The PlayStation Vita (also known as the “PS Vita” and in a few instances, the “PSV”) is Sony’s next portable gaming system, and the follow-up to the PlayStation Portable/PSP.
The portable gaming market is more crowded than ever thanks to the launch of the Nintendo 3DS and the runaway success of iOS devices as game platforms. That said, the PS Vita still boasts unique characteristics that make for specialized play sessions. Here’s what you need to know when reviewing Sony’s sequel to the PSP:
The specs: According to Sony, the PS Vita features a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor, and a quad-core SGX543MP4 + GPU. That translates into, well, a lot of processing power and pretty pictures. There were some early claims from the press that the PS Vita would be as powerful as the PlayStation 3, but Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) snuffed those rumors quickly, saying that “[I]t’s not going to run at 2GHz because the battery would last five minutes and it would probably set fire to your pants.” In reality, the PS Vita’s specs put its performance roughly in between the original PSP and the PlayStation 3.
The PS Vita also has two analogue sticks and a touch screen in addition to Sixaxis motion-sensing capabilities, a d-pad, and its traditional triangle, circle, X, square, L, and R buttons.
The rear touch screen: The PS Vita has a curious feature: you can get saucy and pat its behind. Gamers initially scratched their heads over this interesting hardware quirk, but lightbulbs obviously flicked on over developers’ heads in an instant. In December, Heath Hindman of PlayStation Lifestyle wrote up a review of the PS Vita that contains one example of how the rear touchpad has already been used:
“We just came across a part in [Uncharted: Golden Abyss] where there’s a blank piece of parchment. To reveal the hidden writing, you have to hold the back of the PlayStation Vita to an actual light source (a light bulb will do) for the scripture to appear. I was actually in shock that ideas like that are already being explored in a launch game – imagine what developers will cook up in the future.”
Optional 3G support: You can opt to buy the PS Vita with or without 3G support. The 3G model has features that utilize the constant connection to the internet, including a built-in GPS. The PS Vita’s 3G service is provided by AT&T in America, and Vodafone in Europe.
Both models of the PS Vita have Wi-Fi support.
Memory card: If you aim to own a PS Vita, you’re going to have to purchase one of Sony’s proprietary memory cards as well. These cards are necessary to hold saves, certain game downloads, and are required to run select games. According to Sony, the memory cards available are 4 GB ($19.99 USD), 8 GB ($29.99 USD), 16 GB ($59.99 USD), and 32 GB ($99.99 USD).
Traditional and digital game support: Unlike the PSP, the PS Vita doesn’t utilize or support Universal Media Discs (UMD). Games are distributed via a proprietary flash memory card called the “PlayStation Vita card.” There is also a selection of downloadable games that can be accessed through the PlayStation network and downloaded onto your PS Vita’s memory card.
PlayStation Network (PSN) access: The PlayStation Vita can be tied to a PlayStation Network account–but only one PSN account can exist on each Vita. That means the account you register on your Vita is the sole account that remain there, unless you perform a factory reset and reformat the Vita hardware.
If you reformat your PS Vita, you won’t lose the purchases you’ve made on your PSN account, as those are tied to your account itself. You won’t lose your save data either, as that’s all stored on your memory card. However, don’t forget that your Trophies are tied to your PSN account, so reformatting your PS Vita will wipe your achievements from your system.
Battery life: At the 2011 Tokyo Game Show, Sony confirmed that the PS Vita’s battery provides about three to five hours of gameplay (with no Wi-Fi, with default screen brightness, and with no sound) before needing a recharge. It can also play about 5 hours of video, and 9 hours of music, with the screen turned off.
Backward compatibility with the PSP: The PS Vita features backward compatibility with the PSP–but only with the downloadable portion of the PSP’s library, as the PS Vita has no UMD support. Sony has a “PSP Passport” program that can theoretically give discount versions of downloadable games to PSP owners who bought the physical disc, but at this time, few major third-party publishers have chosen to support the program.
Region-free: The PS Vita is region-free, meaning games are not locked out from region to region. In other words, you can interchange the PS Vita’s Japanese, North American, and European games with its Japanese, North American, and European hardware without having to worry about lockouts or major problems. However, each region offers a different version of the PlayStation Network, and given that the PS Vita can only store one PSN account at a time, you’ll have to choose your digital marketplace carefully.
Price: There are two models of the PlayStation Vita for sale. The model that supports Wi-Fi only costs $249.99 USD, and the model that supports both 3G and Wi-Fi costs $299.99 USD.
North American launch date: If you’re in North America, look for the PlayStation Vita on Feburary 22, 2012.
Launch lineup and exclusive franchises: Given that the PS Vita is a Sony machine, you can expect to see certain franchise exclusives on the handheld. One such exclusive is the launch title Uncharted: Golden Abyss.
For a complete list of the games that will be available at the Vita’s North American launch (and the launch window to follow), check out the PlayStation Blog.