Nintendo's new 3DS: Gaming is just the beginning...

Nintendo 3DS, a glasses-free 3-D handheld video game system, arrives March 27 for $249.99.

Nintendo hopes it will make the strongest case yet for 3-D special effects affordability and relevance. But calling it a gaming console may be the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public.

Gaming, it turns out, might be among the least of the system's capabilities.

The device will also deliver an array of other fully-connected entertainment experiences, according to Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime at the 2011 Game Developers Conference.

From 3-D movies to TV shows, digital music to augmented reality applications, the company is clearly assigning tremendous importance to non-gaming applications.

Though they won't say it directly, Nintendo clearly plans to make the system a Trojan horse for the larger world of 3-D multimedia. This should scare the competition. It's an infinitely more practical, and reasonably priced, 3-D argument than a $1500+ HDTV that tethers you to your couch.

If Nintendo can make this portable device as common and trusted for 3-D entertainment as smartphones are for e-mail or Web surfing, it may single-handedly deliver the breakthrough that carries this technology to mainstream prominence.

Yes, the system will play 3-D versions of premium game franchises like "Street Fighter" and "The Legend of Zelda," says Fils-Aime. Yes, in the wake of increasing pressure from tens of thousands of readily available free and 99-cent apps, it will redouble efforts to justify $39.99 average software prices by offering "premium experiences you can't get anywhere else."

But with free AT&T WiFi hotspot availability, Netflix movie streaming and the ability to create, download and physically interact with 3-D content among its arsenal of tricks, the company may have yet to play its trump card.

The system lacks 3G/4G high-speed connectivity, and Nintendo is known for ardently policing material licensed for sale or distribution -- virtually or otherwise -- for its consoles.

But by letting users view, download and generate a variety of 3-D material, the system could prove to be the most cost-effective and practical on-demand 3-D content portal on the market.

Should Nintendo decide to enable sharing of user-generated content or enable the three-camera device for high-speed cellular connectivity and casual videoconferencing, the scope of this potential power play becomes even larger.

While a dedicated stand-alone gaming system such as the Nintendo 3DS can't rival smartphones or tablet PCs for sheer ubiquity, consider this:

If 3-D technology takes off the way manufacturers hope, Nintendo's new device may give them an instant entrée into entirely new areas of entertainment, a leg up in the race to legitimize 3-D content and a secret weapon in the war to reclaim the territory recently ceded to Apple and its growing gaming focus.