Nintendo TVii review: A great idea that simply doesn’t work yet

Nintendo Wii U

The Nintendo Wii controller was and is an elegant work of genius. Forget the motion controls, though. The Wiimote (is that still a phrase people use?) gets its magic from its design. Revealed nearly a year before the actual Wii console back in 2005, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said that the remote was created specifically to look like a television remote as much as the iconic NES controller from the 1980s. The remote is a simple mix of familiar contraptions to invite people seamlessly into playing with a piece of technology.

The Wii U leverages the familiarity of television in a wholly opposite way through Nintendo TVii. Video games have changed in the seven years since the Wiimote’s debut, but television has changed far more. Digital video recording is now standard in cable packages as is on demand programming, and around 50 million Americans pay for streaming video services Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, and Netflix. Most people have to use multiple remote controls to even watch television in the living room now. The Wiimote has lost its cultural currency. Nintendo TVii is a service that tries to unify the multifarious television landscape of 2012. It’s meant to be a simple, all-encompassing, familiar way to navigate content. The idea is sound but only partially realized in the service’s debut.

Wii U review

Remote Control 

Nintendo TVii is not actually an app you need to download to the Wii U. It’s pre-loaded and functions like a web browser. If you’re playing a game or running an app like Hulu Plus on the Wii U when you click the Nintendo TVii icon, it will continue running. On firing TVii up for the first time, you’re walked through a simple profile set up, selecting your local service provider and television package based on your zip code. So far the service seems to work well in finding providers, even recognizing broadcast television, something Nintendo was hesitant to confirm ahead of Nintendo TVii’s release.

In addition to selecting favorite shows and movies—TVii gives a small sample of current releases for both, leaving you to search for others—you can select local favorite channels which are added as buttons to the touch screen remote control on the Wii U GamePad. The remote layout is interesting, but limited. It’s an array of wheels that pop up in the right hand corner of the touch screen, with numbers and channel icons (ABC, NBC, ESPN, etc.) on the outmost wheel with volume, pause/play functions for movies, and input selection on the interior wheels. There are also tools for linking to social networks, including Twitter and Facebook as well as Nintendo’s own Miiverse, and you can comment on those networks while you’re watching shows.

Finding a show and options for watching them is also simple. Want to watch Parks and Recreation? The icon will be in the “Live” section of the menu on a Thursday when it broadcasts on NBC, but clicking the show icon will also show buttons for watching it on Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant. (Netflix support isn’t included yet, though the Netflix app is available already on Wii U.) Want to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers game on Sunday? The sports section of TVii will have all NBA, NFL, MLB, and NCAA Football matches loaded up and will show you your options for watching those games based on what services you have. The layout works as promised, as easy to navigate as streaming video apps on iOS devices and other consoles.

 wii u app

Failure to Launch

Unfortunately actually watching television and movies is where the problems begin. The browser service itself may work smoothly out the gate, but the Wii U’s sluggish operating system and an overly simplistic virtual remote can cause early problems. The touch screen wheel inputs are laid out smoothly but they’re missing many of the features on modern TV remotes, like a decimal button. Living in New York City and watching broadcast television, all channels have a decimal. CBS is 2.1, Fox 5.1, etc. While the Nintendo TVii service knows this and lays out programming for local channels on the GamePad screen, selecting the channels on the virtual remote doesn’t work. The TV will simply try to go to channel 2 then channel 1 before giving up and quitting back to the HDMI input where the Wii U is.

Selecting a television show to watch via Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant works just fine, but suffers from the crippled operating speed of the Wii U. Choosing to watch that episode of Parks and Recreation on Hulu Plus will force the Wii U to quit to its home menu and then launch the Hulu app no matter what. Even if the Hulu app was already running in the background, it will quit, go to the home menu, and restart the app. With no other app running, choosing to watch a video on Hulu or Amazon via Nintendo TVii takes between 65 and 80 seconds to get to the menu where that episode is in the native app. Not for it to start, just to get to the menu.

