DS systems will be used in elementary and junior high classrooms in Japan (TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)

Nintendo DS systems will be used in elementary and junior high classrooms in Japan.

Thanks to new developments in handheld technology, students soon could have glasses-free 3-D displays in the palms of their hands.

Sharp recently announced its latest in 3-D displays that work without the cumbersome glasses commonly associated with 3-D video, though as of press time the technology worked only on a three-inch screen held a foot away from the viewer’s face. These smaller screens are intended for mobile devices such as cell phones, game machines, and digital cameras, Sharp said.

According to one reviewer, the 3-D animation on the handheld screen is like a miniature version of the 3-D animation viewers are used to seeing on larger TV screens, though images were less convincing than those seen in a darkened cinema.

Sharp’s latest in displays use liquid crystal screens to show 3-D animation. They feature touch-panel screens that switch from one 3-D photo to another, and they can connect to a 3-D video camera.

Reviewers said the photos on the touch screen were blurry from certain angles, but Sharp said its latest technology does away with these “ghosting” effects. The displays also can continue to show 3-D images when they are turned to the side, Sharp says—a key feature for smart phones.

Mass production of the 3-D LCDs was set to start earlier this month, and many are speculating that the technology is likely to show up in the next DSi portable game machine, which Nintendo Co. says will be in 3-D. (Hitachi, another Japanese manufacturer that released 3-D glasses-free technology for cell phones last year, supplies LCD screens to Nintendo, together with Sharp.)

Nintendo said it would begin selling a 3-D version of its popular handheld console within a year. Tentatively called “Nintendo 3DS,” the console will feature a display without the need for 3-D glasses. The new portable gaming device will be compatible with software made for earlier models, said the company.

Already, Nintendo’s DS handheld console is being used in 3,700 Japanese McDonald’s restaurants to train employees in a program called eSmart, and according to Shigeru Miyamoto, a Nintendo general manager, the company’s plan is to get DS systems into elementary and junior high classrooms in Japan as a learning tool once the new school year commences this fall.

Education “is maybe the area where I am devoting myself [the] most,” said Miyamoto in a press statement.

The DS is no stranger to education and is frequently found in galleries, museums, and aquariums in Japan. Some Japanese schools, too, already use the DS to help teach math, language, reading, and other subjects.

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Although 3-D is becoming the movie format of choice, and 3-D home televisions are just around the corner, will a 3-D handheld gaming console be more than just a fad in schools?