Netflix instant streaming is becoming available on nearly every home video device, and the Nintendo Wii is the last of the three major game consoles to get the functionality. Like the PS3, the Wii requires a disc to enable Netflix streaming; Netflix sent out the first batch of discs on Friday and we had a chance over the weekend to try out the new service.
Setup and user interface
To get Netflix on the Wii, you'll need to request a disc first. Netflix sends the disc in the same red sleeve as your other movies, but unlike other discs you rent from Netflix, you never have to return this one. You need to keep it and put it in the player everytime you use Netflix streaming. Once you pop the disc in, the Netflix icon appears in the same window usually reserved for games.
The Netflix on Wii interface is somewhat different than we've seen on other devices. It shares the same horizontal layout, with cover shots of your movies, but there's also additional information on the screen, such as runtime, MPAA rating, and star rating--which is Netflix's best guess as to how much you'll like the movie. You'll also notice there's a slider, which you can "grab" with the Wii pointer to browse your instant queue.
Along the top, you'll see a header that says "Instant Queue," which is the default sort mode. By pressing up/down on the directional pad, you can switch to other views, including "Recently Watched," "New Arrivals," "Movies You'll Love," and standard genres like comedy, drama, and sci-fi. Pressing the "B" trigger button brings up a separate menu with all the sorting options. These additional sort modes are especially nice if you haven't added many titles to your instant queue, as it expands your options without requiring you to break out a laptop and add more movies. It's not quite as slick as the Xbox 360's interface, but it's a significant step up from the Roku HD player's interface, which is beginning to feel outdated.
Like most things on the Wii, the interface feels intuitive and the point-and-click nature of the Wii remote makes picking a movie dead simple. Anyone that feels comfortable using the Wii will have no problem using Netflix streaming.
Unlike the majority of devices with Netflix streaming, the Wii is limited to standard-definition playback. We conducted our hands-on using the 480p output mode and a component video cable, which is a step up from the standard composite cable included with the Wii.
Because the Wii isn't known for it's graphics capabilities, we were expecting a significant drop off in streaming quality, but we were pleasantly surprised. "Pan's Labyrinth" is one of the better-looking streaming titles, and although it looked softer on the Wii, it was definitely watchable with minor compression artifacts. When we looked at the same title on the PS3, we noticed that colors were richer and there was more detail, but it was relatively subtle. We're sure the difference in image quality would be larger had we used the standard composite video cable included with the Wii, but that's a limitation of the cable, not the Wii.
As we mentioned before, the biggest caveat with Netflix on the Wii is that you'll need to insert the disc every time you want to use the feature. (This is likely a workaround because of a rumored exclusivity deal Netflix has with Microsoft.) Also, just like with every streaming Netflix device, you're limited to the titles Netflix has in its "Instant Streaming" catalog, which is much smaller than its catalog of DVDs for rent. It's also worth pointing that the Nintendo Wii doesn't come with an Ethernet port (although you can buy an add-on adapter), so your wireless network has to be up to the task of streaming video. Our Wii was connected wirelessly to our 802.11G home network for this test and we didn't have any issues.
Overall, Netflix streaming is a solid upgrade for Wii owners, especially if it's the only Netflix-capable device in their home theater. On the other hand, even though we liked the point-and-click interface, we'd opt to use a home video device with HD output if its available. Now that Blu-rays players, HDTVs, DVRs, and game consoles frequently come with Netflix, it's likely the Wii won't be your first choice for streaming.