Last week at E3, Nintendo showcased so much new information about their upcoming system, the Wii U, that it's really easy to overlook one of the console's most intriguing functions. During Nintendo's pre-E3 live stream there was one thing in particular about the newly redesigned controller that seemed out of place. The screen we already knew about. The adjustments to analog sticks had already been leaked. It was the new "TV" button that sat at the bottom of the face of the controller that stood out. Never before had a game console included such a feature, but Nintendo isn't a company known to imitate others. A few days after the feature was announced, I had a chance to speak with Nintendo's Director of Public Relations, Marc Franklin, who helped provide some insight into how the Wii U is looking to take over your television.
Nintendo made two announcements that clearly pertained to the mysterious little button. The first came during their live stream: the Wii U gamepad will double as a TV remote, allowing you to turn on, tune in and drop out with just one controller. There was also some mention of being able to access and browse TV guide listings right on the Wii U GamePad's screen at some point down the line. In addition to that, during Nintendo's E3 press conference, Nintendo of America President, Reggie Fils-Amie, announced that Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Video would all be coming to the Wii U as key parts of the system's entertainment offerings. However, the look on Mr. Franklin's face when I asked about the TV button seemed to allude to the fact that Nintendo has much in store for that tiny little button.
"What that does is, you can operate the Wii U GamePad as a TV remote control. It brings up your channel selector, volume, there's a TV guide button in there. It gives you the opportunity to use your GamePad as a remote control as a matter of convenience. You can even operate the TV without turning on your Wii U. What we've talked about all along is an integrated experience, and in that line of thinking, this makes a lot of sense."
After speaking with Marc, I was shown a demo of just what the Wii U's entertainment capabilities are at this early point in its lifecycle. Nintendo Project Developer Shawn Norris walked me through the prototype iteration of Netflix's dual screen experience as it currently stands on the Wii U. Movie enthusiasts can browse both on both screens, using motion gestures on the touch screen to flip through titles until they find what they are looking for. Interestingly enough, it's after a users finds their movie that the Wii U's unique, dual screen capabilities really shine. Wii U owners can watch movies or TV shows on their big screen while using the Wii U's little screen to continue to browse for their next selection. Alternatively, the movies that are streaming in via Netflix can be pulled down to the Wii U controller's screen while someone else on the couch can navigate away from the Wii U, and watch something else on TV. It's a great option for families that want to watch different things, but don't have multiple screens in their house. Now with the Wii U you can do it in the same room, on the same couch.
While Nintendo was very outwardly trying to push the idea of the social component of gaming at this year's E3 (with the introduction of the Miiverse) they were quietly introducing this as a different kind of social experience. Franklin talked about the idea of being alone, together, "we're together, and we're spending quality time with each other, but we are still enjoying our own entertainment in the same room." While some people (read: less video game acclimated significant others) might object to the overall merits of this idea, stating that spending quality time together is more about shared experiences than shared space, parents of children who are constantly on the go, may look at this as an opportunity to simply see their kids, and that might be enough for the them. Additionally, I'm positive there are couples out there that welcome any and all ways to put an end to arguments over what to watch.
It was alluded to that the Netflix demo was just a prototype, and it only scratched the surface of what Nintendo has in the pipeline for their entertainment experience. For example, they wouldn't comment on whether this type of interface would be ported over to their other partners' apps, as they weren't demonstrating them at E3. Nor would they say anything about how Netflix could be expanded (think dual-screen streaming). However, since the Wii U hasn't even hit the market yet, no one has seen the full potential of the system, either as a gaming console or as an entertainment hub. It's likely that Nintendo has more than a few tricks up their sleeve, as it's clear that they are making an even stronger attempt to take over your living room with the Wii U, and it all begins with that little TV button.