The Wireless Powers of Wii

By Eric Griffith

May 10, 2006

The new Nintendo console will be first to debut with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth from Broadcom on board.

A lot of the news this week at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles revolves around Wii (pronounced "wee"), the new console coming from Japan's Nintendo that used to go under the codename "Revolution." And a lot of the details are wireless.

Each Wii will have chips inside from Broadcom powering both Bluetooth for the controllers and Wi-Fi for network access to the Internet. Wi-Fi has been around on plenty of consoles before, and wireless controllers as well, but this is a first time Bluetooth has been put to use by the game makers right out of the box. Broadcom claims use of Bluetooth "significantly increases the level of performance in the game controller, with special enhancements that provide low latency." The chipmaker also says its Bluetooth silicon uses very little power, and that this will maximize controller battery life.

The Wii actually has two controllers per player, one for each hand, connected by a cord. The left hand holds an analog navigational joystick called Nunchuk; the right gets a button-covered, motion-sensitive remote control stick for attacks (it also has a built-in speaker).

Wi-Fi inside comes from Broadcom's single-chip 802.11g using BroadRange for extended distance from a home access point or wireless router. The Wii's WiiConnect Internet connection service runs even when the console is turned off to get game updates. Wii will also play with the Wi-Fi services built into the handheld Nintendo DS game system. The console has two USB 2.0 ports which can take an Ethernet LAN adapter for those without wireless at home. The overall system runs on a PowerPC CPU codenamed "Broadway" and made by IBM.

Wii will also run the Opera Web browser to allow surfing the Internet on your TV, and a virtual software console to play older Nintendo games.

The major information missing on the Wii is 'when' — right now the only definite answer is the fourth quarter of this year. No word on price, either.

The handheld Nintendo DS will also get a new version this year. In June, the company will ship a Lite version of the product in North America for a price of $130. Games that will run on the DS utilizing the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service include Star Fox DS and Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam.

Earlier this week, competitor Sony announced the launch date for its own new console, the PlayStation 3, due in North America and Europe by November 17 (a week after its debut in Japan). The console will cost $600 due to new, higher-end components inside, including a Blu-Ray optical drive, a Wi-Fi adapter and a high-definition video connector. (A cheaper $500 bundle drops the Wi-Fi and HD output, plus support for external memory cards.) The company also says a Bluetooth-based controller will be an option. PS3 will have on-board Ethernet (1 port), however, in addition to USB ports (4).

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