Internet, iPlayer, YouTube now free on Nintendo Wii Internet Channel

Wii Logo
Creative Commons License photo: Ian Muttoo

If you’ve got a Nintendo Wii console, you can now download the “Internet Channel” for free. The Internet Channel allows you to browse the internet from your console. But you’ll more likely be using it to access BBC iPlayer or YouTube on your television.

It’s free?

Internet Channel used to cost 500 Nintendo points – roughly £3.50. It’s just been made free. According to the Nintendo Press Release:

The Wii Internet Channel previously required 500 Wii Points. Starting later in October, Nintendo will be offering a NES title from Virtual Console worth 500 Wii Points to those Wii owners who have already spent 500 Wii Points on the Wii Internet Channel.

How do I get it?

Go to the Software download channel in the Wii menu.

Whats it good for?

Hohenschwangau Castle - Bavaria
Creative Commons License photo: joiseyshowaa

It’s great for checking a few things on the internet for a short period of time – not so great for browsing for an extended amount of time. One benefit of the Wii being plugged into a TV screen means you can get your video on demand services such as iPlayer and YouTube onto your large TV screen rather than a small computer screen.

How do I access iPlayer or Youtube?

Go to the iPlayer and YouTube websites. They will detect you’re accessing the site from a Wii and automatically display an optimised version. Or use these direct links:

BBC iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/bigscreen/

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/xl

What’s the video quality like?

Less than great, unfortunately. Wii’s Internet Channel doesn’t support the latest Flash video codecs so video is delivered using older codecs.  This is one place the Internet Channel falls short.

Wii Fit: The Verdict

Wii Fit Stand
Creative Commons License photo: włodi

I’ve wrote my initial thoughts on Wii Fit in May just after I got it but since I’ve had it several months now, I wanted to give an extended review.

I initially reported that it was hard to get a copy of Wii Fit because it was sold out everywhere. I had to go to a Woolworths across town, and at the time I remarked that Wii Fit is “so well designed that you can start getting fit before you even get home and set it up”. The box is pretty heavy. Why a pair of bathroom scales is so heavy I don’t know. There is a video on the Nintendo Channel discussing how the Wii Fit board was designed and manufactured. Since then, the stock shortages seem to have eased up a bit so you shouldn’t have problems getting hold of a copy.

So the basics. Wii Fit consists of two parts: a body test that you take daily which measures your weight and balance and a series of “games”. You’re supposed to take the body test every day around the same time and it plots your progress against your time. It also gives you a “Wii Fit Age”. Mine has fluctuated between 18 and 30 on different days so you definitely shouldn’t read too much into the results from any one particular day.

Sleeping on the job
Creative Commons License photo: Iain Farrell

The second part of Wii Fit are the games or exercises. Whether they are “games” or not is a matter of debate: I call them games because they’re fun. Nintendo calls them exercises. The “games” are split into four categories:

  • Yoga
  • Muscle workouts: Including press-ups
  • Aerobic Exercise: Boxing, hula hooping, jogging, etc.
  • Balance Games: Ski jumping, Skiing and snowboarding slaloms, tightrope walking, etc.

As you progress through the game and do more exercises, new levels and new games are unlocked for you to play.

Highlights for me include rhythm boxing, where you throw punches and dodges in time to a rhythm. In bubble balance, you’re inside a bubble and need to navigate your way downstream without bursting the bubble by colliding with the river bank.

Hula hooping is a really good laugh to play when friends are around although you’ll have to trust them not to record a video and to post it onto Youtube. The 10 minute version “Super Hula Hoop” is very challenging!

There’s an odd one called Zazen which looks like some kind of Buddhist meditation exercise. Wii Fit still gives you “exercise minutes” for it so it’s kind of a loophole for working your way up to your 30 minutes without doing any work.

Let it glow
Creative Commons License photo: Guillermо

For each activity, there is also a “high score board” where you can compare your scores against those of your family. This is another great feature of Wii Fit and encourages you to be competitive and work a lot harder.

So what’s the overall verdict? Is Wii Fit good fun? Definitely yes. It’s better than Wii Sports and it’s my favourite Wii game to date. It is pricier than most games but you get the Balance Board with the game. Have I done more exercise since getting Wii Fit? Yep. But nowhere near the 30 minutes a day – probably only once a week or so. The exercises can get a bit boring after a while and I just personally find it very difficult to find time.

Wii Fit gets a “strongly recommended” rating.

More Reviews of Wii Fit at TestFreaks.co.uk.

