is much more than enough to keep me happy. Its one of many factors that converge to make a console entertaining. I'm almost completely satisfied with the resolution of the original DS that had 256x192 res screens. As long as a game developer understands and executes well within the limits of the hardware, there's lots of fun to be had without getting overly hung up on something as insignificant as screen resolution. Reply
  • rocky12345 - Friday, January 13, 2017 - link

    It is all cool and all but I think and this is just my own opinion on this. I think they should have made this unit when it is plugged into the base have extra hardware that would allow it to play the games with higher details enabled better everything when it is plugged into the base. CPU Graphics chip more memory more storage space. This way they would have had the best of both worlds for mobile and as a stand alone console. If they did this then it would for sure be worth buying and most likely appeal to a lot more people out there.

    As it sits you pretty much get maybe slightly better performance than a top end phone or high end tablet that has ARM tech inside it. It is pretty sad when MS latest surface Pro most likely has more horse power under the hood than this unit has and this is supposed to be a dedicated gaming device. I know Nintendo likes to do things different and this will most likely be the most wanted thing under 2017 Xmas trees by the kids. I just think they should have got their heads out of their butts and made a product that would appeal to the masses instead of just die hard Nintendo fans.

    Again this is just my opinion on this and yes I know what I stated about this having added hardware in the base would raise the price slightly but as it sits you most likely can get a xbone or PS4 slim for the same price and still have more horse power and a lot more games that you can buy. NO they don't have Super Mario or Mario Kart but hey you can get a WII or WII-U emu that will play both of those games on your PC.
    Reply
  • Meteor2 - Friday, January 13, 2017 - link

    Cor, that pricing, for both the console and the games, is a bit steep! Especially if it really is a Tegra X1 inside; that chip is two years old come Q2.

    I guess they figure people with deep enough pockets will pay and they'll get better returns even if volumes are down.
    Reply
  • Yojimbo - Friday, January 13, 2017 - link

    I don't know why we should believe Eurogamer on specs after they told about 300 MHz GPUs, docked 1 GHz CPUs, and licking of the clocks. Since the battery life is 2 1/2 to 6 1/2 hours of gameplay, clock locking doesn't seem to fit, not that it all ever made any sense.

    But judging by the graphics quality I'd guess there are only 256 CUDA cores in the SoC, although it should be said that a lot of these games seem to be heavily ported from the Wii U so that could affect perceptions. It somehow seems a bit wasteful to me if it's the X1 (20nm) rather than an SoC on 16nm, using Pascal. The power savings from the latter should be significant, something that seems key for a mobile device, and they could squeeze out some extra performance at the same time.
    Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Friday, January 13, 2017 - link

    I can't imagine how Nintendo would be able to get away with licking of the clocks. There's just too many of them in the world and that's a great way to get an infection. You don't know where those clocks have been. Reply

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