Nintendo has taken a big gamble with their new Wii console, not only because of the motion-based control system, but because they have eschewed huge generational leaps in computational horsepower in favor of a “low-power” approach. Going for a more modest processor upgrade in the Wii allowed Nintendo to keep the unit small and provide “always-on” functionality even in sleep mode, but some have worried that the lack of CPU power and other features could hurt the console’s chances. To keep costs down, Nintendo even shipped the Wii without DVD movie playback ability. Now, Nintendo has confirmed that a new model that adds this feature will be available some time next year. This “2007 Wii” model will not feature any increase in horsepower, but will come with DVD playback functionality built-in.
The new model will only be available in Japan. Nintendo has confirmed in an interview with the UK gaming magazine Edge that they are planning to launch the DVD-playing Wii some time in early 2007, but that the company has no plans to make it available in the North American or European markets.
The move is not without precedent. The GameCube, Nintendo’s last desktop console, was offered without DVD playback ability, as the small unit could only play Nintendo’s proprietary mini-DVD discs. However, the company partnered with Panasonic to release the “Q Multimedia Console,” which was essentially a GameCube with DVD playback abilities. Again, this unit was available only in Japan. Because of its high ($439 to $499) price, sales were disappointing, and Panasonic ceased production of the device in December 2003.
Is there a market for a Wii that plays DVD movies? The DVD playback ability of the PlayStation 2 was considered by many to be a major reason for that console’s early success, especially in Japan, and Sony is trying to make history repeat itself with the Blu-ray drive on the PS3. Opinion is divided on whether having movie playback ability in a console is a worthwhile addition. Stand-alone DVD players are ridiculously cheap these days, and often provide additional features that consoles do not. However, not having to switch plugs between a console and a DVD player does save time and hassle.
Nintendo has not yet disclosed details on pricing or availability for the “DVD Wii,” but it is expected some time in early 2007. The announcement of a revised Wii model for Japan has fueled all sorts of speculation and rumors about a potential “more powerful” Wii model that might be introduced next year or even later. Nintendo, understandably, will not comment on such speculation. It would not be good for sales if gamers waited for the “more powerful” version of the Wii to come out later.
Which could be a long wait. There is no reason to believe that Nintendo is deliberately “holding back” on a more powerful version of the Wii. The company has made its decision to favor new game play and low-power features over raw computing horsepower. Have they made the right choice? The only way to know is to wait for the sales figures.