Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Wii makes me feel sad

We got a Wii last week -- mostly because we heard a lot of good things about Wii Fit and it was cheaper than getting a gym membership. The Wii Fit part works awesome, and the two standard Sports games that came bundled are quite fun too. However, I find that I'm getting increasingly frustrated at how Nintendo goes out of the way to remove features for the fear that they might -- just might -- be used to pirate games or other content. My setup at home used to consist of two devices -- an old laptop that is used mostly to play Russian cartoons for my son (which I can only get over teh Internets), and a junky cheap DVD player that we got at Futureshop for $40 because the laptop doesn't have a DVD drive and because half of the DVDs we rent these days won't play in computers anyway (thanks, you jerks).

Now that we have the Wii, I have a third device to connect to this setup. Off-the-bat that means that now I have to futz around with RCA plugs when I need to switch between the Wii and the DVD player, since I only have one set of RCA connectors on the TV set. This is because Nintendo went out of their way to make sure that DVDs don't play on the Wii. There are, apparently, 3rd-party tools that you can install semi-legitimately to enable DVD playback, but, reportedly, Nintendo routinely makes a point of breaking that functionality with new updates, so I'm not even going to try.

Yesterday I thought of moving the Russian cartoons off the laptop and onto an SD card to see whether I can play them on the Wii -- so I can remove the ailing laptop out of the setup and put it to well-deserved rest (I've had it since 2002). But no, apparently the only SD-card video playback supported on the Wii is MJPEG+PCM, meaning that a 10-minute cartoon encoded at a barely-passable quality "80" ends up around 600M. If you're not familiar with MJPEG, then it's sufficient to know that each frame of the video is saved as a JPEG image, and if you've ever saved a JPEG image, then you know that "quality 80" means ugly blocky artefacts. Oh, and PCM is the codec used for WAV files -- you know how huge those are.

Anyway, a 32GB SDHC card will hold around 50 ten-minute cartoons (and cost me pretty money). That's not even a third of our cartoon library. This approach of dictating what I can and cannot do with devices I purchased and own is really freaking frustrating. Perhaps it's because I see it from a perspective of a Linux user, who is used to the fact that if my device is physically capable of supporting feature X, then there's probably software out there that already allows me to use it. Not so in the world of proprietary "walled gardens."

Okay, our Wii is a toy. We bought it to be used as a toy. It's annoying that I have to keep three devices when one of them is fully capable of performing the functions of the other two, but it is merely an annoyance -- I can live with it. However, if trends continue to replace general-purpose tools such as laptops with locked-down everything-must-be-approved-by-faceless-suits things like iWhatnots, well, I may end up becoming a Luddite. It has a nice ring to it.

Enjoy your walled gardents. Me, iDoNotWant.

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