The Wii U's long-teased TVii feature launched yesterday, but even now it feels like a work-in-progress. While the functionality certainly shows potential, most of it is underbaked and unlikely to change TV watching habits as Nintendo might hope.
One insurmountable problem is that it relies on the Wii U being turned on first. This isn't the fault of the feature itself, but it's worth noting. As Wii U owners know, start-up actually takes a while, and then clicking on the TVii icon to access the feature results in a second load time. I can't imagine anyone would wait through all that just for casual TV watching, which relegates TVii to use when one is already using the Wii U, or planning to take advantage of its special features.
Setting up the function is a breeze, and doesn't even require a firmware update. You simply tap on the TVii icon that has already been present on the Wii U dashboard and it walks you through the set-up steps. It's worth noting, though, that if you didn't pair your Wii U with your cable box, you'll need to exit the TVii setup and enter it in the system's Settings menu. The process could certainly use some streamlining, since I spent some time futilely searching for the option in the TVii menu.
(For full disclosure, even once I did find the option, my cable box signal couldn't be found in the Wii U remote settings. As a result, my testing for this was done by manually changing the channel using my normal remote. I blame this problem on my cable company, which gave me an older box, rather than on the Wii U.)
The set-up process includes picking some favorite shows, sports teams, and networks. The interface itself is easy to use and incredibly intuitive, and the movie selection smartly includes a RottenTomatoes score. The remote itself is always accessible and responsive, even if the DVR buttons are useless for the time being.
Selecting shows or movies that are available on Hulu or Amazon presents them in the options alongside any available channels, but launching into either application means waiting for them to load. For those of you keeping track, video-on-demand services make for three separate load times to start watching your choice of programming.
Despite some inconveniences, I still held out hope that the TV Tag system would make it worthwhile. This innate social networking feature is meant to compliment the TV watching experience by providing more detail and seeing comments from other watchers as it happens on-screen. It really does give a purpose to the second screen in a way that most of the other TVii features don't.
However, the function seems very inconsistent. Nintendo assured that Tags would be active for the top 100 shows in the market, but I had trouble finding even one. I thought at first I was simply picking Live shows that weren't popular enough, but even clicking around the Featured section I failed to find one. Nintendo might still be populating this feature with content, and the company has shown with the Miiverse that its approach toward social networking can be surprisingly fun in its simplicity. With any luck, I'll be able to see some Tags over the holiday.
The functionality also seems to assume that you'll focus on it alone, which is bizarre for a system that was marketed on the idea of sharing TV time while playing games. I appreciated that it lets you suspend a game to pick something to watch with the TVii feature, without losing your game progress. But if you go back into the game and later want to reenter the TVii interface, say to change the channel after a show ends, it starts you back at the top-level menu.
TVii is a smart, but small step from the company we'd least expect to jump into set-top box innovation. Once everything is up and running it might make a great secondary feature when I want to divide my attention between the Wii U and a TV show. Right now it's a little too unfinished to earn attention even when the Wii U is already on, much less to serve as the primary remote control for a bustling family as we've seen in the company's pitches.