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E3 2012: Five questions Nintendo needs to answer about the Wii U

The Wii U's sneak peek at E3 2011 left more questions than answers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With Nintendo's new consolebeing the single-biggest hardware story expected at E3 2012, anyone with an interest in it should go into Nintendo's upcoming press conference with a checklist of must-answer questions.

Not to single out Nintendo, as many technology companies are guilty of some variation on this classic scenario: You're ushered into a darkened room or hall for a demonstration of some cool new gadget or service. The carefully choreographed presentation really sells it, and the audience is quickly ushered out into the street before the afterglow fades.

Then, as your eyes adjust to the sunlight, it hits you. Wait a minute, how much is this thing going to cost? When will it be available? Does it have feature X? But there's no one to answer those questions, as you're already standing in the parking lot.

The Wii U's sneak peek at E3 2011 left more questions than answers, and here are my most-burning ones.

How much is the Wii U going to cost?
The original Wii scored big by being less expensive than the competing Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles. Can Nintendo maintain that kind of price leadership against those now-discounted systems? Or, will Nintendo use the tablet controller to position the Wii U against the $500-and-up iPad?

When will it be released? Will the U.S. have a different date than other regions?
Late 2012 is all but certain, but not committing to an actual date leaves plenty of wiggle room for delays, and makes it harder for other game publishers to plan their holiday Wii U releases.

Will one tablet controller be included with the console? Two? None?
After the E3 2011 demo, it seemed that the Wii U could only support one tablet controller at a time. Adding support for a second one, which would probably be sold separately, seems like a must-have, but how about four controllers? Or would other players be forced to use Wii wands in mutliplayer games? Mixing different types of controllers sounds like a recipe for confusion and fragmentation.

How will the Wii U connect to HD home theater equipment?
The original Wii was famously not geared toward high-definition play. The Wii U addresses that with an HDMI port, but will that include HDMI 1.4 features such as Audio Return Channel and stereoscopic 3D? What other options will the AV multiport connector support? DisplayPort? Optical audio? Surround sound?

Is Nintendo going to fully embrace social gaming networks?
The Wii was originally slow to embrace online game networks, with clunky friend codes and a lack of a unified feature-rich online membership system akin to Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network, although the Wii Mii characters were an ahead-of-their-time stroke of genius.

The DS and 3DS have done somewhat better with Street Pass and easier sharing, but to really be the first mover in a new generation of game consoles, the Wii U will need a robust online counterpart. What is Nintendo's plan to make the the Wii U an online-friendly system?

There are many more questions about game lineups, interoperability with the DS and 3DS, streaming-video support, and more, but these are the five questions I'm most curious about. For more on Nintendo at E3 2012, see our list of "What to expect from Nintendo at E3 2012."

What are your must-answer Wii U questions? Let us know in the comments section below.

Click here for CNET's full E3 2012 coverage