Nintendo's 3DS, the first portable game device with a 3D screen, will go on sale in Japan on Feb. 26 next year, the company said Wednesday.

The 3DS will cost ¥25,000 (US$298), Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's president, told a packed news conference in Chiba, near Tokyo. It will launch in Europe,Australia and the U.S. in March. Precise details will be announced by local Nintendo subsidiaries at a later date.

The device has a screen that doesn't require the user to wear 3D glasses. Instead, a filter over the display splits the on-screen image and sends a slightly different image towards the user's right and left eyes, providing the illusion of depth.

The February launch means the 3DS will miss the year-end holiday sales period. That didn't happen with the original DS and the later DSi.

The launch date breaks with Nintendo's tradition, but that might not be a bad thing. Both Sony and Microsoft are planning to launch motion gaming systems in the final months of this year. An end-of-year launch would have meant all three games companies fighting for the attention of consumers. In February and March next year it should be considerably easier for the Nintendo to generate headlines and interest in the 3DS.

The launch schedule also means that gamers in Europe won't have to wait so long for the device. The European launch date has typically trailed that for Japan and the U.S. by several months, but that won't be the case this time around.

The DS was first launched in 2004 and has been revised several times. Nintendo had sold 132 million of the portable devices from the launch through June this year, but recently sales have been slipping. Between April and June this year, quarterly sales of the device dropped by almost half.

Nintendo is hoping the 3DS will revive interest in its the DS.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is [email protected]