Disc-free Netflix goes to Wii, completely unannounced

Stealing the thunder away from the PS3, which is also due today to receive a special app that allows Netflix instant streaming, Nintendo has just launched a “Netflix Channel” on the Wii.

The new channel, downloadable from the Wii Store, allows anyone with a Netflix account to enjoy unlimited streaming video from the online service.

Wii owners have had this luxury for several months, but previously they had to request a special disc from Netflix and pop it into their console to be able to access the content. Now it’s been made available in a conveniently small download.

The new channel comes with no advance notice or hype whatsoever. That’s in contradiction to the PS3, which will receive a similar downloadable app later today. Sony has been touting the new download for over a week with blog posts and press statements.

Some reports had been going up about how the Wii would be the only console to still require a Netflix disc, saying it was unlikely the system would ever receive a dedicated app. Today’s surprise Wii launch kind of undermines all of that.

As the Xbox 360 was the first to launch Netflix streaming service through a game console, it has had a dedicated app for around a year. The catch for the 360, though, is users must be signed up for Microsoft’s premium Xbox Live Gold service to access it. There is no such barrier on the PS3 or Wii, and now that they offer the exact same service it becomes much less of a value proposition for Microsoft’s console.