December 21, 2012, 8:30 AM —
Nintendo promised that its Nintendo TVii service for the Wii U would launch in December and yesterday they made good on that promise, sort of. Some of the features launched but others, like support for TIVO DVRs, did not (support for other DVRs seems to be off the table for the near future at least).
I took the feature for a quick spin and came away mostly disappointed, to be honest. Let's run down my frustrations.
First of all the Wii U's remote functionality is severely hampered by only supporting two devices. If you have an A/V receiver you're more or less out of luck. In my case I have a cable box provided by Time Warner Cable, a Sharp Aquos TV and a Pioneer A/V receiver. The Wii U supports cable box and TV. Now the only thing I ever do to my TV is turn it on or off. All the action happens on the cable box and receiver. I wound up telling the Wii I had a Pioneer TV and found a setting that would switch the inputs on the receiver, though it doesn't work for the volume controls. It's better than nothing but Nintendo really needs to understand a lot of living rooms have A/V receivers these days.
The first thing you need to do with Nintendo TVii is set it up. You feed it your zip code and it offers you a bunch of TV providers. You pick yours in order to get TV listings on your console. You're also supposed to pick favorite TV shows, channels, movies and sports teams but of all of those I could only choose sports teams. The rest were timing out during my initial setup. I was able to go back and add some later so maybe I just hit a glitch.
The main TVii interface (accessed by the home button rather than the Wii U menu) has 5 main options: Favorites, TV, Movies, Sports and Search. If you drill into one of these (aside from Search) you'll get sub-menus like Featured, Live, Recommended and sometimes Grid.
Let's gripe about Grid first. Grid shows your local TV listings. ALL of your local TV listings. I've found no way to filter based on HD vs SD, or hide all those home shopping channels. When Grid pops up I see channels 0-6 and the content I watch starts around channel 1100. That's a lot of scrolling through things that don't interest me.
So forget Grid. Let's go back to the TV section. The show Revolution is listed under Featured. If I click on it I get 3 more sub-menus: Episodes (the default), Show Info and Cast. The Cast section both identifies cast members and lets you see what other shows and movies they've been in. It's OK but it's no IMDB. Show Info give a paragraph about the show but Episodes is where the meat is. The screen shows two rows of tiles, each tile representing an episode (if you want to look at Season 1 of a show that's been on for a decade expect to do a lot of scrolling). When I click on one of those I'm told where/when I can watch. In the case of Revolution I'm offered links to watch on HuluPlus or Amazon Instant Video. Picking either of these closes the TVii app and fires up the respective streaming app. So far so good.
Revolution isn't currently on live TV. Let's back up and look at the Live submenu under TV. The featured show is SpongeBob Squarepants. OK let's drill in; everybody loves SpongeBob right? Now I get a list of episodes and when they're playing. One is playing now, another starts in 22 minutes and so on. It goes out quite a ways; I got tired of scrolling when I was looking at listings that come on in 3 days.
So if I want to watch the SpongeBob that is playing now, I'm first asked what channel I want to watch it on (it's playing on two, SD and HD versions of the same station). I pick one then I get a message saying "The TV Input needs to be set to your cable box. Is it?" It is not so I tap on "No, Change Input." And the Input is moved forward one notch, which in my case means to my Xbox. Same prompt, and I tap "No, change input" again. Now I'm on my X-51 PC. Another tap. An empty HDMI port. Tap again. Internet Radio... well you get the idea. With my reciever I have to hit that button 10 times to get to the TV input. When I finally say "Yes" to the prompt, the channel changes accordingly and I'm finally watching SpongeBob.
At this point the Wii U tablet says something about a TV Tag feature that isn't available for this show. Maybe I can find something during prime time that supports this feature.
You can see the potential here but TVii needs to be smarter. I need to be able to tell it what Input my cable box is on, even if it's as clunky as programing it to skip ahead 10 inputs when I want to go from Wii U to cable box. Right now it's much easier to just grab another remote and tune this stuff manually..
I'm not done griping though. Right now TVii searches HuluPlus and Amazon but not Netflix (that's coming, we're told). There's no support for or acknowledgement of Amazon Prime Instant Streaming (I'd like to know if I can watch a show for free before enduring the glacial Wii U load times involved with switching over to the Amazon app.) There's no way to teach it that I have an HBO subscription but not a Showtime sub. The search isn't great anyway. I tried to add SyFy's show Haven to my Favorites but the search couldn't find the show, even though it's on tonight. According to the Movies section there are no movies playing on TV as I write this. How can that be true? So what movies is Recommended showing me? Tom Hanks in Big and Reservoir Dogs. Huh? Maybe I shouldn't have tuned into SpongeBob after all.
It isn't all bad, though. It is handy to be able to search for (some) content across TV listings and streaming services. Once they get everything included that'll be pretty handy, and Nintendo says they're working on the loading speeds of all the apps.
So let's called Nintendo TVii an interesting first step, but for now that's all it is. I'm looking forward to the service being improved upon and expanded, but for now I wouldn't call Nintendo TVii a system seller. I really think they pushed it out before it was really ready in an effort to make good on that 'December' promise. I think they may have done themselves a disservice though. You only have one chance to make a good first impression and as it stands now TVii doesn't make a good first impression.
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.