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Can An HD Wii 2 Turn Around Nintendo’s Video Fortunes?

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Nintendo (s NTDOY) could announce the next generation of its Wii gaming console soon, according to comments made by EA Games Label President Frank Gibeau. Analysts believe that the company will announce the Wii2 at this year’s E3 conference in June, which could mean that it goes on sale early next year.

Any significant Wii update will have to include HD capabilities, which could help Nintendo to win back customers who use Microsoft’s (s MSFT) Xbox 360 or Sony’s (s SNE) PS3 as home entertainment devices. But will the addition of HD video streaming be too little, too late?

Gibeau told Industry Gamers today that Nintendo is “coming back with a second act,” adding: “They understand the dynamics and the fact that HD consoles is a booming part of business right now.”

Both the Xbox and the PS3 support HD, and both platforms have made use of it not just for gaming, but also for video delivery. The Xbox offers users of the Xbox Live marketplace access to Netflix and ESPN3, (s DIS) as well as video rentals directly from Microsoft. An addition of Hulu Plus is imminient. The PS3 also offers its own video rental store, plus rentals through Vudu (s WMT) and video subscriptions via Netflix and Hulu Plus. Both consoles also offer access to YouTube, (s GOOG) and Microsoft has been striking some additional content partnerships to bring shows like The Guild onto the Xbox.

Wii users can also access Netflix, but only in SD, with bitrates maxing out at around 700kbps — barely enough for a VHS-like experience. Content producers were initially very excited to bring video to the Wii, but hardware constraints and the growing popularity of alternatives — from connected TVs to dedicated streaming devices like the Roku player — has resulted in the Wii falling out of fashion. The BBC, which optimized its iPlayer for the Wii, reported earlier this year that only about two percent of the service’s users access it through the game console.

Just adding HD video may not be enough to convince potential customers that the Wii 2 will also be a great video entertainment device, especially in an age where Netflix is available on more than 250 devices. However, Nintendo could leverage the fact that game hardware release cycles are fairly slow. Microsoft and Sony are expected to stick with their current-generation hardware for at least two or three more years. So what could Nintendo add to the Wii 2 that would make it a home entertainment game changer?

One idea would be to solve the TV input problem that many connected devices are still struggling with. Nintendo could use a setup similar to the one introduced by Logitech’s Google TV set-top box, which daisy-chains HDMI devices to display both cable TV programming and its own content simultaneously on the same screen. Take this idea one step further, and you could think of dance or singing games taking place while related talent shows are being broadcast on TV.

Another angle would be to leverage some of the technology Nintendo is introducing with its new 3DS this month, like the Spotpass ability to engage in social games and exchange information with other 3DS owners just by passing them on the street. The Wii 2 could become the media hub extension of these kinds of near-field data echanges, for example automatically recommending videos based on the people you have met during the day, or even aggregating local news videos based on the places you have visited.

Granted, all of this may sound pretty futuristic — but so did the ability to play dance games without a controller just a few years ago. It’s clear that Nintendo will have to go all out if it wants to compete with Microsoft and Sony — and whatever the company comes up with, video will be a big part of it.

What kind of video features would you like to see become part of Nintendo’s Wii 2? Let us know in the comments!

8 Responses to “Can An HD Wii 2 Turn Around Nintendo’s Video Fortunes?”

  1. The Lone Wulf

    When you’re using the Wii to watch Netflix, hold in the “2” button. In the upper-left corner of the screen, it’ll show your connection speed.
    I use DSL with a max downstream of 1.5mbps and my Netflix streams rather well to my slightly older (read: 2004) 4:3 CRT television @ around 1.0mbps. I have very little glyphing or pixelation on-screen. It’s miles ahead of VHS, even with that setup. Doing the same thing with my 360 is hideous. Pixelation, tons of glyphs, audio drop-outs, and it constantly wants to re-adjust its streaming speed, leaving 3-10 seconds of reloading time to adjust to the new connection.
    I’m hoping that Nintendo does something amazing for their next console, and does it soon. As an early adopter of the Wii, it was great until the optical drive decided to stop working late last year. HD, a much larger on-board hard drive, and easier multimedia playback will bring more and more people back to Nintendo.

  2. From the article: “Wii users can also access Netflix, but only in SD, with bitrates maxing out at around 700kbps — barely enough for a VHS-like experience.”

    Has the author actually watched anything on VHS lately? I’ll take some slight pixelation and artifacting over smeary colors, static, and poor tracking any day. This comparison seems disingenuous at best. Even in SD, I’m hard-pressed to see much of a difference between a Netflix stream and a DVD.

    If there’s anything that Netflix and Hulu have proved, it’s that consumers care less about video resolution and more about the pure availability of as much content as possible. That said, I would welcome an HD Wii with internet video capabilities into my home with open arms.

    • Netflix streams for me at an average of 1.8mbps on my Wii which is still under DVD quality but I agree it’s mountains better then VHS. I too agree with consumers being more concerned about what is available rather then the quality it streams at. Most people can’t tell the difference between a 2mbps and 5mbps. Side note, streaming HD is around 5mbps, Blu-ray is any where from 15-40mbps.
      I have no doubt that Nintendo will pull something fantastic out in the coming months, since the Wii was a game changer, they gotta have something else up their sleeve.

      • Hey Matt, are you sure about those 1.8Mbps? That’s interesting… Netflix actually hasn’t disclosed what bitrate they’re using for the Wii. I went off BBC data, which concluded after some extensive tests that the hardware can’t deal with more than 700kbps. To be fair, there is significant overhead with streaming – Netflix streams its 720p HD videos with 3800kbps max, but recommends that users have at least 5Mbps capacity available.

  3. I like the Idea of HD and the 3D but they really need to add those social interactions and the pass by data transfer with 3DS’s is a great portal to customized content on power up… Nintendo needs to find a way to make us think the Wii knows who we are and what we want.

  4. I don’t really like the Wii at all anymore, it kind of lost shelf life to me. I have both the KInect and the Move, their are better motion control gaming devices available now.