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Nintendo TVii hits Wii U on Dec. 20, but is it ready for primetime?

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UPDATE: Nintendo TVii is not a downloadable app for Wii U, but comes pre-installed on existing units. The service became active on Dec. 20. Read our review here.

Fire up those Wii U’s and get ready to enjoy another major system update, Nintendo fans. The House of Mario will deliver another upgrade to its latest home console on Thursday, but rather than a humdrum update that only strengthens firmware stability this update will introduce one of the Wii U’s signature apps. Nintendo TVii will be available for download free of charge starting Thursday, December 20.

“You’ll never look at your TV the same way again,” boasts Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime in the company’s press release, “Wii U owners have already experienced the transformative effect that the GamePad has on gameplay and social interaction. Nintendo TVii shows how the integrated second screen of the GamePad can also transform and enhance the TV viewing experience.”

It hasn’t been clear precisely how Nintendo TVii will enhance watching television, though. Nintendo first demoed the app during a presentation in September, showing how the app would integrate a Wii U owner’s Hulu Plus, Netflix, and even live television subscriptions into one menu. He example given then was how, if someone wanted to watch the ABC show Modern Family, searching it on Nintendo TVii would show viewing options on Hulu, ABC’s website, and live television simultaneously. Users could set up personalized accounts built around the shows they like, their own library of TiVo recorded programming, and even let them make comments about the shows on Miiverse, Nintendo’s social network, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Only some of these features will be available this week, though. Netflix won’t be integrated into Nintendo TVii until later in 2013. TiVo support has also been delayed into next year, and Nintendo hasn’t been forthcoming about future support for other DVR services. The company name dropped Comcast cable as a live television format that’s supported by Nintendo TVii, but not Comcast’s DVR or on-demand services.

A limited feature set isn’t the only challenge facing Nintendo TVii. The app’s feature set is appealing in theory, but it won’t be clear until its available whether or not it suffers from the same sluggish performance problems that plague Nintendo’s other entertainment apps, not to mention the Wii U operating system. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has already publicly apologized for the Wii U’s poor functionality out of the box. If Nintendo TVii is going to be the system-selling application Nintendo wants to be, it has to work a whole lot better than the console’s other features.

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