Since the announcement that the Opera web browser on the Nintendo Wii would support Adobe Flash, I have been curious as to which version of Flash it would support. I haven’t been able to dig up any official announcement, if anyone out there on the infomesh has seen something which I missed, please let me know. You can see the Opera browser in action on the Wii website as well as in a preview presentation on the Nintendo Japan website. It seems to work well enough, and you can catch it playing a flash animation on the Japanese Super Mario Brothers DS website as well as playing flash video on what appears to be a website for a Nintendo DS based cooking guide.

Wii and Controller

I tried a little bit of amateur sleuthing to try and uncover the version of the Wii’s mysterious Flash Player.

Luckily, the Opera website yielded a pretty good collection of clues. First, there is the Opera for Nintendo page which indicates that the Wii will run “Opera for Devices” which appears, as it’s name implies, to be a slim version of the Opera browser for use on non-general purpose computers. I also found a press release from early September which indicates that “Opera for Devices” is now available with support for Adobe Flash Player 7. Combine these two together and you have some pretty compelling evidence that the Wii will in fact run Adobe Flash Player 7. Choice quotes from the press release such as “Opera customers who are running the full-featured Opera browser on products such as portable media players, HDTVs, set-top boxes and even game consoles now have the option to include Flash 7 on their devices” along with the previous mentioned examples of the Opera browser playing flash video, help support this theory.

I was initially expecting the Wii to only support Adobe Flash Player 6, so it’s welcome news that the Nintendo Wii will probably run Adobe Flash Player 7. The performance boost provided by the Adobe Flash Player 9 would have been nice on Nintendo’s underpowered console, but the newness of the Flash 9 player made it an extremely unlikely candidate. It’s a slight disappointment that the Wii will probably not support Adobe Flash Player 8. The new On2 video codec and bitmap access/caching features would have been welcome, but many of the filter effects are probably too processor intensive for the Wii to handle anyway.

I’m looking forward to seeing how well the Flash Player performs on the Wii. I’m not expecting much, but if it can run some simple web based games at a decent frame rate, that would be enough. Unfortunately, the browser will only be free for a limited time, which is bound to limit the impact of the Wii as a web client. Let’s hope Opera and Nintendo come to their senses and simply bundle the cost of the browser into the Wii.

The Sony Playstation 3 will come with a free web browser as well. The PSP supported some version of Flash, so I think it’s safe to assume that the PS3 will support Flash as well. The fact that the PS3 will output in HD and has much greater horsepower under the hood makes it appear to be a better console for browsing the web. Unfortunately the PS3 requires you to use a joystick to control the mouse cursor. Anyone who has used a laptop “nub” to control their cursor knows how endlessly frustrating this control scheme can be. Nintendo’s Wii motion controller would appear to be the ideal solution for controlling a mouse cursor on a television from your couch, but it remains to be seen if the Wii’s low resolution graphics and lack of horsepower will make that browsing experience worthwhile.

I think it’s also pretty safe to assume that the web browser and Flash player will not have access to the rich positional data which the Wii controller can provide. I would hazard a guess that the controller simply acts as a basic mouse with point and click capabilities. The real unknown is whether the rest of the buttons on the controller will be mapped to Wii functionality or if they can be read as standard keyboard inputs on a webpage. It would be great if you could read the extra button clicks from a webpage, but I think this is an unlikely scenario.

All of these questions and more will be answered definitively in another two weeks when the Wii and PlayStation 3 finally become publicly available. It will be an exciting time to be a developer as we may finally see the web trickle out of the office and into the living room.

Edit 1 Dec 2006: Well, the Wii has been in my hands for a couple weeks now but the Opera browser is still not available. However, a bunch of clever individuals have still managed to glean a few more details about the Wii’s web support. First, it’s been revealed that the Wii shop channel is a simple browser viewing a web page. I would hazard a guess and say the coming the weather and news channels are simply web pages as well.

You can find instructions on how to view the Wii’s shop channel in Firefox on tech-recipes.com.

WiiNintendo has some pointers about designing sites for the Wii. They indicate that the Wii will have a native NTSC resolution of 640×480, but a viewable area of 608×456. This is useful information, but by no means the final word on the situation. First, I’m not exactly sure why the viewable area is less than the native resolution, it would be great if WiiNintendo explained this better (e.g., where does the cropping occur, is cropped around all edges, or simply the right side and bottom?). Also, all of the existing screen shots of the Opera browser indicate that it will have a universal navigation bar along the bottom of the screen. If this bar is always visible, then it will further limit the viewable area. I would also like to know if having the Wii in widescreen and/or progressive mode will have any impact on the viewable area. WiiNintendo is promising a “Part 2″, and I look forward to any further information they can gather.

And lastly, here is a video showing the Wii shop channel being used to browse another website. This one involves noodling with your DNS server.

Edit 4 Jan 2006: The browser has been out in beta for a little while now, and it’s solid. Aral Balkan has made a few posts concerning the Flash players performance and Mario Klingemann has found a workaround for reading the Wii-motes button presses. All in all, it’s looking pretty good. My biggest disappointment at this point is that the navigation bar is huge and the browser provides no way to hide it (or the mouse cursor for that matter). Being able to display full screen video and applications would really make this browser a must have application.