The Nintendo Wii U: one console to rule them all...or is it?
E3 - Nintendo Media Event - Nintendo demo girls
The Nintendo Wii U is a video game console from, uhm, well, Nintendo, and the successor to the Wii.
It competes with Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One and is the first console from Nintendo to support HD ( high-definition ) graphics.
Nintendo's new gaming console comes with a conventional controller called the "Pro Controller" and the "GamePad" controller, which is basically a classic controller and a tablet slammed together, as it features controller-styled buttons and left and right analog sticks, and a touchscreen, an accelerometer, a gyroscope and every tablet feature you can think of.
The console was released in two versions: the "Basic" version, colored in white and with 8 GB of internal flash memory, and a "Deluxe" / "Premium" all-black version with 32 GB of flash memory that includes a pack-in game and other items like stands for the console, a GamePad and a charging dock for the GamePad.
An interesting feature is the Off-TV Play, which I'll explain later, and the fact that Nintendo's console actually is backward compatible with older devices, a rare thing in modern gaming systems, again, I'll say more about this later.
Now, it's time to dive into the console's technical specifications.
Nintendo Wii U Premium Pack
Under the Wii U's exterior casing ( whether it's black or white ) you have the "heart" of the system, a multi-chip module or MCM developed by AMD, IBM and Renesas in collaboration with Nintendo.
The MCM combines a CPU ( central processing unit ), a GPU ( graphics processing unit ), and an EEPROM memory controller. Now, EEPROM stands for Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory and is a type of non-volatile memory used to store small amounts of data that must be saved when the power is removed.
With that out of the way let's return to the Wii U. The console's CPU, designed by IBM, consists of a PowerPC 750-based tri-core "Espresso" processor clocked at 1.24 GHz.
The GPU is designed by AMD consists of a AMD Radeon High Definition processor code-named "Latte" packed with a 34 MB eDRAM cache and clocked at 550 MHz. The console also includes a secondary custom chip that handles other tasks.
The Wii U contains 2 GB of DDR3 system memory clocked at 1600 MHz, in which 1 GB is reserved for the operating system and the remaining 1 GB or memory is used for games.
The GPU also features a 35 MB eDRAM cache memory. The memory architecture allows the CPU and GPU to access both the main DDR3 memory pool and the eDRAM cache memory pool, removing the need for separate, dedicated memory pools.
The read-only optical disc can read high-density Wii U Optical Discs (25 GB per layer) at 5x, these disks are similar to Blu-ray Discs, but say that to the guys at Nintendo and expect a good spanking. Also, Wii Optical Discs at 6x are supported for backwards compatibility with the Wii.
The console includes either an 8 GB (for the Basic version) or 32 GB (for Deluxe / Premium version ) internal flash memory, expandable via SD memory cards up to 32 GB and USB hard disk drives up to 2 TB, as well as external hard drives.
Nintendo Wii U GamePad
In the networking department the Wii U features 802.11 b/g/n wireless network connectivity and Fast Ethernet (for which an attachment is required), Bluetooth 4.0, four USB 2.0 ports and an SD memory card slot.
It also has the Wii Sensor Bar, an auxiliary infrared emitter that probably has been added for backward compatibility with the Wii.
It supports video outputs of 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 576i, 480p and 480i, through HDMI 1.4 and component video or 576i, 480i (standard 4:3 and 16:9 anamorphic widescreen) through composite video.
The console features six-channel 5.1 linear PCM (pulse-code modulation) surround sound and analog stereo, it also supports stereoscopic 3D images and video.
The Nintendo Wii U's main controller is the GamePad, and up to two GamePads can be connected to the console, but there's a catch, as there are few games out there that really benefit from this. An additional four controllers can be connected whether they are Wii Remotes (Plus) with a Nunchuk/Classic Controller attachment, or four Wii U Pro Controllers, or a combination of the two.
The operating system is unsurprisingly called the Wii U OS and is developed by Nintendo. It has to be said that the Wii U's operating system is still a bit slow comparing to its direct rivals, but the updates have made it a lot better than the initial version, with shorter loading times for booting up or while launching a game.
Among the more interesting features of the Wii U are: the Wii Mode (a fully virtual Wii system emulated on the U), TV Control (a GamePad feature that allows it to function as an infrared TV remote), the Nintendo TVii (a free television based service which allows users to find programs on Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and on cable network), the Nintendo Network (which is Nintendo's unified network infrastructure similar to Sony's PlayStation Network and Microsoft's Xbox Live, and the successor to the previous Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service), and the Off-TV Play (a feature that lets the user play games only on the Wii U GamePad controller using its embedded touchscreen, without the need for a TV).
