We've finally got some time with the Wii version of Netflix streaming. Despite the fact that I have four devices in my home that can stream Netflix content, the Wii release is exciting for a few reasons. First, like many families, our Wii is not hooked up to our main television. The Wii doesn't support HD and doesn't benefit from being on our main setup, so it is in the little home theater area we set up in the children's playroom. This meant that if Netflix worked smoothly, my daughter could take in an episode of iCarly or whatever while we watched other things on the big screen. We don't have a sattelite receiver on that set because we strictly monitor what our children are allowed to watch. This brings me to my second reason for anticipating the Wii release. Since the Wii is a family-friendly console, I had hoped that the parental controls for the Netflix software would be more flexible and utilitarian than they are on the competing consoles. Unfortunately, though the interface, controls, and streaming work really well in the Wii version, Netflix Wii features no additional parental controls beyond those built into the console. Overall, this is a successful release, but there are some improvements I'd like to see in later releases.
If you have used Netflix streaming on the Xbox and PS3, you will notice that the Wii versiion more closely resembles the PS3 software. The most obvious similarity is the need to load the software off disc each time you use it. This is clunky and means the kids (or adults) have to keep up with a disc and keep it scratch free. Speculation (though nothing official has been released) is that the disc is a way around an exclusivity agreement signed with Microsoft when Netflix first appeared on the Xbox 360. Whatever the reason, the disc-based method is clumsy and I'd like to see a workaround as soon as possible.
Once the software is installed, there is little difference in the service. The interface resembles that of the PS3. The Wii-mote is fine for selecting the drop-down category menu and for scrolling through the available films and televison shows. Once a program has been selected, it loads a bit quicker than the other versions, perhaps because it doesn't require a test for connection quality that the others use to scale the quality of the picture. The max quality here is roughly the equivalent of the mid-range quality on the PS3, PC, and Xbox streams. I watched a variety of programs and the only noticeably bad quality was on the Starz branded films. Otherwise, the picture quality looked pretty much like standard definition cable television. I really can't say I miss the HD since the television we have the Wii on is an old, standard definition CRT. I can't imagine too many people own HD sets yet only have the Wii as an option for streaming Netflix. Obviously, if you have HD and an Xbox, PS3, or supported Blu-ray player, those are a better option. Otherwise, the Wii does a solid job delivering the content.
(If you don't have kids, or don't care what they watch, you can skip the next section)
Before I watched a single program, I played around with the parental controls. I had hoped to have flexible parental controls built in to the Netflix program itself. Unfortunately, there are none. Instead, parents only have the option to turn on the network parental controls on the Wii. Anyone who has used that to block network access will know that it is an all or nothing feature. If it is on, a password must be entered before the Netflix program will launch. Once that password is entered, parents can't set a rating level for the films that can be watched. This seems like a huge oversight. I would have liked to have seen it on the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, but I actually expected it for the Wii--a system that sees lots of its base installed in children's bedrooms and playrooms. So be warned, if you leave your kid watching Angelina the Ballerina, you can return to them watching Spartacus: Blood and Sand, assuming your kid has no taste in television shows whatsoever.
Overall, Netflix streaming for the Wii is a welcome product. I have a one-year old passed out on the couch at the moment and my daughter is watching Angelina Ballerina in the toy room, far enough away to not wake the little one. The fact that so many Wiis see installation away from the main entertainment center means this release give families more flexibility in their entertainment options. The fact that it works well and is easy to navigate makes the release even better. Only the lack of parental controls keeps me from being completely satisfied with the release. So, Netflix and Nintendo, if you could get on with that, I'm sure lots of parents would appreciate it.
I'll leave it at that and wait for the snarky comments about how it is not Nintendo or Netflix's job to monitor my kids. As always, I'll assume those comments are coming from 15 year-old Nintendo fanboys with no children of their own.