Nintendo Wii Remote Hacks

If you guys haven’t seen this video of Johnny Lee’s Wii Remote hacks, it’ll blow you away. What he has done is taken an inexpensive $40 (or £30) Wii Remote and hacked it to do some extraordinary things. In order to track the position of the Wii remote, there is an infrared sensor on the top. Your Wii sensor bar emits beams of infrared light which the remote picks up and uses to track where it is. (find out how I took the following photo)

Anyway, he hacked it so it could be connected as a computer and would work in reverse: the wii remote is laid stationary (like a webcam) and then it tracks the movement of an infrared dot.

There is a fantastic interactive whiteboard built on the cheap and I think the headtracking program is just stunning.

Electronic Arts have released a game called Boomblox for the Wii which uses this head tracking technology.

Protein Folding in a Computer Game

SETI@CAMBRIDGE
Creative Commons License photo: monkeyleader

Big distributed computing projects such as SETI@Home, folding@home and “the BBC Climate Change Experiment” have been around for years. They utilise extra computing power when the computer is inactive to help find aliens, fold proteins or to run climate models to predict the effects of climate change.

Computer scientists have found a new way to help them understand how proteins fold – one of the central problems in biology. From The Economist:

Proteins are the building blocks of life inside cells; they are first made as long chains of molecules and work properly only after they have folded into their final shape. But understanding the rules of protein folding remains one of biology’s central problems.

The existing program uses trial and error, and pre-programmed mathematical rules that govern folding as understood today. But users of the screensaver told David Baker, a biochemist at the University of Washington and lead scientist on Rosetta@home, they could do better.

Players use their computers to fold proteins. The more chemically stable the folded protein becomes, the more points the players are awarded. In trials of the game hundreds of players were given 40 protein puzzles to solve (for the trials, the folding solutions were already known). Many of the best players were not scientists but were able to find the correct structure faster than computers.

It’s great to know that the power of the human brain can still beat a computer! So far the experiment has only been run using proteins for which the folding solutions were already known. The next step is to give players proteins for which solutions aren’t known – the players will then be taking part in some new cutting edge research!

Atari Family Trainer: Outdoor "Wii Fit"

Atari have announced Family Trainer for the Wii which will be in competition with Nintendo’s own Wii Fit.

Family Trainer lets all the family and friends get physical by engaging the whole body in a variety of easy-to-understand, fast-paced and wildly entertaining activities. Family Trainer is scheduled for European release in September 2008.

Wii Fit Stand
Creative Commons License photo: włodi

The game includes the specially designed Family Trainer mat controller which, when combined with the Wii Remote, lets players get totally physical in a series of crazed challenges.

There are over a dozen frantic single and multiplayer challenges to choose from all based on outdoor challenges amusingly interpreted for the world of Family Trainer, such as river rafting, mine karting, log jumping, rope skipping and much more. The activities take place in a variety of colourful locations including jungle forests full of ancient ruins, a haunted mansion complete with hordes of zombies, and a fairytale world where riding on toys and floating amongst the clouds is the order of the day.

I think it’s great how Nintendo seem to have carved out a niche in the games console market for family and exercise based games. Wii Fit has taken off really successfully and perhaps by the time Family Trainer is released, people might have got sufficiently bored by Wii Fit to want a change.

Unlike Wii Fit, this sounds like a much more multiplayer game so it’d be interesting to see what it’s like when it comes out.

Appearing Offline on MSN/Windows Live Messenger: Game Theory Analysis

Peek-a-boo!
Creative Commons License photo: jenn_jenn

A few years ago, Microsoft introduced the ability to “hide” on Appear Offline on MSN Messenger and to keep talking to people. This is quite a useful feature for the anti-social types who really don’t want anybody to talk to them!

I’ve noticed some interesting trends since this feature has been introduced. The people who used to have their status stuck on “away” now use appear offline. This is perhaps frustrating when you then end up calling or texting at extortionate rates your friend instead whilst you’re actually both sitting at your computer!

The reason why people use “appear offline” is so they can be selective about who they talk to. Fair enough. But when other people also use “appear offline”, it doesn’t work. This could be illustrated using a bit of game theory.

Appear Offline

Initially, lets say that both persons A and B gain 2 units of utility from being online in MSN Messenger. This utility could be in many forms: pleasure gained from sharing gossip, money saved in not having to text or time saved. The exact form of the utility isn’t important.

