Price and Other Official Information

A lot of little bits all over the place.

Since our last Nintendo Switch post, the company had their full reveal event, which confirmed the two most critical values: it will launch on March 3rd for $299.99 USD ($399.99 CDN). This is basically what the rumors have pointed to for a little while, and it makes sense. That was last week, but this week gave rise to a lot more information, mostly from either an interview with Nintendo of America’s President and COO, Reggie Fils-Aimé, or from footage that was recorded and analyzed by third parties, like Digital Foundry.

From the GameSpot interview, above, Reggie was asked about the launch bundle, and why it didn’t include any game, like 1 – 2 – Switch. His response was blunt and honest: they wanted to hit $299 USD and the game found itself below the cut-off point. While I can respect that, I cannot see enough people bothering with the title at full price for it to have been green-lit in the first place. If Nintendo wasn’t interested in just eating the cost of that game’s development to affect public (and developer) perceptions, although they might end up taking the loss if the game doesn’t sell anyway, then at least it wasn’t factored into the system.

Speaking of price, we are also seeing what the accessories sell at.

From the controller side of things, the more conventional one, the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, has an MSRP of $69.99 USD. If you look at its competitors, the DualShock 4 for the PlayStation 4 at $49 and the Xbox Wireless Controller for the Xbox One at the same price, this is notably higher. While it has a bunch of interesting features, like “HD rumble”, motion sensing, and some support for amiibos, its competitors are similar, but $20 cheaper.

The Switch-specific controllers, called “Joy-Con”, are $10 more expensive than the Pro Controller, at $79.99 USD for the pair, or just $49.99 USD for the left or right halves. (Some multiplayer titles only require a half, so Nintendo doesn’t force you to buy the whole pair at the expense of extra SKUs, which is also probably helpful if you lose one.) This seems high, and could be a significant problem going forward.

As for its availability? Nintendo has disclosed that they are pushing 2 million units into the channel, so they are not expecting shortages like the NES Classic had. They do state that demand is up-in-the-air a bit, though.

As For Their Online Component

They also mentioned a fair amount about their plans for online. At the event, they noted that Nintendo was going to, like Sony and Microsoft, implement a paid service. Their website elaborates on this by stating a few things. First, it will not affect the WiiU or 3DS systems; it will start with the Switch. Second, the account will be free until it officially launches in the fall. At this point, “most games will require a paid online service subscription from Nintendo in order to play online.”

This “most” has me curious, but I cannot really speculate what they mean. We’ll wait and see.

Third, you will be able to play an NES or an SNES game, with online multiplayer, for free for a month. The “for a month” strongly suggests that users will not be able to keep each title as they acquire them and grow a catalog, but that still leaves two possibilities. Nintendo might have a catalog of available titles, and users can decide which one they want for that month, potentially using their freebie on the same game multiple times. Alternatively, Nintendo might force the same game for all users, and swap it out on a monthly basis. The latter seems more likely, especially with the online multiplayer component, but I really don’t know.

The interview goes even further and announces a smartphone app component, too. This part rubbed people the wrong way, because the answer makes it sound like voice chat and matchmaking must be done on the app. If that’s the case, at this point, wouldn’t the Nintendo Switch just end up being an elaborate smartphone accessory? I seriously, seriously hope that it’s just an optional interface, but people in my Twitter timeline seem to be interpreting it like I just described. I’m hopeful, but some aren’t. If it is just a complementary interface, and the Switch is fully functional on its own, then that could be cool. If not? It’s not nearly as “elegant” as Nintendo claims it to be.

Oh Right, We’re a Hardware Site: PERFORMANCE!

So Nintendo held several events, and they did something unexpected: let journalists capture demo footage of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Digital Foundry was one of the outlets that got two playthrough videos, so you can bet that they analyzed the hell out of it.

First, the resolution. Zelda will play at 720p in handheld mode, which makes sense given its screen, and 900p when docked into the TV. Both situations will run at a locked 30 FPS, apart from a few drops in certain situations. Nintendo did a pretty good job of making sure that the game performed consistently, though.

Second, it’s also coming out for the WiiU. This is interesting for a few reasons, but the one that I’m most curious about is shading precision. One of the big design trade-offs, going from the WiiU to the Switch, is that the GPU really only gets more powerful if you drop down to FP16 values. For typical TVs, which have (at most depending upon calibration) 256 levels (8 bits) between white and black per channel, 16-bit IEEE 754 decimal numbers, with their 11 bits of significand and 5 bits of exponent, is sufficient to represent the full range of color. (The 11th bit is calculated from the boolean OR operator between the 5 exponent bits and “00000”.) While there’s physically enough data to hit all possible colors of the display, there’s not a lot of room for rounding precision through one or more calculation(s), and there’s not a lot of dynamic range for proper tone mapping.

Note that it’s still possible that Nintendo used FP32 on the Switch version, too… but, as we’ll mention below, it looks like something changed. It might be the precision, or it might be a revised art style.

Is FP16 enough, though? Well, going by pre-release footage of the WiiU and Switch versions, the lighting seems to be significantly different. I didn’t say worse, just different. In fact, there are situations where I prefer Switch over WiiU and others where it’s vice-versa.

Image Credit: Cycu1

The Switch version is more colorful at times, albeit more flat, especially in the darker scenes. At the same time, some effects, like the shine on some objects is completely missing from the Switch video.

Image Credit: Cycu1

This scene, with the door to the temple opening, has more lighting detail in the WiiU. This is especially true when you look at the ground that it projects upon.

Image Credit: Cycu1

At the same token, if they did drop down to FP16 (and, again, we don’t know that they did) then they would immediately have twice the GPU performance. This puts it significantly ahead of the WiiU version, and could lead to a color versus smoothness trade-off. And again, the Nintendo Switch version doesn’t look bad… it even looks like it might be intentional.

We’ll end with a recap of what we know, including before today.

  • $299 USD ($399 CDN) and launches on March 3rd
  • SoC: NVIDIA Tegra X1 (Quad-Core A57 with 256 Maxwell CUDA cores)
  • Rumored GPU clocks when docked: Up to 768 MHz (785 GFLOPS FP16)
  • Rumored GPU clocks when mobile: 307.2 MHz (315 GFLOPs FP16)
  • Rumored CPU clocks: 1020 MHz
  • Screen resolution: 720p
  • TV-Output resolution: 1080p
  • Expected launch volume: 2 million units
  • Online multiplayer will be a paid service in the fall (of 2017)