The Nintendo Wii is finally here. Although the company has stated that the console isn't intended to compete with the PS3 or Xbox 360 from a high-definition graphics standpoint, the Wii hardware has many next-generation features, including Wii Channels, a "Virtual Console" option that lets players purchase and download legally emulated versions classic games for various systems of yesteryear, and, of course, its infamous motion-sensing controller. We go under the hood and explore everything the Wii system has to offer.
The design of the Wii retail box tells you everything you need to know about Nintendo's new system, but not in the traditional manner with spec lists and game advertisements. The Wii's retail box is far different from any other console package we've ever seen. You can't find a list of technical specs anywhere on the box, and game screenshots, which usually blanket the back of system boxes, are conspicuously absent. The only visible high-tech jargon, the package contents and epilepsy warning information, is hidden away on a side panel.
Mouse over the image to see an alternate Wii shot.
The front of the white box features the Wii console and a Wii Remote. The Wii logo sits centered over the picture in a low-contrast gray font. The back panel has the same Wii logo and a picture of a hand holding the Wii remote. You would have to coat the package with buttercream frosting to make the Wii box more accessible and nonthreatening to nongamers.
Our $249 Wii package included the Wii console; a console stand; a Wii Remote, with Nunchuk attachment and two AA batteries; a sensor bar; an AC power adapter; a composite AV cable; a copy of Wii Sports; and operation manuals in three different languages.
The Wii console is much smaller than the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. You can easily stack the system in the middle of a component rack or stand it next to your TV or a free-standing speaker, but you'll also need to make space for the system's sizable power brick. You can turn on the system by pressing the power button on the front of the console or by hitting the power button on the Wii remote. The system boots up quickly and runs quietly.
The console has a front panel that flips open to reveal an SD memory card slot and a sync button used for connecting wireless Wii Remotes to the system. The top of the system has two more hidden panels. One large, removable panel covers four GameCube controller ports and another smaller panel covers two GameCube memory-card slots. The Wii's slot-loading disc drive can play Wii discs and is also backward compatible with GameCube discs. The Wii can't play DVD movies, but Nintendo has indicated that the feature may come in the future.
The rear of the console has two USB ports, an AV multi out, a power connector, and a port for the sensor bar. The sensor bar is a separate console peripheral designed to maintain accurate controls by providing a reference point for the Wii Remote. Nintendo took great care in making the bar as unobtrusive and easy to install as possible, since people don't really want to spend thousands of dollars on a nice flat-screen TV only to ugly it up with a console attachment. The bar can sit above or below your display, and Nintendo included a small stand and double-stick tape to enable several installation options. The system comes with a composite AV cable for regular 480i displays, but we recommend getting a set of component cables to get support for 480p. The difference in image quality is very noticeable.
The Wii Remote feels natural in your hand. The two AA batteries sit in the bottom half of the controller and lower the remote's center of gravity, which is great for balance since you primarily only hold the bottom half of the controller. The top face of the Wii Remote has a slick plastic surface, while the underside has a textured matte finish, which seemed to help prevent the controller from getting sticky during long play sessions. The remote comes with a wrist strap designed to keep the controller from flying away in case you accidentally lose your grip while playing games. It's a good idea to set up your Wii in a large room since each player will need a decent amount of space to swing the remote around.
The Nunchuk attachment plugs into the bottom of the Wii Remote and functions as a secondary controller for your off hand. It has an analog thumbstick and two buttons. The Nunchuk also has a motion sensor--you can shake the Nunchuk while fishing in Zelda to move the lure and attract fish.
You can calibrate the Wii Remote sensitivity and sensor-bar position in the Wii settings menu. We found that the remotes worked equally well on large screens and small screens. The Wii Remotes also worked on a variety of display types here in the office, including CRTs, LCDs, and even a rear-projection television.
Wii Hands-On: Hardware, Wii Channels, and Virtual Console
Hands-on with the Wii! We explore the system, check out the difference between component and composite cables, test the Wii Channels, and play Virtual Console games.