Nintendo’s New Wii U Console May Not Change Gaming, but It Will Revolutionize Television

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Nov. 14 2012 2:35 PM

Nintendo’s New Console Will Change How You Watch Television

The Wii U may not transform gaming, but it will revolutionize the boob tube.

A Wii U console and Wii U’s tablet-like touchscreen controller.
The new Wii U console and Wii U’s tablet-like touchscreen controller.

Courtesy Nintendo.

Nintendo’s Wii U is better than its enormously popular predecessor in all the expected ways. The new console, which comes out on Sunday, has more processing power and prettier graphics than the six-year-old Wii. But what’s most noteworthy about the Wii U is its new controller. The Wii U GamePad combines the buttons and motion sensors of the original Wiimote with an iPad-like touch screen equipped with a microphone and a camera. This will allow kids to play a hi-def Mario game on the tablet while their parents watch something else on the TV. It also enables new types of gameplay. The gory horror game ZombiU, for instance, uses the tablet as an overhead map, a keypad for electronic doors, an inventory screen for juggling weapons and tools, a crosshairs view when you’re using a rifle, and even an augmented reality display. Hold it up in front of the TV, and it seems to scan the virtual environment and reveal previously hidden items.

Will the Wii U and its new controller change the way people play games? Possibly. Will the Wii U achieve the same level of success that the original Wii did (nearly 100 million consoles sold)? Probably not. It costs more ($300 for a basic version and $350 for a more full-featured version as compared with $250 for the original Wii) and, as Slate’s Farhad Manjoo wrote last year, Nintendo is now struggling to compete with the iPhone and iPad as well as rival consoles. But I am confident enough to make one big prediction: The Wii U will revolutionize the way we watch television.

I must confess that I haven’t seen the TV functionalities of the console in action. (Almost no one outside of Nintendo has—those features have not yet been turned on in the early Wii U units that have gone out to reviewers.) And when the TV functions do launch, you can expect the initial version to be incomplete and buggy. But I’m still going to pull a Nate Silver and bet you 1,000 1-Up mushrooms that the Wii U will push multiscreen viewing to dizzying new heights of input overload.


The most detailed look at Nintendo’s TV plans came at an event in New York this September. Amid demos of various new games, Nintendo of America’s Zach Fountain showed off a service called Nintendo TVii. (That’s pronounced “TeeVee,” meaning that it, er, sounds exactly the same as TV.) At the most basic level, TVii turns the Wii U’s GamePad into an interactive guide to all of your streaming and subscription viewing services. Tap the 6.2-inch tablet to search for shows across Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, YouTube, your DVR, and your cable provider. You can get suggestions based on your viewing preferences, set it to record shows, or jump in and start watching whatever is available.

As you watch, you can use the GamePad to post screen captures and comments to Facebook, Twitter, or Nintendo’s social network, called Miiverse. (I know, I know.) Nintendo is also promising features like live polls and has started partnering with broadcasters to, for example, provide a stream of scores and stats on the GamePad as you watch college football on Saturday afternoon.

Nintendo isn’t the only company to realize that more people are watching TV with a second screen close by. Shows ranging from The Mentalist to American Idol have started helpfully suggesting hashtags that you should use to live-tweet your viewing experience. And if Twitter and Facebook aren’t TV-centric enough for you, there are a myriad of “social TV” apps that are vying to host your real-time oversharing. Meanwhile, apps like Shazam allow you to hold your phone up to your TV to identify a show based on the audio, then connect you to additional content about the show.



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?