In: Articles by Edie Sellers7 Jun 2011
First up: The Playstation Vita, announced last night at Sony’s keynote press event.
What is it? What will it do? And, perhaps more importantly, what won’t it do? When will you see it on shelves? What will it support and what will support it?
Let’s take a look.
For the last half year, the Vita carried the title NGP, or Next Generation Portable, and that’s how Sony sees it. It is the heir-apparent to the PSP and sister to the hopelessly flawed — and let’s face it, functionally stillborn — PSP Go.
When introduced by Sony Computer Entertainment chief Kazuo Hirai on Monday, he explained the name Vita as meaning “life.” That premise is your first inclination that Sony has taken a whole new tack when it comes to the Vita from its predecessors. While both the PSP and the PSP Go were seen as completely portable, but totally discreet, systems from your home gaming, the PS Vita is intended to extend your actual gaming life out into your real life.
Powering the screen will be a high-performance CPU / GPU backed with an OLED, which will give that screen the responsiveness, clarity, color, brightness to perform well with games. Another big plus with the OLED: You should be able to have a wide viewing range without the kind of fadeout plaguing other next-generation handhelds (ahem, I’m looking at you, 3DS).
Controls consist of two analogue thumbsticks, a d-pad, and a new multi-touch pad on the back of the unit, which frees your hand considerably from the more awkward shoulder buttons of the PSP, which the Vita will continue to use. Because your hand curves around the oval design and your fingers cradle around the back for the touch pad, it sits in the hand nicely and feels far more organic and natural.
In addition, the Vita will also carry three motion sensors: A gyroscope, an accelerometer, and an electronic compass. Figure you’re going to be doing a lot of moving about — and hopefully the aforementioned OLED’s viewing range will keep that screen from fading out when you do it.
Rounding off the hardware specs: A forward- and a backward-facing camera.
Vita’s downloadable content will come via the Playstation Store. However, retail games will also be available. The big question — and one yet to be answered — is what medium will it use. Clearly the UMD disks are gone. Sony won’t say what will replace them, other than it will “utilize a new medium” and that it is “a small flash-memory–based card dedicated to the Vita.” Clearly Sony has learned from its PSP Go debacle: Exclusively digital-download devices don’t work. But it’s not willing to open the flood gates to media that’s not Sony branded. Sony will announce the name of this new high-density storage medium later this year.
Launch titles will include LittleBigPlanet, an unnamed Uncharted game Uncharted: Golden Abyss, ModNation Racers, Wipeout 2048, and Ruin (working title). Shortly after launch, we’ll see an also-unnamed Bioshock title.
Games on E3′s show floor also include Street Fighter X Tekken, Super Stardust Delta, Hot Shots Golf, Virtua Tennis 4, Shinobido 2: Tales of Ninja, and BlazBlue, though there was no guarantee that any of them would be a launch title.
Even so, it’s a pretty robust list of games to be hauling out the morning after its official debut. Hopefully Sony has learned from its own launch of the PSP and from Nintendo’s troubles with the 3DS: Get the games out with the new device, not sometime after launch.
But focusing on the Vita as a gaming platform sells it short, somewhat. The whole premise of Vita is “life.” And Sony made no bones about it: This is the gateway to consumers taking their game life into the streets and on the go.
First and foremost, Vita has something Playstation 3 users have been aching for: Cross-game chat, or “Party” in Vita-speak. Players can both chat and text regardless if they’re playing the same game.
In addition, each Vita will come pre-installed with Near, a location-based social tool that uses the Playstation Network to allow players to find nearby friends and see what they’re playing. From how it’s been described, it will also allow you to share your information to the system so you could find new friends in the area as well.
Other networked features include LiveArea, which will serve as a sort of news service for Sony and third-party developers to send marketing material, and a tracking system for your friends trophies and accomplishments (Sony deftly avoided using the term “achievements”) from friends playing the same game.
How will Vita achieve all this connectability? Via wi-fi and, for the premium model, 3G connectivity exclusively through AT&T, though there’s no word yet whether consumers will be able to purchase the Vita through an AT&T store.
Ahhh, there’s the rub. While no one could argue that, from a consumer’s point of view, choosing AT&T was a good idea, history has shown us that AT&T must drive a very hard bargain to pass up. Either that or other providers like Sprint or Verizon just didn’t want to work with Sony. It just doesn’t seem possible that any consumer electronic manufacturer would want to debut its new box with that albatross of spotty, unreliable coverage around its neck.
Also consider this: In a year or two, 4G will be the gold standard.
Clearly the PS Vita has a lot going for it. But it’s also got a lot of things missing. Some you might hope and expect to see from a device that clearly has a big punch to it. But sadly, many have already been confirmed as not being on the Vita. Others haven’t been denied flat out, but are as good as out.
For example, Sony said that, while not currently in the works, third-party non-gaming applications like Skype, YouTube, Flash, and PDF viewers are not being ruled out.
This is wishful thinking. Many of these third-party apps would be redundant to what Sony itself says it will offer on the Vita, and that’s just not gonna happen on the Vita.
For example, Sony allows cross-game chat on the Vita via its own branded app, Near. Therefore, why would it allow the Vita to carry Skype — a communications service that would instantly surpass what Near does. And it’s owned by Microsoft!
Don’t hold your breath on that one.
Same with YouTube. Why would Sony offer content for free when it will want to sell it to you and put its own branding on it? Certainly that may come in the future when it might not be twitchy about sharing access to the Vita, but certainly not anytime near launch.
Another unconfirmed casualty is the UMD. Sony says it’s examining ways it can allow you to keep your UMD media and use the Vita, but a drive won’t be on the device and it likely won’t be able to support an external drive. It’s a lot of dancing around the issue, but clearly Sony doesn’t want to upset its big reveal with the bad news to faithful consumers with shelves full of UMDs.
One item you might expect to see on the Vita but has been confirmed won’t be there is a video output to allow it to export media on a television or save it to a hard drive. In its first missive post-debut, Sony confirmed that no video output will be included.
And surprisingly from Sony — aka: The 3D Company — Vita will not support stereoscopic 3D. According to Sony it was a consideration, but it decided to focus on the interface and features and not get too distracted with the display. Good for Sony. It’s not like them to show that kind of restraint, especially with a technology in which it has a huge investment like 3D.
And smart move, marketwise, as well. Tossing 3D into the mix might well have made the Vita straddle too many lines between similar devices. With its touchscreen, the Vita is already seeing comparisons with the iPhone. Had they thrown in 3D, it would have seen similar comparisons to the Nintendo 3DS. It could have easily been seen as too much done not well enough — the jack of all trades and master of none.
All in all, expect to see most of these dark spots filled long before the Vita hits stores the end of this year.
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