Now let's dive in deeper into the specifications of the Wii U and try to see what do they actually mean.
Wii U GamePad - E3
Making sense of the Wii U's technical specs.
We'll start with some good news, a welcomed thing is the fact that Nintendo has made efforts to make the Wii U backward compatible with the Wii, and trough the Virtual Console service, NES and Super NES titles and even Game Boy Advance and Nintendo 64 are available for the Wii U. There are still improvements to be made, but still, this is a great feature nevertheless, and something quite rare in today's world.
Another plus for the Wii U is the console's capability to support controllers from previous Nintendo consoles. That, with the ability to play games from previous consoles, means that you are saved from further expenses if you want to enjoy your older games on the Wii U.
Moving over to the not so rosy things regarding the console, as pointed by "reviews.cnet.com" the Wii U's long loading times are still there, especially when switching to and from apps or games, and when moving between the System Settings and the Wii U Menu. Now, as I've said before, that has been improved with a series of firmware updates, but the console still is behind the Xbox One and PS4 on this chapter.
Another thing pointed out by "reviews.cnet.com" is that the GamePad and TV sometimes display different video content and sometimes the same, a thing that can be disorienting at times. This issue has been addressed as the games now utilize the system's capabilities far better than in its infancy. Still, issues can appear every now and then.
A very useful feature is off-TV, that enables you to play games on the GamePad's screen. It is a very interesting concept that brings you some mobility and the Wii U graphics and performance on a tablet-sized device, which is an amazing feat.
Why have I said some mobility? Because, according to "reviews.cnet.com", the GamePad works only up to 25 feet from the main console. Another problem is that not all games support off-TV play, in fact very few do support it.
Also, as you may expect GamePad doesn't run games in 1080p, but that isn't a big problem as the graphics still look good, especially for the size of the device. A problem may be the fact that in off-TV mode the GamePad controller's battery life drops considerably, but that may be something to be expected as well.
The TV Control feature also works OK, and is fairly intuitive to use, but a strange thing is the fact that the Wii U doesn't allow users to play their own media. This is a big issue because the Wii U aims, like the Xbox One, to be the central piece of the living room, and in this category both consoles fail, at least so far.
In the graphics and visuals department "reviews.cnet.com" says that Wii U games are just about on par with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, so the Xbox One and PS4 which are the Wii U's current rivals won't start trembling just yet. That being said, the biggest problem, so far, is the lack of exclusive titles that would make you want to buy the Wii U.
Also, while Nintendo Network has delivered an unified network that was missing in their past consoles and has improved the Nintendo online experience, most of the other important features, like the TVii for instance, still need a lot of refining and improvements.
What gaming console would you buy?
So where does all of this leaves us?
Well if you've read my previous reviews on the Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4, you'll get a nasty feeling of déjà vu, but the fact is that all the three new consoles made by the biggest companies in the world of gaming consoles (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) share the same problems: few exclusive and big titles and games do not use their capabilities to the fullest. This is the truth, gaming consoles are directly influenced by the inspiration and success of game developers, and the period prior and just after the launch of these consoles has been pretty dry. Yes, each console has now some interesting titles, but none have a must-buy game, that game that can determine you to purchase the console just for it.
So what should I buy?
If you're asking yourself this question, well the truth is, right now there isn't a straightforward answer.
The good news is that there are a lot of solutions to this problem.
We'll start with the Nintendo Wii U. Now, if you're a Nintendo fan, you should buy it, as it's still a lot of fun, it offers backwards compatibility with the Wii and other older gaming systems, and its "birth" problems and issues have been attended. There are problems that will probably remain, like the GamePad's short battery life, but the issues regarding the OS and other software have been resolved, or at least improved.
If not, then, you should consider that the Wii U is a great system with interesting features and games that all members of the family can enjoy. The price is still quite high, but the biggest advantage of Nintendo's latest console is that this is the most child-friendly console out there, so if you have young children, this is probably the way to go.
Don't forget to check for user's reports and feedback as that is always a good way to spot for eventual problems that a product may have, if those problems are being fixed by the manufacturer, and of course, if the product works for you.
And, if you're keen on buying a new console right now, and you're not a fan of Nintendo consoles, I suggest buying a Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3 as most of the times, the last version of an old technology is better that the first version of a new technology, a concept that probably is the most visible in the case of this new gaming consoles.
Tell me what do yo think about the Nintendo Wii U in the comments area below, also, you can answer the poll question and check the "reviews.cnet.com" review on the Wii U.
Watch the CNET review on the Nintendo Wii U by following the link below:
- Nintendo Wii U Deluxe Set Review - Watch CNET's Video Review
Despite its unique dual-screen presentation and innovative GamePad controller, the Wii U still has a lot to prove.