The Wii U is more than just another Nintendo console; it represents the company’s new mission of offering consumers a full entertainment experience, and TVii is an essential piece of that puzzle. Nintendo has typically been a gaming only company, but with stiff competition from rivals Microsoft and Sony, and new entrants like Apple and Google threatening market share, the shift of gears was inevitable.
TVii doesn’t just attempt to keep up: it aims to leapfrog the competition. The Wii U Gamepad serves as a universal remote with tablet-like experience. It incorporates a deeper, socially driven TV-watching approach. And it allows each member of the family to customize their experience with their personality and preferences. But does it succeed?
Setting up TVii
For me, setting up TVii was an absolute breeze. Simply punch in your zip code, select your service provider, choose a channel package, and you’re on your way. With the sheer combination of possible zip codes, service providers, and channel packages, some consumers will inevitably face problems, but my experience was enjoyably simple. (Visit the TVii forums if you’re having problems)
Once the technical stuff is out of the way, you’ll enter a set-up wizard that allows you to select favorite TV shows, Movies, Sports teams, and channels. These will help pre-populate your TVii with a more personalized experience and your favorite channels become “quick buttons” found on the universal Gamepad remote. You’re easily able to adjust these settings at any time by pressing on your Mii on the top left of the Gamepad.
And that’s it. Like I said, an absolute breeze.
TVii Universal Remote
There are two ways to control your TV with your GamePad:
- Pressing the hardware button with blue “TV” text (underneath the Gamepad screen) pops up a no frills remote with channel up/down, volume up/down, number pad, and a couple other simple options.
- Pressing the remote icon in the lower right hand corner of the Gamepad touchscreen brings up the complete universal remote with a more extensive set of options.
The second provides the comprehensive navigation typical of any universal remote and it’s conveniently overlaid on the Gamepad screen regardless of where you happen to be browsing.
You’ll notice the universal remote is a bit quirky in it’s layout. The design is set up much like a rotary phone, with an outside layer of numbers and favorite channels that scroll in circular fashion. The rest of the remote is positioned statically and include TV On/Off, Guide, Source/Input, Volume Up/Down, Channel Up/Down, DVR controls, and Up/Down/Left/Right/Enter buttons to control other functionality.
The notably disappointing exclusion here is with the DVR controls: they don’t work.
The obvious saving grace here is the message that this functionality will be coming soon. For now, the missing feature creates quite the irritation, mainly because TVii let’s you do so much but fails to connect the dots. You’re easily able to see that your favorite team plays tomorrow night, a great movie is on this weekend, and you’ll be missing the season premiere of a TV show you really enjoy, but you’re unable to set up recordings for them. Furthermore, you’ll have to fetch your regular remote to pause, play, rewind, and fast forward whatever you’ve got on the tube.
TVii TV, Movies, and Favorites
Beyond all-too-familiar remote layouts discussed above, the Wii U Gamepad’s core functionality offers a magazine-like TV browsing experience for TVii similar to services like Netflix, Google Play Store, YouTube, and other video streaming services. Only now, not only is it operating your TV, but you’re also browsing on one screen and seeing the results on another. This makes channel surfing all-the-better as you can explore alternate programming without skipping a beat.
The TV, Movie, and Favorite sections each have sub options. In the case of TV, you’ve got Featured, Live, Recommended, and Grid. I found the Featured and Recommended to be somewhat redundant, although this could improve as the system learns your preferences. Dive into a TV show and you can also browse episodes, get more information about the cast, and select from a range of viewing options such as Live TV, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Streaming.
Live was especially enticing, offering a picturesque view of current programming. The solitary downfall is most of the offerings displayed what would start in the next half-an-hour block, so until the clock hit the 6 or 12, I was out of luck. I’d suggest Nintendo allow filters for “Playing Now” and “Starting Soon” to better assist those browsing.
The “Grid” is what you would typically get by pressing “Guide” on your cable box, but with TVii you can swipe and scroll seamlessly; up and down for channels, left and right for times, and it really opens up the old-feeling TV guide that afterwards will feel pixelated and boxed in.
Diving into Movies offers a similar outcome with Featured Movies, Live Movies currently on TV, and Recommended Movies based on your favorites and viewing history.
Remember during the setup process where we selected our TV package? Remember how there was only an option between Package 1 with 138 channels and Package 2 with 600+ channels? Movies is where you especially feel the inconvenience of these polarized options.
Most of the movies you find – even in the “Live” movie section – end up being on channels to which you’re not subscribed. I have a pretty expansive cable TV package but in terms of movie channels, HBO is one of the few I have. So of more than half of the movies I’m browsing, I can’t view most of them. Unless they’re available for purchase, but come on, I’m just trying to watch some TV.
