Wii U's Nintendo TVii feature will compete against the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Apple TV, and other boxes connected to consumers' television sets, in a battle over which device consumers interact with when watching TVs.
The newly announced TVii feature is a free application enabling Wii U owners in North America to find and watch movies, shows, and sports programming through a variety of services, using the system's tablet-like GamePad as a remote control.
Nintendo of America boss Reggie Fils-Aime said TVii is "probably the most different, non-gaming initiative Nintendo has ever introduced." He emphasized that it's a critical part of Wii U by calling it the system's third pillar, serving as the entertainment pillar (the other two are its games and MiiVerse social network).
For several years now, Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3 have both sought to become the primary means through which users consume entertainment content in their living rooms, regularly adding services like Netflix, HBO Go, and MLB.TV to their offerings.
Microsoft's strategy of establishing the Xbox 360 as an entertainment device appears to be working, as it revealed in March that the console's owners now spend more than half of their time
on Xbox Live watching videos and listening to music, instead of playing games.
Though Nintendo has had success with Wii's Netflix app, the console's focus wasn't too strong on entertainment services. "This is something we've been picking around for a long time," said Fils-Aime during a press event Thursday morning. "We had to wait for the right technology to come along, and it has with Wii U."
Wii U owners will be able to watch content from video-on-demand subscription services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video, as well as from YouTube. They can also watch live TV or recorded programs from their TiVo DVR.
The application allows Wii U owners to browse all of that content from a single hub, where they can see content that's popular with their friends or others, view recommended videos, and set up different profiles for different users.
While watching programs, the GamePad displays interactive content like polls, online discussions (on Facebook, Twitter, and MiiVerse), and relevant information on what users are watching through sites like IMDB and Wikipedia.
Wii U is considerably more expensive
than its competitors, though. Its low-end Basic set, is priced at $300, while the Xbox 360 starts at $199, the PS3 starts at $250, and the Apple TV is priced at $99.