Gaming companies have been trying for years to make their products more than just consoles. Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox was supposed to become the center of the living room, and Sony's (SNE) PlayStation 3 was released with similar visions of grandeur in 2006.
So far, no one has made a major dent at combining gaming, TV, and other media options. But that's not stopping Nintendo (NTDOY) from making its attempt.
Late last week the Japanese gaming company announced the release of the long anticipated Wii U system, the next generation of the wildly successful Wii. It's a step up in gaming, but it also includes some interesting television options, which Nintendo is calling Wii TVii.
Where Go I Get in Line?
The Wii U will be available on Nov. 18 in the U.S., and for those inclined to pre-order they're already selling like hotcakes. The units are already sold out at Best Buy, Toys R Us, and Target, and other retailers are almost sold out as well. The first units to go have been the 32 GB model, which will retail for $350, and the $300 8 GB model has been close behind.
What's nice for current Wii users is that they won't have to go out and buy a whole new stack of games and remotes. If you purchased one of the 100 million Wii Remotes or 65 million Nunchuks that have been sold in the U.S., your equipment -- and most old games -- will work on the new Wii U system.
Your old console, on the other hand, has become an oversize paperweight.
The new console itself won't look very different -- but the controller will. The new main controller is called a GamePad and has a 6.2" display, which really looks more like a Nintendo DS than the old Wii Remote.
Of course, the console is updated with a stronger processor and great graphics, but what new product isn't? That will allow developers to build better games for hardcore gamers, which the Wii was never really able to support.
What's really new in the Wii U, though, is the capabilities Nintendo has added in what it calls Nintendo TVii.
Ready? (TV) Set? Wii!
Nintendo TVii integrates Netflix (NFLX), Hulu, and even your cable TV into one interface so you can search for available movies and TV shows all in one place. Your GamePad becomes a super-intelligent remote control that can remember your favorites and search for new content.
For sports fans, the GamePad provides updated data on your sporting events while the game is being played. Want to know the score of a game that isn't on? No need to go to your computer to find out; it's right on your GamePad. Fantasy football players -- eat your heart out.
DVR is also available on Nintendo TVii, but so far Nintendo has focused its presentation on the TiVo (TIVO) service, which not everyone has.
The bottom line is that there are a ton of capabilities included in TVii that could change the way you watch television. The bar for other console makers has been set.
The Only Game in Town ... So Far
Sony and Microsoft are also planning on new console releases, but so far we're in the dark on when exactly they'll come out. It's safe to say that it won't be until at least next holiday season, which means that Nintendo has a monopoly on gaming hype for the time being.
The real challenge for Nintendo may not be other consoles, but gaming options that most of us carry with us every day.
Apple (AAPL) iPhones and Google (GOOG) Android-based smartphones have changed the gaming industry forever. Is a $350 console worth it when I can download hundreds of games on my iPhone for the same price?
This is a big question for Nintendo to answer, but with the TVii upgrade making searching content easier and sales starting off with a flurry, Nintendo has a good shot at having another surprise hit on its hands.
Motley Fool contributor Travis Hoium is short shares of Sony and manages an account that owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Nintendo, Microsoft, Netflix, Google, and Best Buy. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft, Nintendo, Netflix, Google, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a synthetic covered call position in Microsoft, a bull call spread position in Apple, and a bear put ladder position in Netflix.
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