Let’s go into hiding… 

grandmaster FLAX ~ II
Creative Commons License photo: striatic

Now lets say Person A decides to “Appear Offline” but Person B is still “Online”. Person A will only talk to Person B when it is beneficial to him. Person A will still gossip with Person B but only in times convenient to himself and when he’s stuck on his particle physics essay, he can still see when Person B is online and get help from him. For this reason, Person A’s utility increases from 2 to 3.

But Person B won’t derive any utility. When he needs somebody to talk to, or has run into a brick wall upgrading to Service Pack 3, he won’t be able to get through to Person A on MSN Messenger. Instead, he might end up calling or find a more sociable person to talk to! Hence Person B derives no utility from this arrangement.

Notice that the payoffs are symmetrical. If Person B decides to “Appear Offline” but Person A doesn’t, Person B will gain 3 units of utility whilst Person A will gain nil.

The fourth possible situation is when both Persons A and B decide to “Appear Offline”. Neither persons derives any utility from this arrangement as they’ll never talk to each another. They might as well actually be offline.

The best arrangement 

Holy Rollers
Creative Commons License photo: J. Random

As we can see, in this analysis the best possible outcome is that both persons A and B are online. They both derive 2 units of utility from this arrangement and 4 units of utility are gained in total.

Person A or person B could seek to increase the utility they gain by appearing offline. This increases their own utility to 3 units. Would they do this in reality? Rationally, probably yes.

If person A decided to stay “online”, person B would gain 2 units of utility from staying online and 3 units from appearing offline. So in this situation, person B should appear offline to maximise their own payoff.

If person A decided to “appear offline”, person B gains no utility either way. So it really doesn’t matter whether person B stays online or appears offline. But they don’t lose any utility by appearing offline.

By considering all the possible outcomes, person B will rationally choose to appear offline to maximise their payoff. As the situation is symmetrical, person A should also rationally choose to appear offline. The outcome? Both persons A and B “appear offline” and nobody gains any utility.

Back to the real world…

In this discussion and game theory model, I’ve abstracted from reality. Of course, it isn’t true that everybody on MSN Messenger appears offline these days. But I will say that amongst my contact list, I know quite a few people do and it has lead to some annoying situations. I’m even guilty of “appearing offline” on many occasions without realising the person I want to talk to is also appearing offline and waiting for me to come online.

Wii Fit: Part 2

Day 179 - Wii Fit!
Creative Commons License photo: nataliej

A few days ago I wrote about Wii Fit but I wanted to follow up to the previous post as I’ve now had the game for several days. It was questioned why I’d even called Wii Fit a game. I call it a game because it’s fun! I’ve managed to clock up a decent 15 to 20 minutes worth of exercise every day since getting Wii Fit. The only barrier to getting any more done is the fact that everybody else in the household wants the Wii for Wii Fit!

Wii Fit contains a selection of “games” or activities in 4 categories:

  • Yoga
  • Muscle workouts: Including press-ups
  • Aerobic Exercise: Boxing, hula hooping, jogging, etc.
  • Balance Games: Ski jumping, Skiing and snowboarding slaloms, tightrope walking, etc.

Somehow Nintendo managed to do a really good job at encouraging you to keep working at your fitness. After every activity, a “piggy bank” tells you how long you’ve been exercising for on the current day. Once you accumulate a certain amount of time, new activities and levels are opened up. Gaining good scores on certain activities also releases more difficult or challenging levels of the activity. For example, with jogging there is short distance, long distance and a lap around the island!

The tests on Wii Fit are strangely enjoyable. Every day, Wii Fit can calculate your general fitness from your balance and BMI and gives you a Wii Fit “age”. Your BMI can also be plotted against time to show your progression towards the targets to lose/gain weight you set yourself (I’ve consistently gained weight since starting to play Wii Fit!)

In conclusion, I feel Wii Fit is a fantastic purchase and really something which could help you towards getting your 30 minutes of daily exercise! Whether it really will encourage people to keep fit in the long run or whether it’s just the novelty factor remains to be seen. But it’s flying off the shelves. Woolworths reported that they were selling 90 copies per minute. From my own experience, my local Woolworths sold out on the day Wii Fit was released. They received extra stock last Friday lunchtime and by the time I bought mine (at about 4PM), they only had two left. A friend of mine even queued up outside a new branch of GAME at 7 in the morning to get Wii Fit!

More Reviews of Wii Fit at TestFreaks.co.uk.

Wii Fit

I finally managed to get my hands on Wii Fit! In the UK, Wii Fit has been around for a week but there has been chronic shortages of stock. It hasn’t been available on Amazon and other major stores for the last few weeks.

