Reed Hastings: Netflix Is Coming to the Wii

Looks like Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had a change of heart about everyone’s favorite casual video gaming console, as he told Peter Kafka on Friday during an All Things D panel at CES that the chances of launching Netflix on the Wii are “excellent,” according to a report from Tech Trader Daily. He didn’t provide a time line for the implementation of Netflix’s streaming VOD service on the Wii, but told his audience that this “will work out over time.”

That’s quite a change in tone from just a few months ago, when our own Om Malik pressed Hastings about bringing the service to the game platform during a NewTeeVee Live fireside chat. Hasting’s message back then: “Sorry, can’t help you with that.” What changed? Chances are, the folks at Netflix took a good look at the BBC’s recently launched Wii implementation.

It’s easy to understand why Hastings has been dismissive about Nintendo’s gaming console in the past. The Wii essentially packs last-generation console technology. It can’t compete with the hardware present in Sony’s PS3 or or Microsoft’s Xbox 360, which makes it hard to match the video streaming experience both consoles are offering. The Wii just doesn’t have enough power to support a decent video resolution for a TV viewing experience. Or so we thought.

Then the BBC came along, and launched its own iPlayer Wii channel. The Beeb had struggled with the Wii’s limitations in the past as well, specifically with the fact that the Wii’s Flash Player was only able to support streaming at 500kbps. However, it turns out that you can squeeze out a little more if you forgo Flash altogether. From the BBC Internet blog: “We’ve worked closely with Nintendo and our encoding partner Red Bee Media to squeeze every last drop of video goodness out of the Wii. It’s been a balancing act: too much resolution or data and the CPU struggles and drops frames.”

The result is that the Wii iPlayer is now streaming in H.264 with 700kbps. Add to that a decent interface, and you’ve got yourself a service that’s not really close to an HD experience, but good enough to work for the BBC — and possibly soon also Netflix.

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