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The Wii U Controller: The Thin Client of the Future?

It's rare that I blog anywhere nowadays, but sometimes all it takes is a bombastic announcement and reveal to get me all up in arms again. Nevertheless, I'll always be late to the party, so I'm sure that my general mixed reactions to Nintendo's new Wii U interface have already been echoed elsewhere. I like the concept. I'm NOT feeling the form factor. I'm hearing the ergonomics are still great, so I'm hopeful. But I'm anxious about the price per controller. Will it be just another port machine now, except this time you get the same game... with a map? (Remember the doubts that arose during DS launch?) Will it still be able to significantly differentiate itself from its once-again competitors? Is this TOO bombastic a move on Nintendo's part? Will it part the seas and sell in droves like its predecessor?

I'll skip all of that. Instead, what's sticking out in my mind as THE intriguing aspect of this whole reveal--at least to me, personally--is the continuing maturation of the ability to stream dynamic content to a remote screen.

Let me be specific. I don't mean browsing the web and seeing your email widgets update in real time on your Xoom or iPad. I'm not talking about watching Netflix or Hulu on your iPhone. When I say "dynamic content" I'm talking about videogame graphics, which are calculated and pushed out to a display in real-time. I'm talking about calculating ginormous quantities of polygons, applying several layers of textures, and spitting that glory out at 30 frames per second (60, if you're nasty). It's a trend that started with the Playstation 3 and PSP Remote Play, when people learned how to play Lair while dropping their kids off at the pool. Now we're looking at the potential of zapping 1080p graphics over to a remote display, wirelessly, and I look forward to the trends that these capabilities could set if the Wii U succeeds in bringing it mainstream.

For us who play videogames, the benefits are obvious. Nintendo highlighted them during its press conference already: Play a game on your TV, then switch over to your controller seamlessly when your roommate, friend, significant other or family member decides she/he/it wants to watch the Lakers get smacked down on ESPN, and keep slicing up octoroks without having to wait for the big screen to be available again. Imagine PC games adopting this trend, giving you the ability to guarantee yourself (with enough cash) the luxury of the best possible visuals while lying in bed (the necessity for a viable mouse-and-keyboard combination duly noted). If you're wondering why this is such a big deal, the important thing to remember is that the set top box is the one crunching most of the numbers. Granted, the price per controller is still unknown, but this generally means that state-of-the-art visuals from anywhere in the house just became more affordable. And for as powerful as tablets are getting, you can be sure that workstation-sized tech will always be noticeably more powerful than its mobile contemporary.

Will this spur quicker research and development of high-bandwidth wireless technologies that enable this type of connection to happen over a distance greater than that between the TV stand and your couch? If OnLive stays, er, alive, long enough, could it take advantage of such wireless bandwidth if it's feasible to support such an infrastructure fiscally? As storage moves to a wireless cloud, will we return to a real age of thin-client architecture--now wireless--when it comes to processing power, but with inexpensive devices fast enough to keep up?

But I'm getting ahead of myself--that's all pie in the sky. But even within local confines, it's exciting. Right now I'm just excited about the implications of playing high-res videogames anywhere in the house OR on the TV. I'm excited about the push for acceptance of wireless connections between any display and any piece of hardware, whether it be a PC, Blu-Ray player or other videogame console with no lag to impact the interactivity. All of those crappy wires? Gone--unnecessary. For those in the 3D modeling business, imagine a Pixar office where you can design and render a character, in a meeting down the hall where you'll show it off to your fellow design teammates, on something as portable as an iPad but at one fifth the price.

At a high level, Nintendo isn't necessarily starting anything unheard of technologically. Thin client architecture is an ancient concept (in tech years). We already had Sony's Remote Play. But as it did with motion control; as Apple did with the tablet PC; as Sony did with the Walkman; Nintendo has the potential to push an idea into the mainstream where people will understand and appreciate its potency--where they will get, finally, why they should care.