I was tipped off by a friend that my local Woolworths was in stock. I had a chat to the cashier and discovered that they had sold out of Wii Fit on the day it launched. The only reason they were in stock was because they received a further three copies of Wii Fit at lunchtime. So I was particularly lucky! I’d really recommend shopping around and checking out a range of stores before giving up on getting a copy of Wii Fit!

I must say that the Wii Fit box was quite heavy. I didn’t expect that it would be so heavy and my Woolworths was on the other side of town! I’m ashamed to admit that my bones and muscles started to ache on the long walk back, but hey, Wii Fit was so well designed that you can start getting fit before you even get home and set it up!

Wii Fit was easy to set up. You get a balance board which is basically just some supercharged scales which can find your centre of gravity and so on. Before playing Wii Fit I had to install a Wii Software Update and synchronise the balance board with the console. On first run, it asks for information such as your date of birth, height and date of birth. From this information and your weight (measured by the balance board), it calculates your body mass index (BMI). The BMI tells you whether you are underweight or overweight. It then runs you through a few other activities to find your centre of gravity to give you a Wii fit age. My age was 26, a couple of years older than I actually am, but I was fairly pleased with it!

Once everything is set up, there are a range of activities from skiing to heading footballs, from press-ups to yoga, from jogging to hula hooping. I managed to sneak in about 15 minutes of exercise and it’s been fantastic fun so far! I’ll write a bit more about Wii Fit soon but so far, from first impressions, I really recommend this game to everyone.

BBC iPlayer for Nintendo Wii

The BBC has announced a version of the BBC iPlayer video-on-demand catchup service for the Nintendo Wii.

The iPlayer on the Wii is currently being tested and the BBC expects to release more test versions in late 2008. An early version of the service is available from 9 April. It is only available in the UK to licence-fee payers.

The iPlayer will be accessible via the internet channel on the Wii console. The BBC said a message would be sent to Wii owners to alert them to its availability.

Unfortunately I’ve not actually got the Internet Channel (it costs 500 Wii points so I’ve never got around to purchasing points and then the browser; I didn’t really see much utility in a web browser on the Wii until iPlayer anyway). Though I’m slightly surprised that the iPlayer didn’t make a seperate application in the “Wii Software” section of the Shopping Channel. But presumably the iPlayer for Wii is just a version of the iPlayer website which works better for the Wii (the Internet Channel already has support for Flash).

Update: Comments on The Guardian blog suggests the BBC has simply adapted iPlayer to work with Wii’s Flash 7 and a BBC iPlayer channel is in the works.

Wii Infrared

I recently got a Nintendo Wii console, which is super-duper amazing. I must admit I do get the reaction of "OMG you bought the only console with crap processing power, graphics and lack of HD output", but the main thing is it is what any games console should be: fun. (see comic at bottom of post)

Sensor Bar

I had some problems getting the position of the wiimote to be sensed correctly but I quickly realised that was due to the fault of background light. It seems that the sensor bar emits infrared light which the Wiimote picks up and "triangulates" to measure change in position, etc.

Anyway, if none of you believe me: here’s a picture of the Wii Sensor Bar with Infrared: 

 

Infrared Photography

For those of you who aren’t trained in physics – light comes in electromagnetic waves. The visible light we see has a wavelength of between 400nm and 700nm. When the wavelength is longer than red (which has a wavelength of 700nm), it is infrared.

We can’t see infrared because it is beyond the spectrum our eyes can perceive, but we feel it as heat. TV remote controls use infrared.

Camera CCDs

Digital cameras have "Charged Couple Devices". These are designed to pick up light and to convert it into a series of 1s and 0s, so we can view them on a computer. The problem is that CCDs are generally made with a wavelength range of about 350nm to 1000nm so they will pick up infrared (heat), which can give strange photos as our eyes don’t percieve this part of the spectrum.

To get around this, camera manufacturers put filters to block out infrared light. Because mobile phone cameras tend to be of a poor quality and are very compact, they only have a thin film of filter, meaning it will pick up infrared. This is one of the reasons why photos taken on mobile phones are inferior to real digital cameras.

However, we can harness this problem with mobile phones and take images in infrared. If you put a phone cam in front of a TV remote control and press some buttons, you should see a succession of rapid flashing. The same happens with the Wii sensor bar allowing you to take an image of the infrared emitted from the bar.

Clever, eh? 

Wii Comic 

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net