Conclusion

These are first world complaints. I’m 30-years-old and remember when getting a low resolution, 15-second clip to load in Internet Explorer could take up to 20 minutes. That iTV has created a service that just shows you all the different things you can watch on a television, from broadcast to cable to web, is pretty amazing. Nintendo TVii doesn’t quite work yet, though. When Nintendo gets its system to the point that selecting a program on any of the various services covered is as fast as changing the channel, it’ll really be on to something. Nintendo acknowledges that Nintendo TVii is incomplete as well. As of now there is no DVR support whatsoever. TiVo will be supported sometime in 2013, but no other DVR service is confirmed yet. Nintendo TVii is a service meant to grow. As it is, Nintendo TVii version 1 is an impressive start, and a good try at making the complexity of modern television simpler, but this is not the elegant simplicity of the Wiimote. Not by a longshot.

Emerging Tech

Don’t be fooled — this automated system sneakily manipulates video content

In the vein of “deep fakes," Recycle-GAN, a new system from Carnegie Mellon University, presents another case for how difficult it will be to distinguish fiction from reality in the future.
Movies & TV

How to watch NFL games online, with or without cable

The NFL's 2018 season is here, and we know you don't want to miss a moment of the action. Our comprehensive streaming guide will show you all the best options to watch the games online so you can make the right choice.
Home Theater

Google Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra: Everything you need to know

Google's Chromecast plugs into your TV's HDMI port, allowing you to stream content from your tablet, laptop, or smartphone directly to your TV. Here's what you need to know about all iterations, including the 4K-ready Chromecast Ultra.
Home Theater

Dish Network or DirecTV: Which is the better choice for you?

So, you’ve chosen to go with a satellite television provider. Check out our quick rundown of what both Dish Network and DirecTV offer in terms of content, hardware, and pricing, and why you might choose them over streaming services.
Home Theater

PlayStation Vue: The master guide to Sony’s internet TV service

PlayStation Vue is Sony's answer to live TV without the need for a cable or satellite TV subscription. To help you understand the service, its plans, and numerous features, we've created this handy guide.
Emerging Tech

Moxi the ‘friendly’ hospital robot wants to help nurses, not replace them

Moxi is a "friendly" hospital robot from Texas-based Diligent Robotics. The wheel-based bot, which begins trials this week, aims to free nurses from routine tasks so they can spend more time with patients.
Emerging Tech

Giant wind farm in Morocco will help mine cryptocurrency, conserve energy

One of the windiest parts of Morocco is set to get a $2 billion wind farm power plant, which could help power eco-friendly cryptocurrency mining in a more environmentally friendly way.
Emerging Tech

How do 3D printers work? Here’s a super-simple breakdown

How do 3D printers work, exactly? If you ever wondered how these magical machines create 3D objects in a matter of hours, then look no further than this dead-simple breakdown of the four most common printing technologies.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Robots are going to steal 75 million jobs by 2025 — but there’s no need to panic

According to the World Economic Forum, robots and A.I. will take 75 million jobs from hardworking humans by 2025. That's the bad news. The good news is that they will create far more jobs than that.
Deals

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…
Emerging Tech

An A.I. is designing retro video games — and they’re surprisingly good

Researchers from Georgia Tech have demonstrated how artificial intelligence can be used to create brand-new video games after being shown hours of classic 8-bit gaming action for inspiration.
Smart Home

Amazon might open 3,000 cashier-free Amazon Go stores by 2021

According to new reporting by Bloomburg, anonymous sources within Amazon say that CEO Jeff Bezos is considering opening up to 3,000 of the company's cashier-less, experimental Amazon Go stores by 2021.
Emerging Tech

Wormlike motion sculptures show how athletes move in 3D

Researchers at MIT have developed a system that offers athletes a unique way to visualize their bodies in motion. An algorithm scans 2D videos of a person in motion, and generates data points that can be 3D-printed into "motion sculptures."