During their press conference at the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Sony officially revealed their next generation portable: the PlayStation Vita (PS Vita) (PCH-1000 series).
“Vita,” which means “Life” in Latin, was chosen as the most appropriate name for the new handheld from Sony. Though the “Life” may be exactly what Sony is trying to reinvigorate into their line of handheld consoles, I am surprised that a more hip and stylish name wasn’t chosen. Granted, there exist an indefinite amount of worse possibilities, but the Vita’s codename, the NGP, fundamentally felt more 21st century.
It’s common knowledge that Sony made a substantial loss on every PlayStation 3 they sold, costing the company billions. With only a mediocre range of game exclusives and competing with cheaper rival consoles from both Microsoft and Nintendo, Sony has struggled to remain competitive in the console gaming market. Sony first unveiled their new device in January, during which they explained many of the tech specs, including an ARM Cortex A9 (core) CPU, a SGX543MP4+ GPU, and a SixAxis motion-sensing system (more specs can be found at the Sony website). Marketed as a platform that possesses near PS3-level capabilities, many people were wary of how to react to yet another “powerhouse gadget” from Sony.
Sony launched its PlayStation Portable line in 2004, selling 68.2 million units worldwide and being the only non-Nintendo handheld to have gain popularity, though still a distant second to the line of Nintendo DS devices, which have sold 147.5 million units worldwide. Over the years, Sony has attempted to provide slight updates and trimming upgrades for the PSP (such as introducing a slimmer 2007 model and compacting the size to a PSP Go), but all have done little to close the gap with Nintendo plunging forward with their release of the Nintendo 3DS, a new DS iteration sporting a san-glasses 3D experience.
A common fear for the Sony’s PlayStation Vita was the price tag. It was presumed that with the hinted specs and technological capabilities of the portable system the PlayStation Vita would most likely be between 400-$500, a price range that would surely intimidate the most consumers.
It came as a pleasant surprise when Sony announced that the Plyatstation Vita would cost $250 for a W-Fi model and $300 for a 3G model.
Considering the near-PS3-specs of the new Playstation Vita, it’s easy to be skeptical if price will actually provide Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCE) enough revenue to recover from the present PS3 setbacks. Scott Rhode, VP of SCEA, in a recent interview with GameTrailers, was very excited about the Vita, disclosing that they would be profitable – or at least break even – from day one:
I think that we’re going to do very well with this, and this price point – it’s also not going to lose money for us on day one. We’re going to do well with this thing.
To further support Rhode’s enthusiasm, Sony recently released a hefty list of over 150 game developers (Rockstar Games, Square-Enix, and Epic Games to name a few) with products in the works for the PlayStation Vita. This extensive list helps to provide Sony with a renewed interest and investment in their game division.
What I feel Sony gets right most of the time is giving hard-core gamers things to salivate over. Sony constantly tries to be ahead of the curve, spearheading the 3D entertainment movement, supplying high quality/spec electronics, and designing slick and aesthetic gadgets/peripherals, which invite frequent criticisms (especially on 3D front) of inefficient investments. I am optimistic, however, that Sony’s belief in entertainment’s third-dimension will eventually be justified. When the 3D technology reaches a practical and affordable state, the chance to experience entertainment with real-life depth will be too tempting to resist and Sony will claim their advantage in the industry.
I am also a huge advocate for implementing touch based and motion-sensing gameplay, though certain price conditions definitely bar me from even getting my hands dirty with those things. However, many E3 attendees and reviewers have all commented how Vita titles such as Little Big Planet and Uncharted: Golden Abyss implement the Vita’s front and rear touch based controls. There has also been a noticeable buzz about an indie game called Sound Shapes (a working title), a cross between musical instrument and 2D platformer.
The potential of what the Vita is capable of can only be fulfilled by the imagination of the game developers. Very rarely is the DualShock3’s SixAxis motion ability ever used practically and unobtrusively. I have a personal soft spot for atmospheric games much like the ones thatgamecompany produces. Both their two latest releases, flOw and Flower, are wonderful ambient games the exude innovative artistic flare. Though the games are simplistic and minimalistic, my experiences with those games are wonderfully holistic and memorable because of the emotions they evoked from me, the player. Other times, an exciting mechanic can be pre-maturely approached. Imagine playing Star Wars: The Old Republic in a virtual reality setting that actually works. Microsoft recently showcased a underwhelming Kinect Star Wars demo during their E3 press conference with large lag times between user input and screen response. How can you not feel stupid swinging an imaginary lightsaber while staring at a flat screen mounted on a wall? Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier demoed a pretty nifty implementation of gun modification via hand signals and voice commands, though it was awkward watching the man on stage shoot a gun without a gun in his hands. The Kinect, on all accounts, has plenty of potential to create an all new gaming experience, but some developers are jumping the gun and are preemptively forcing an underdeveloped game mechanic on a theoretically exciting idea. The Vita, as well, definitely holds the technical capacity to do things we have not seen before (not to mention, do them extremely well), but if game developers do not challenge themselves to think outside of the box and originally, there is very little to see in what the Vita has to offer.
