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Your Wii's second life as an emulation and media center powerhouse


Lifesperience is now Raycommend, which can be found here:  Ray Commend 

While the Wii was initially a very popular console for Nintendo, for most people, it has gone unused for years gathering dust.  More powerful consoles and devices have taken its place and even Nintendo themselves have practically abandoned it with many of their own channels going offline over the last year.  Chances are that by this point, your Wii is long out of its warranty period.  If you're willing to take about an hour of your time, you can turn your old Wii into a great emulation station and decent media center for the kids.

The things that you will need to get the most out of your old Wii console are:

  • An SD card (up to 32gb)
  • An internet connection
The first thing that you will need to do is softmod your console which will allow it to run unsigned software outside of Nintendo's ecosystem.  Yes!  One of the great things about the Wii (for our purposes) is that you don't need to buy an additional hardware chip or have soldering knowledge in order to "hack" it to have additional features.  

To softmod your Wii, I recommend that you follow this excellent guide from Wiihacks.  It is a step-by-step complete guide that covers practically any issue that you may run across, links to any and all files that you may need for this process, and even has you back up your original Wii firmware as a safeguard.  As with most processes, this one has been streamlined and automated with time, so don't be scared to dive in because it seems like there are many things to install.  The coders behind these projects have done an amazing job of automating about 80% of the work and you'll spend most of your time waiting for your Wii to finish installing or backing up software.

The Homebrew Channel installed app menu
Once you're done with the guide, you should have Homebrew Channel along with the Homebrew Browser installed.  For all intents and purposes, the Homebrew Broswer is the equivalent of an app store like Cydia on jailbroken Apple devices.  It allows for the easy installation and updating of apps from a central location outside of Nintendo's ecosystem.  All apps are free and you don't need to enter any personal information in order to download them.  There are five categories which are Demos, Emulators, Games, Media, and Utilities.  Go through them and download whatever you find interesting. 

The Homebrew Browser is the Wii App store.

My suggestions are:
  • RetroArch GX
  • WiiMC
  • FCE Ultra GX
  • Genesis Plus GX
  • Snes9XGX 
  • Vba GX
  • WiiSX
  • WiiMednafen
  • SDL Mame
These are all great emulators on the Wii and most of them are easy to use and set up. RetroArch is not as user friendly as other emulators at first, but it can handle about 90% of most peoples emulation needs and usually runs at 100% speed on many of the games that it can run.  It runs the following systems.
  • Final Burn Alpha [version 0.2.97.28]
  • Final Burn Alpha Cores (CPS1 - CPS2 - NeoGeo) [version 0.2.97.28] (**)
  • FCEUmm (Nintendo Entertainment System) [recent SVN version]
  • NEStopia (Nintendo Entertainment System) [1.44]
  • Gambatte (Game Boy | Super Game Boy | Game Boy Color) [version 0.5.0 WIP]
  • Genesis Plus GX (Sega SG-1000 | Master System | Game Gear | Genesis/Mega Drive |Sega CD) [version 1.7.3]
  • SNES9x Next (Super Nintendo/Super Famicom) (v1.52.4)
  • VBA Next (Game Boy Advance) (*)
  • Prboom (for playing Doom 1/Doom 2/Ultimate Doom/Final Doom)
  • Mednafen PCE Fast (PC Engine/PC Engine CD/Turbografx 16)
  • Mednafen Wonderswan (WonderSwan/WonderSwan Color/WonderSwan Crystal)
  • Mednafen NGP (Neo Geo Pocket Color)
  • Mednafen VB (Virtual Boy)
It's definitely worth your time getting to know Retroarch well.  It also allows you to store most of your game files from different systems in one folder and keeps your SD card tidy.

Mame support (in RetroArch) is also being worked on, which would make the Wii a great and affordable living room emulation powerhouse.  Once you get the hang of the RetroArch menu system, it's the best overall emulator of the bunch.  

Once installed, the emulators and apps can be accessed through your homebrew channel.  However, if you would like to have the apps show up on your main menu, you can also install channel forwarders which give you easy direct access to your apps.  Many of the forwarders look great and are right at home alongside the official Nintendo channels.  They are worth the time to take installing.

To play games on emulators, you need to supply it with roms, which are the software copies of the physical games that you own.  Many of them can be found through your favorite search engine if you don't feel like making copies of your physical media.  With older systems, the downloads are quick and emulation offers graphics updates adding things like widescreen support and bi-linear filtering to smooth out graphics.  With the Wii also natively supporting many types of controllers such as the classic controller (basically a SNES pad) and the Gamecube controller, you will find that control options are plentyful for your gaming needs.  

Gameboy Color games are given new life through emulation.
For Media consumption, the best choice is WiiMC, which will be installed if you followed the softmod guide in its entirety.  This allows you to play many types of media files from different sources such as an SD card, USB hard drive, SMB shares, and FTP sites. It also includes DVD playback, which isn't active by default on the Wii.  Keep in mind that the Wii isn't an HD system, so the highest resolution for smooth playback will be 480p.  You can also go on Nintendo's own Wiishop and download the free channels for Youtube, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Opera Web Browser, and Hulu to round out your entertainment options without needing to sign into a Nintendo account.  The channels will install alongside your hacked channels just fine.

The Configurable USB Loader's interface is gorgeous to look at.
The Configurable USB Loader channel allows you to back up your original Wii discs and Gamecube discs to a hard drive so that your Wii essentially becomes a gaming Jukebox with a wonderful (and configurable) 3D interface.  This allows you to store your Wii games without fear of damaging the discs as well as saves you time from having to manually go and physically switch media every time that you want to play a different game.  It's a wonderful option to have that doesn't come stock on the system.  Definitely take advantage of it if you have a spare USB hard drive laying around. 

Overall, these options give your old Wii some new life as an entertainment system.  Combined with the standard Wiimote, the Nintendo Classic Controller, wireless Gamecube controller, and some friends, you can really have some fun reliving the past with some classic gaming.  That my dear readers, is what gaming is all about.



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Comments

  1. Thanks for the article Terry. Just want to inform all folks who live outside US that Nintendo Wii U is a great media Player. If you want to access Netflix and other streaming stations on your Nintendo Wii U you can use UnoTelly as I do to get around the geo block.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I was going to watch the presidential debates tonight, but instead I'm doing this. AMERICA!!

    ReplyDelete

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