YouTube just announced the beta launch of a “TV Website” that will be rolled out initially with the Internet channels on the Nintendo Wii and Sony PS3 video game consoles. (If you have either game system, type in http://www.youtube.com/tv on your console’s web browser to check it out.) Google says it aims to offer a version of YouTube for TV owners with an Internet hookup, transforming the service into a “lean-back, 10-foot television viewing experience.” Internet-enabled videogame consoles have become pervasive (41 million households have them already, according to a recent Diffusion Group report, and 148 million households are forecast to have them by 2012), so we can expect to see way more services like this for console owners.
So how’s YouTube doing with this first attempt? I just fired up my Wii to give it a test drive, and here’s my quick take:
The YouTube site has been optimized for the TV, stripped down to its bare essentials; that’s good. I especially like how video thumbnails “pop up” when you move your Wiimote cursor over them. It seems as though the “high quality” viewing option that you often get on the web version isn’t available (I couldn’t access it for videos I know have it), and that’s not so good — especially since you’re supposed to be watching from your couch.
You can log into your YouTube account to see videos you’ve uploaded or that were recommended by your contacts, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to access your account’s messaging system. You can search for videos by keyword, but I couldn’t find a way to filter out the results based on view count, rating, etc. And this may be false causality, but while a YouTube video was playing and I hit “Back” on my Wii’s Opera browser, the screen froze and the entire console locked up — an extremely rare occurrence.
All in all, then, it’s a potentially fun YouTube feature that has a lot of room for improvement. (Then again, that’s why they call it beta.) It’s pretty good for casual viewing if you’re not too picky about what you watch, but right now, I’d say your better bet is Stumbleupon’s video channel for the Wii. At the moment, the best way to use YouTube’s “TV Website” might be to create a playlist of videos on your PC first. Then, when you’ve got your popcorn ready, sit down and watch them from your couch.