Besides, the Vita is basically a more expensive smartphone. What the Vita needs to capitalize on is a deeper gaming experience. The Vita is, by no means, cheap, and its games will cost more than the standard mobile game. What we should hopefully get in return from the Vita are games with greater gameplay and more replay value. I have full confidence that the PS Vita will be whole-heartedly adopted by the majority of today’s hard-core gaming circles. Whether or not casual gamers are attracted to the Vita’s the sleek design and competitive price imposed against Nintendo’s 3DS is ultimately dependent on both the future game lineup and timely reviews right out of the gate. I, myself, am super excited for the Sony’s new child. I recently had my PSP stolen as I pulled an all-nighter for exams (such a shame, really), and am definitely pleased to see such a relatively low price on a powerhouse handheld. Yep. I am a Sony fan boy.
Let us look, in more detail, at some of things that our Vita has to offer. It incorporates a beautiful 5-inch multi-touch organic light emitting diode (OLED) as the front display and a unique multi-touch pad on the rear. If you have not heard of OLED, take a look at this video (albeit, quite old) of the potential the technology had several years ago. The PS Vita features two actual analog sticks which were certainly lacking in the previous iterations of Sony’s handheld. It enables a wider range of game genres to be brought into the portable experience, such as shooters, action games, and fighting games. Already, a new version of the Housemarque Games title “Super Stardust Portable” plays infinitely better with this control scheme in “Super Stardust Delta.”
Also, by having both Wi-Fi and 3G network connectivity, together with various applications, PS Vita will enable infinite possibilities for users to “encounter,” “connect,” “discover,” “share” and “play” with friends wherever they are. During the Sony Press Conference, Sony reminded us of their first PS Vita application (pre-installed), “near.” It boasts and interface that allows users to discover what games PS Vita users in the vicinity are or were recently playing, as well as let users share their game information. Talk about stepping up the handheld social sphere. “near” also enables location-based gaming features such as “gifting,” in which a user can access virtual game-related items that other users are sharing, through checking in at geographic locations that others have also visited.
Additionally, the PS Vita will come pre-installed with a newly developed application called “Party.” “Party” is an innovative application for a portable entertainment system which enables users to enjoy voice chat or text chat not only during online gaming, but also when users are playing different games or using different applications such as internet browser. Through “Party,” which offers a new form of social networking, and “near,” which enables users to share their game information with other users anywhere, anytime, users can dramatically expand the boundaries of interactive communication.
Another useful and impressive feature is the PlayStation Vita’s cloud saving functionality, allowing users to take a save file from the Vita to the PlayStation 3 (and PS3 to Vita) to continue within a heartbeat. Ruin, a new action-RPG, demonstrated the flawless transition from the PS3 to the Vita during Sony’s Press Conference at E3 this year, cuing impressed “oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the audience.
Sony said the Vita will launch “in global market starting the end of 2011.”
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OFFICIAL TECHNICAL SPECS
ARM Cortex-A9 core (4 core)
Approx. 182.0 x 18.6 x 83.5mm (width x height x depth) (tentative, excludes largest projection)
Screen (Touch screen)
5 inches (16:9), 960 x 544, Approx. 16 million colors, OLED
Multi touch screen (capacitive type)
Rear touch pad
Multi touch pad (capacitive type)
Front camera, Rear camera
Frame rate : 120fps@320×240(QVGA), 60fps@640×480(VGA)
Resolution : Up to 640×480(VGA)
Six-axis motion sensing system (three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer), Three-axis electronic compass
Built-in GPS (3G/Wi-Fi model only)
Wi-Fi location service support
Mobile network connectivity (3G/Wi-Fi model only)
IEEE 802.11b/g/n (n = 1×1)(Wi-Fi) (Infrastructure mode/Ad-hoc mode)
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (A2DP/AVRCP/HSP）
Supported AV content format
Music － MP3 MPEG-1/2 Audio Layer 3, MP4 (MPEG-4 AAC), WAVE (Linear PCM)
Videos － MPEG-4 Simple Profile (AAC), H.264/MPEG-4 AVC Hi/Main/Baseline Profile (AAC)
Photos － JPEG (Exif 2.2.1), TIFF, BMP, GIF, PNG