Nintendo details Wii multimedia functionality

Relaunched Wii Web site demonstrates next-gen console's "Wii Channels": photo editing, news update, Web surfing, and "Mii" custom-avatar-creation features.

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Thousands of people watched--or attended--Nintendo's pre-Electronic Entertainment Expo conference in May, where the company revealed the fully functional Wii console. As part of the demonstration, Donkey Kong creator Shigeru Miyamoto played a tennis match from the Wii Sports collection with Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, Nintendo of America president and COO Reggie Fils-Aime, and a lucky member of the audience.

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When the match began, the audience erupted in laughter when it saw that the game featured cartoonish avatars of Fils-Aime, Iwata, and Miyamoto. Most assumed that the re-creations had been made specifically for the event as a humorous gesture to the Nintendo faithful.

However, today, it was revealed that the forthcoming Wii console will offer avatar customization to every user, although not in every game. As Nintendo concluded its Japanese press conference--which confirmed many new details about the console--it launched the official Japanese Wii Web site, which demonstrates several of the Wii's heretofore unknown multimedia features and will be known in the US as "Wii Channels."

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One feature is the "Mii Channel," which will let players make simplified, cartoonlike avatars like those displayed at E3. Once an avatar is created using face-sculpting tools, it will appear in any game that supports Mii Channel characters. The avatar will also be stored on the so-called "Wii-mote" controller, which can be taken to a friend's house and be reproduced in a game on their console, according to Nintendo.

Wii.com also showed off the Wii's menu system via another clip, which showed a user moving a cursor over several selections, including a GameCube disc and photo gallery. Other video demonstrations show users selecting several Wii Virtual Console games, including Mario Bros. (NES), Super Mario World (SNES), and Super Mario 64 (N64).

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The Wii Web site also outlined how the console's just-revealed photo-editing software will work. Wii owners can insert an SD card from their camera or mobile phone into a slot in the front of the Wii. As shown in yet another video demonstration, photos can be edited in a variety of ways, including cropping and pixilation. The Wii will also organize hundreds of photos via a vortexlike menu and let users send them to friends and family over the Web.

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The site also displays a clip of the Wii's weather service, called the Forecast Channel, which will sport data supplied by Weather News Incorporated. Manipulating a cursor onscreen, a user checks out the forecast for Tokyo before zooming out to see what's going on weather-wise in the rest of Japan. Later, the user literally spins a virtual Earth to peruse conditions on various continents. Nintendo says the information will be constantly updated via the WiiConnect24 service and also will be free of charge.

Another part of the Wii site shows a user navigating the Wii's news service via WiiConnect24. No news provider was named for the service, which appeared to consist of a news feed of headlines and photos but no video content.

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Nintendo also confirmed WiiConnect24 will let users surf the Web using Opera Browser, which is also the basis for the Nintendo DS's browser. The company showed a still of the browser accessing the popular search engine Google and promised it will support Adobe Flash animation. Animations on the same page show the Wii browser checking out a cooking site and finding the Makuhari Convention Center using Google Maps.

[UPDATE] Unfortunately, the Wii browser will not be free. Thursday morning, Nintendo confirmed at its New York Wii press conference that the Opera browsers would have to be purchased via the prepaid Wii points system.

Besides allowing Web surfing, WiiConnect24 will also sport a message board, as shown in two press conference video clips (at bottom of page). Details about the service were scarce, but the video clearly shows it having some sort of calendar function. Also, each message sports a Mii Channel avatar in the upper right-hand corner.

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