There's a new Wii U feature available that has Nintendo execs more excited than Mario after rescuing the princess from the final castle.
On Thursday, a television-centric feature called the TVii will be coming to Nintendo Wii U devices via a free download.
"The company that changed how we play is about to change how we watch," trumpets the official Nintendo press release.
"[Y]ou'll never look at your TV the same way again," Nintendo of America President and COO Reggie Fils-Aime added in a statement. In a separate interview with The Huffington Post, Fils-Aime continued to hype the TVii (pronounced tee-vee, naturally), saying that just as the original Wii and its motion control revolutionized gaming, so too would the TVii feature revolutionize the way we watch television.
So what is this TVii, this odd four-letter word that has the folks at Nintendo so jazzed?
Essentially, TVii is the non-gaming aspect of the Nintendo Wii U, the new Nintendo console that was released in November. It's the pitch to holiday buyers who want not just a video-gaming system, but also a replacement for their set-top box and a new way to watch movies on their plasma screens.
On the most elemental level, TVii connects three customarily separate aspects of the modern television watching experience: cable television, video-on-demand services like Netflix or Hulu Plus, and the second-screen experience (surfing the Internet while you watch). It allows users to access all of this content through the system, without changing inputs or finding their television remotes, and it also lets users search simultaneously across live television, on-demand content and their all-you-can-eat streaming services.
Other consoles, like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, enable gamers to take a break from "Call of Duty" to watch some Netflix, but only the Wii U will also make it possible to watch live TV through Comcast or Dish Network.
Nintendo obviously hopes this added functionality will be an important differentiator for shoppers, as the Wii U is off to a lukewarm start. Thus far, initial Wii U sales have been solid, if unspectacular. By some measures, Microsoft's 3-year-old Xbox 360 is still outselling it, and Nintendo president Satoru Iwata was forced to apologize to early buyers for the raft of system updates that greeted gamers upon first plugging in. This will be another update, and one that is coming months later than promised, without support for Netflix and TiVo, which will follow in early 2013, Nintendo promises.
In other words: Nintendo could use a hit with TVii. Does it have enough firepower, or is it doomed to fall into the ignominy of Bowser's lava?
TO GAME OR TO WATCH?
Whether or not an integrated television software suite can actually boost sales isn't quite clear, though recent trends suggest that, more and more, consoles are being used not just as conduits to video games, but as home entertainment centers. In March, Microsoft announced that entertainment app usage had surpassed multiplayer gaming on the Xbox. Nintendo is hoping to capitalize on that momentum with the TVii, a system that is nothing if not innovative and completely distinct from what the competition offers.
Here's how it works.
Everything starts with the GamePad, the combination tablet/game controller that is central to the Wii U (and probably its most divisive feature). The GamePad interacts with your television in two ways. First, owners can connect the GamePad to their televisions in order to control the basic functions of the television. The GamePad can be used to change the channel, volume, or input; power the TV set on or off; and access the channel guide.
Second, the TVii software enables you to watch movies or television shows from several different sources, in what Nintendo execs say is a more connected and coherent interface than their competitors offer. It pulls your cable listings, based on your provider, into the console, so that you scan and tune to the show of your choice from within your Nintendo. As on other consoles, you can sign into online video services like Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant Video, so that you can watch any of those services on your screen. It can also reach your DVR, though for now, Nintendo has only signed on TiVo as a participant. Nintendo of America director Zach Fountain says that other DVRs may be added in the future.
Nintendo has put together a search function that integrates those two disparate modes of cable listings and online media services, so that when you search for a show or movie, the system scans through both. You can choose how you want to watch the given show, and the Wii U will automatically tune to the program through the service of your choice.
Nintendo has also weaved social media into the service, giving users the option to tweet, post to Facebook or share in the MiiVerse (a new social network for Nintendo users) about any live TV or movie moment from within the GamePad software, without interrupting the content. A team of curators will also push relevant information to the GamePad, including scores from around the league and shot charts for the NBA, as well as screenshots of key moments and filmographic information for major sitcoms and reality TV shows.
TVii also ships with parental controls, as well as a "personalized guide" for each member of the household, which enables family members to choose their favorite channels and place them in a customized grid accessible on their own Wii profiles.
Here's the video that Nintendo first used to pitch TVii, which will also provide a little more color on some of the features:
DOES TVii GIVE YOU GLEE?
Whether Nintendo's execution meets its ambition will be determined Thursday afternoon, as the TVii update hits Wii U's around the United States and Canada. The Wii U's $299 starting price tag will likely keep non-gamers from buying it as an alternative to the cheaper Boxee TV, which also integrates live television with video-on-demand and streaming services. But it could help sway casual gamers who are on the fence about which system to buy with their Christmas bonuses.
At least one thing's for sure: If you have the TVii and the Wii U GamePad controls your television, it'll be pretty dang hard to lose your remote ever again.
You can learn more about Nintendo TVii by visiting the official TVii website here.
CORRECTION: The original version of this story said that the Wii U was released in October. It was released in November.