Nintendo needs to add a channel by channel setting where you can completely unsubscribe from a channel and no longer see it anywhere within your TVii browsing experience. Until they offer this feature, users will find themselves frustrated with finding great content, only to realize they can’t watch it or have to pay for it. In the end, if Nintendo doesn’t fix this and the DVR problem swiftly, they’ll find users resorting to the typical universal remote or cable TV guide.
That being said, TVii offers a load of promise. It’s already a fun experience without some core functionality and when it arrives, users will really enjoy browsing with TVii. After a couple months of favoriting shows and movies they love, and interacting with the service, it’s value will grow. I’d like to see a dislike or star-rating system in place so that Nintendo can algorithmically make better suggestions, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Hopefully that day will come.
The sports experience on TVii is by far my favorite element. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a huge sports fan, but my reasoning is sound: the user’s experience is powerfully extended with the Wii U Gamepad, making it a complete and interactive scoreboard, and allowing users to easily dive into ongoing games with the touch of a button. Sports fans will especially love that they’ll find themselves discovering a close game and getting to pop into a competitive buzzer beating end they normally wouldn’t have caught.
Once you’re in a game, Nintendo makes great use of the Wii U Gamepad. If you’re familiar with ESPN’s Gamecasts – and sports fans will be – you’ll understand the typical concept. You’ve got a layout of the field or court on the left, a running play-by-play list on the right, and the option to quickly jump into both team and individual stats. You can quickly do some data mining while watching the game without missing a play… and it rocks.
Another reason that the sports experience on the Wii U is outrageously fun is the social aspect: you can select and comment on any given “play” in the play-by-play panel. Leave your own opinion or thoughts and browse the comments of everyone else. I found it extremely fun to sift through the plays, see what plays were garnering the most attention, and reading what people said about them.
Keep in mind I was doing this with relatively unimportant games; for huge matchups, playoffs, and the Super Bowl? Ha! I can’t wait. At some point there will be TOO many comments, but that would be a great problem for Nintendo to have. If they attract tons of participation, they can further refine the feature set towards the ecosystem the develops. We’ve seen them do a great job with Miiverse and I’m sure they’ll succeed here as well.
I did notice that the TVii “Gamecast” has about a 30-second delay, but when comparing directly to ESPN watching the same game, I learned that they’re nearly identical. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo actually licenses ESPN’s content, but this isn’t something I can confirm or deny.
Nintendo has some really interesting things going for it with TVii. At the most basic level, they’ve created a better mousetrap. The Wii U Gamepad is a much better universal remote than the typical consumer default, and you’re able to set it up in minutes. Boom. Already sold.
But it goes beyond that: just as I trumpeted in my ZombiU Review, the Wii U truly shines when the Gamepad’s screen is put to use as a secondary experience. TVii Sports is a shining example of what’s possible, but it’s just the beginning. Picture any TV show or movie you’re watching and imagine the interactive options. Polls, comments, contests, and more between real life friends (Facebook, Twitter), Miiverse friends, and strangers alike.
So now Nintendo has improved the basic TV watching experience, extended its features, and socialized it. If this doesn’t sound impressive, keep in mind this is something that the likes of Microsoft, Sony, Apple, Google, and others have failed to accomplish. And right now Nintendo’s features are just skimming the surface… the future could be very bright.
That being said, the competition has a close eye on Nintendo. First mover advantage is valuable, but sometimes it’s best to sit, watch, and jump into the ring after taking notes. With Android, GTV, and the “Open Accessory” initiative, Google could clone the TVii concept with their own Nexus devices or even 3rd parties. Sony has already insinuated their PS Vita could theoretically control a TV or other entertainment system if they so desired. Apple TV has been waiting in the wings for awhile. And don’t forget Microsoft and Sony who will likely be announcing new consoles in the near future.
The time is now for Nintendo. TVii is a success; currently good, not great, but the foundation is laid. Millions have their Wii U consoles and millions more will set up them on Christmas morning. Now that you’re this deep into the review, it’s easy to forget, “Oh yeah, this thing is also (and primarily) an amazing gaming system.”
And that’s how you know Nintendo has truly accomplished something with TVii. The Wii U is a pretty darn good console on its own, but with TVii, it can truly become the center of your home entertainment experience. There’s lots of room for improvement, but for a company launching a service in previously uncharted territory? You’ve got to consider Nintendo TVii a success.
(for those saying TL:DR)
Nintendo TVii is a successful first foray into becoming a complete home entertainment solution. It has its flaws, but out of the box, it immediately improves, personalizes, and socializes your TV watching experience while offering some features completely unique to the Wii U.