Nintendo outs Project Cafe as the Wii U

Nintendo took to the stage at the Electronic Entertainment Expo last night to take the wraps off its next-generation console, originally leaked as Project Cafe, often called the Wii 2, and now officially labelled the Wii U.

Designed to offer backwards compatibility with existing Wii titles, the Wii U allows up to four Wii Remote controllers to be attached to the console along with other Wii-related devices such as the Balance Board, the Classic Controller, and the Nunchuk.

The 12cm drive bay will support existing Wii DVDs along with what Nintendo describes as a new "proprietary high-density optical disc" format, presumably in an attempt to curb the shocking levels of piracy the original Wii platform has enjoyed. There's no mention, however, of GameCube support, meaning that Nintendo is not heading for three generations of compatibility.

Unlike the Wii, the Wii U is a true high-definition console, offering 1080p, 1080i, and 720p video output options, along with 480p and 480i for standard-definition sets. An HDMI output is included, along with component video, S-video, and composite. Six-channel PCM linear surround-sound audio is also transmitted over HDMI. Initial indications suggest that the graphics chip will be manufactured by AMD.

The Wii U's CPU is a multi-core PowerPC chip from IBM, scotching rumours that British chip design giant ARM's technology would make an appearance as the main system processor in the Wii 2. However, the current-generation Wii includes both a PowerPC and an NEC-manufactured ARM 9 processor, suggesting that Marvell may yet have a chip in the Wii U.

Like the Wii, the Wii U includes integral NAND flash storage, with an SD card expansion slot. External USB storage devices are also supported, but thus far Nintendo hasn't indicated whether the DRM issues that plagued the Wii - meaning users were forced to copy downloaded content onto the SD card, and content had to be copied back to internal memory before being run - are present in its successor.

By far the biggest news is the controller. While many Wii U games will likely use the Wiimotes, the new console includes one of the biggest controllers since the Atari Jaguar. Packing a 6.2-inch 16:9 touch-screen display, the controller is practically a console in and of itself.

"This combination removes the traditional barriers between games, players and the TV," Nintendo's E3 announcement claimed, "by creating a second window into the video game world." It's something the company has tried in the past: certain GameCube games allowed users to connect a GameBoy Advance up to the console in order to add a second display, but for some reason the technology never caught on.

As well as the touch-screen, which includes a stylus accessory, the controller includes a Power button, a Home button, a Control Pad, A/B/X/Y buttons, L/R buttons, and ZL/ZR buttons. If that weren't enough, the rechargeable device also packs a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, a rumble feature, a camera, a microphone, integrated stereo speakers, and a sensor strip.

Thus far, Nintendo has not suggested a release date - beyond a vague commitment to 2012 - nor a launch price.