Several months ago it was announced that the Wii would be receiving a Netflix streaming disc similar to what the PS3 received back in early November. Then without any real announcement Netflix users like myself received an email at the beginning of this month stating that the Wii disc would be coming out “this spring.” Well, it turned out “this spring” was “this month,” and on Saturday, April 17th, I received my Wii Netflix Streaming disc. I decided to watch a few things on Netflix to test out the disc as well as compare the user interface and visual quality with that of the PS3 and PC. I won’t be comparing the 360 for two big reasons. The first is that you have to have XBLA Gold to use it, while all other forms of Netflix Streaming are free and the second is that the 360 isn’t geared for wireless internet without an expensive adapter, my condo only has wireless internet and I’m not stupid enough to pay for something that should have been in the 360 as a standard feature.
So let’s talk interface first. When you first put the disc in, the Netflix logo will appear in the upper left hand corner of your screen where a game would be. Just click on that and you’ll be taken to a full screen version of the logo which again, is much like a game. Choose start and you’re ready to go. While the Netflix data is loading, you’ll get a screen showing you what controls to use. The up and down parts of the D pad equal category selection, while the left and right parts allow you to maneuver through each individual film or show. There are a few things missing from this guide, so to prevent any accidental user error, here are a list of other controls. A is used to select your film and B is used to cancel out. In the film menus, the + and – buttons jump you quickly through the sets of films on your screen rather than using the left and right parts of the D-pad to scroll through each one singularly. Now this is a feature missing from the PS3 version, so it was interesting to see the Wii got something, albeit it very minor, that the PS3 did not. The + and – buttons are also used to fast forward or rewind the film when you are actually watching something. Be careful though, because when you do hit either of these buttons during a film you can’t back out. You HAVE to rewind or fast forward and then go through a bit of loading. That’s kind of annoying. It’s also worth noting that the menus on the Wii hold more movie thumbnails on the screen than the PS3, but they are smaller and of a drastically lower resolution and quality. Some thumbnails on the Wii are even different from the ones on the PS3. Not sure why that is, but there you go.
Speaking of loading, loading a film does take noticeably longer than on the PS3 or PC, but it’s only a little bit longer. At the same time, I’ve had some movies on my PS3 and PC give me a “retrieving” screen during a film but that never happened with any of the movies I watched on the Wii. Another odd thing involves rating films. You can do so on the PS3, but the Wii version doesn’t let you rate a film, either before or after. This is a little annoying as it means I have to go onto my PC and rate it there. It is also worth noting that neither the PS3 nor the Wii version of Netflix links up with your Facebook account like the PC version. It’ll be interesting to see if that ever happens, especially since the PS3 already synchs up with Facebook via the PSN store.
Now for picture quality. I ended up watching three films all on my Toshiba high definition TV that can display in both versions of 1080 (interlacing and progressive). At the same time I watched the same films on two other screens at once so that I could compare the format. The second was on my Phillips High definition TV coupled with my PS3 and the third was my Vaio Laptop which also displays in high definition. I purposely watched three very different types of films to contrast genres and budgets. The first was Nine Dead, a low budget horror film starring Melissa Joan Hart (Clarissa/Sabrina) and John Terry (Jack’s Dad from LOST). The second was Julie and JuliaThe Breakout which was 90 minutes of female MMA, which was the only full “live” sports program I could find on Netflix Streaming and it was based out of Minneapolis, MN (where I once lived), so I recognized some people in the audience and in the ring.
Now Netflix streaming does detect the picture quality of your streaming device, as well as the max picture quality of the film you are watching. This means if you are watching a movie that can be broadcast in high definition and both your streaming device (PC/PS3/Wii) and your monitor or television can handle it, you’ll see it in high definition. Otherwise, you’ll get it in the best picture quality that the combination can put out. I never really thought much about this until trying out the Wii disc. With the first film, Nine Dead, there was no real difference in the visual quality between all three systems, mainly due to the unavailability of this low budget horror in true high definition. The Wii was a little darker and slightly grainer, but that’s because both the Vaio and the PS3 upscale low definition films. Still, it was very rare that you could see any difference in the picture quality and I probably could have countered this by adjusting the brightness on my Toshiba screen that the Wii was connected to.
The second film, Julie and Julia was where the picture quality was noticeably different. On the Wii the movie was only being displayed in low definition and compared to what I was seeing on the PS3 and PC, colours were muted, the picture was noticeably grainer and the picture was nowhere as crisp or sharp. This is most noticeably in the Julia Child scenes, where there is more colour and vibrancy than in the Queens, NY bits as they mostly take part in a grungy apartment. I really wasn’t expecting this much of a difference in picture quality between the Wii and the high definition devices streaming the same movie at the same time, but then I’ve only been watching things in high definition (or upscaled) for three years now, so I had forgotten that there really is a huge jump in picture quality between the two definitions. Now this isn’t to say that the Wii sucks for streaming video or that the picture quality was awful. It wasn’t. It was just as good as any low definition DVD. The picture was fine. It was simply the same visual result you get when you do a side by side comparison of low definition to high definition. In the end, the Wii can’t do high definition and if a high definition picture doesn’t matter to you, you’ll be more than happy with the Netflix visuals you get here. If you are a high definition junkie though, you should stick to PC or PS3 streaming for movies.
The third film, or sporting event if you will, was actually what I really wanted to test because I’ve noticed some things tend to look worse when upscaled into high definition. This is primarily true about sporting events or cooking shows that were filmed in low definition. It’s also true of some video games. I can put in a low res PSX or PS2 game into my 60 gig PS3 and sometimes it will look worse due to upscaling. A great example of this is the Smackdown Vs. Raw series, where CAWS end up looking really pixilated and jaggy. I notice this too with old 80’s or 90’s wrestling matches, baseball games or cooking shows like Iron Chef, so I wanted to see if the same pattern held true for taped live sporting events via Netflix Streaming as well. Well, there really wasn’t much of a difference visually between all the formats. The Wii actually did better than the high definition players with frame by frame pausing, but with just normal viewing the quality was pretty much the same. The upscaling on both the PS3 and PC looked better with the video packages or out of the ring action, but with the in-ring action, the picture did actually look worse, especially with close ups of things like a triangle hold or a rear naked choke. Sometimes things aren’t meant to be upscaled and this is one of them.
Overall, you’re getting a standard definition streaming disc that allows you access to literally hundreds of steaming movies, TV shows, and documentaries. For those that have complained for the past two generations that Nintendo’s systems do not play movies, you’ve at least got this now, even if you can’t play DVD’s. Compared to the Xbox 360, you’re giving up a high definition picture in exchange for the steaming capability being free, but overall, both the PC and PS3 reign supreme for Netflix streaming as you’re getting high definition and you don’t have to pay (beyond the normal monthly Netflix subscription fee). Still, if you only have a Wii, you’ll definitely get a lot of use out of this and the picture quality is quite nice for a standard definition device. If you have Netflix and a Wii, there is no reason not to pick this up. It’s a free service, so you might as well have the disc just in case you ever need it.