These days, every gaming system in your living room better be able to do more than just play video games if it's going to earn its place next to your TV. The Xbox 360 makes for an excellent Media Center extender, and the original Xbox is the king of homebrew video-game-cum-media-boxes, but when it comes to expanding your home theatre beyond gaming, the Wii has always been a bit light on functionality. The best thing it's got going for it is the excellent Opera web browser, but web browsing with the Wii remote is still a bit clunky. Luckily, using that very same browser, you can turn your Wii into a full-fledged media centre with the freeware Windows application Orb. Here's how.
Naturally, you'll want to see what the end result will look like and what you can do with it before you proceed, so check out the gallery and video below to get a better idea of what Orb can do for your Wii.
Set Up Your PC
To get started, you need to download and install the popular media streaming application, Orb, to your Windows PC. Orb has a fairly straightforward installation process, so just follow along with the instructions. You'll have to set up an Orb account if this is the first time you've used Orb.
Once you've installed Orb, you should make sure you're sharing all the content you want. Right-click Orb in the system tray and select Configuration. In the Media tab, you can add every folder on your computer holding anything from video and photos to music and documents (though documents folders are probably a little beyond the scope of your Wii).
When you're done, test out that it's worked by pointing your computer's browser to mycast.orb.com, then log in with the username and password you registered with during installation. If you're not familiar with Orb from previous posts, what you're looking at when you log in is the regular web interface. That's right, in addition to supercharging your Wii, Orb can also stream all of that digital media to any browser. Try listening to some music or watching videos through you browser to make sure everything's working. (If you're having troubles, check out Orb's top 10 troubleshooting questions.)
Orb lets you access any of your music or movies from any browser through this interface, much like the Media Center WebGuide. Unlike WebGuide, though, Orb's web interface goes into 10-foot control mode when you browse to its interface on your Wii. That's what we're going to set up next.
Set Up Your Wii
First, make sure you've either installed or updated the Opera-based Wii browser so you've got the latest available web browser on your Wii (this is important, since older versions of the Wii browser won't handle larger video streams as well). So unless you've got the latest Opera browser on your Wii, head to the Wii Shop channel, find, and download the browser (if this is the first time you've download it, it'll cost you around $5, or 500 points in the Shopping channel).
Now that you've done that, head back to your Wii home screen and launch the Internet channel (that's the browser you just downloaded). Just like you did from your desktop, point your Wii browser to mycast.orb.com. This time, instead of the login screen you saw from your computer, you'll see the Wii interface, which is larger and optimised for your TV. Log in, and this time you'll be confronted with the full-on Orb home screen for your Wii.
Before you test out Orb's streaming media on your Wii, head to Settings -> Stream and make sure Orb is set to stream video in Flash, then save the settings and go back to the home screen. If you properly set up Orb on you're computer (which is basically a no-brainer), you should now be able to access any of that media from the comfort of your couch through your Wii and Wii remote. (Check the gallery for a better idea of how that all works.)
That means videos you've downloaded with BitTorrent, your entire music library, and even TV you've recorded with Windows Media Center are now available for streaming to your Wii. If you've got a tuner card in your PC, you can even use Orb to schedule recordings and stream live TV. Snazzy, no?
It doesn't even matter what format your videos are encoded in. Orb transcodes the video on-the-fly to stream it—in the case of our Wii—as a simple Flash video.
Now that your entire digital media library is accessible to your Wii, you can stream any of that content to your living room without introducing a new piece of hardware to your entertainment center. To optimise your Wii Orbing experience, you'll want to set mycast.orb.com as a favourite on your Wii browser. You should also turn the browser toolbar to hide automatically in the Settings of the Wii browser so it's not always sitting on top of the content you're streaming to your Wii.
The only downside to this method is that the quality of the videos you're streaming won't be nearly as high as the source, due mostly to the need to transcode the video and the fact that the video needs to be compressed enough to stream over the web. If you're hoping to someday stream video natively (which would be, of course, much cooler, and much more competitive with what the Xbox offers), you may want to keep your eyes on the possible software mods and exploits that are looking to run Linux on your Wii. If that happens, look to really squeeze some exciting functionality from your Wii.
Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker who requires a lot from his gaming systems. His special feature Hack Attack appears every Wednesday on Lifehacker AU.