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May 26, 2006

Will Wii Do VoIP?



By Patrick Barnard
TMCnet Assignment Editor


As gamers all over the world anxiously await the release of Nintendo’s Wii, rumours are circulating that the game console¹s handheld controller might double as some sort of a VoIP device.

The wireless controller (called the “Wiimote”) reportedly has special motion sensors which are said to be revolutionary in the gaming industry. It also has speakers built into it - and it was recently unveiled that the headset that works with it has a microphone. In addition, the remote is said to store an address book which allows a list of users to be displayed on-screen.

The remote also has small form factor: It is slim and slender and similar in shape to a cordless phone.

Helping to perpetuate the rumour is the fact that Nintendo has said Wii has “additional capabilities” which will be announced upon its release.

Adding VoIP to a game console makes sense: It would allow gamers to communicate with each other in real time while playing games online.

Such a feature isn’t exactly new, however. Sony¹s Playstation2, which is now five years old, allows gamers to talk to each other through headsets while playing online. These audio signals are “packetized” the same way VoIP signals are - therefore, one could argue that previous game consoles already have VoIP-like capabilities.

To say that the Wiimote will double as a VoIP phone is, obviously, purely speculation at this point. But most people agree it's a great idea because it would differentiate Wii in the highly competitive game console market. If the rumour turns out to be true, the added VoIP capability would be an excellent selling point. (Furthermore, it would do much to help raise VoIP awareness and push the technology even further into the mainstream.)

The rumour apparently started on MegaGames.com, a website focused on the gaming segment. A report on the website says the game console¹s secret VoIP function was uncovered when the Nintendo blogsphere nrevolutiona revealed some patents explaining exactly how the Wiimote’s microphone will be implemented.

If Wii does do VoIP, it certainly would raise the bar for the other big console makers, Microsoft (News - Alert) and Sony. Gamers are already very turned on by the recently-released Xbox 360, and there is a lot of hype surrounding the yet-to-be released Sony PlayStation 3 (even though many people are already somewhat turned off by its high price tag). Both consoles offer a host of new features over their predecessors.

Sony has announced that it plans a future upgrade for its PlayStationPortable handheld gaming device that will allow it to do VoIP. No word yet on when the upgrade will be available.

Besides the potential for VoIP capabilities, the biggest advantage for Nintendo’s Wii over its competitors is its price: According to published reports, the game console will cost about $250 - far less than the XBox 360 ($399) or PlayStation 3 ($499).

Nintendo still has not divulged the official release date for Wii, but analysts are predicting it will be released in November, just in time for the holiday shopping season.

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Patrick Barnard is Associate Editor for TMCnet and a columnist covering the telecom industry. To see more of his articles, please visit Patrick Barnard¹s columnist page.

 

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