TVii is Nintendo’s attempt to combine live television, DVR and streaming video services into a single interface for the Wii U’s touch screen controller. Instead of the clunky channel grid you see on every cable box, TVii will recommend things to watch, group shows by category and offer a unified search engine that works across all video content. For TiVo users, the Wii U will be able to record and play back DVR content–though you’ll still need a dedicated TiVo box to do so.
The Wii U’s GamePad also serves as an extra screen for watching replays, looking up information (such as sports scores), talking with friends or looking for other content. Twitter, Facebook, iMDb and Wikipedia are all integrated.
Nintendo told Engadget that all major cable and satellite carriers in the United States and Canada will be supported. That makes sense because the TVii is essentially sucking up listings and blasting directions to the cable box, using the built-in IR emitter on the Wii U’s controller. It’s an interesting little end-run that prevents Nintendo from having to sign content deals with individual TV providers.
Bringing disparate video sources into one interface has been a holy grail for set-top box makers, but they’ve had limited success so far. Microsoft has brought streaming video from Comcast and Verizon to the Xbox 360, but content restrictions apply, and if you don’t live in an area where those providers do business, you’re out of luck. Apple has reportedly spent years trying to build a TV service, but has gotten nowhere in negotiations.
The only other company that’s attempted cable-streaming convergence is Google. Set-top boxes that run Google TV can swap between cable and streaming video, but much like the service’s Android underpinnings, the interface is a bit geeky for the average user. The devices haven’t been successful.
From what we’ve seen of TVii, the interface looks much simpler, but I haven’t actually tried it (nor has anyone else in the press), so we’ll have to see if Nintendo can live up to its promises. One of my big concerns is how seamlessly the Wii U will handle switching between cable or satellite TV and streaming. (I suspect it’ll have to switch the input devices on your TV, which could get clunky.) We also don’t know how much content, if any, will be watchable on the controller’s small screen.
For now, I’m impressed that Nintendo is going beyond a static collection of video apps for the Wii U. For a company that always prided itself on being about games above all else, this is a big step in acknowledging that game consoles aren’t what they used to be.