E3 2011: Sony PlayStation Vita Hands-On
Post by Dan @ 03:16pm 16/06/11 | Comments
At the 2011 E3, AusGamers had a chance to get hands-on with Sony's newly unveiled PlayStation Vita portable console. Read on for our full thoughts...
PlayStation Vita E3 2011 "PlayStation Vita Is Here" Trailer Click here for HD
We'd known of Sony's upcoming Next Generation Portable for some time now, but as rumours abounded, it wasn't until their E3 2011 press conference when we finally received official word and details on the device. Having now been dubbed the PlayStation Vita (Latin for "Life"), we were very interested in getting some hands-on time and to try and figure out how such a specialised device will fit into the now very competitive world of portable gaming.
The easiest way to describe the feel of the PS Vita is simply a more versatile PSP. The new device has very similar weight and ergonomics to it’s predecessor; the same glossy black finish and familiar interface. It’s comfortable enough to hold and at face value appears to have everything it needs to be the ultimate device for portable gaming.
The biggest step forward from the PSP is the shear amount of control options available to developers. In addition to the standard face buttons, D-pad and shoulder buttons, the PSV adds two analogue sticks (both larger and much nicer than the PSP’s single nub), a multi-touch capacitive touchscreen (that feels every bit as slick as an iPhone 4), another multi-touch pad on the rear, a six-axis gyro sensor and both front and rear facing cameras.
It might seem like an overboard everything-but-the kitchen-sink approach but it’s not like games are going to be using all of these simultaneously. Sony is adamant that the device is all about choice and when you think about all the various game platforms out there, it makes a lot of sense. In contrast to Nintendo’s attempt to offer a unique and tailored experience with the dual-screen DS, Sony appears to be leaving as many doors open as possible, encouraging developers of all other platforms to also make their games available the PSV.
Grunt wise, the Vita also looks to be a very capable device with a 4 core ARM Cortex CPU and a 4 core PowerVR GPU. With so many other variables, it’s difficult to quantify performance based off Megahertz numbers alone these days, but I will say that the demo of Uncharted: Golden Abyss that we played was the best looking real-time rendering I’ve seen on a handheld to date and of course, the 5 inch OLED screen helps a lot there too.
The experience of playing the various game demos on offer were all exactly what you would expect; completely natural. In fact, when I first got my hands on Uncharted: Golden Abyss, I’d actually just come from playing the Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception demo on PlayStation 3 and there was no adjustment required. The portable developers have added some new features that you might have seen -- such as allowing users to swipe the touchscreen and paint the ledges that they want the character to traverse along while climbing -- but they were all optional (seemingly included for tech-demo purposes) and the game could still be played perfectly well in the traditional manner.
Also interesting is the promise of compatibility with original PSP games as well as the online-delivered PSP minis and the upcoming PlayStation Suite, which boasts a unified environment for Android titles that conform with it, to run without fuss on the PSV.
For game cartridges the PSVita uses a mysterious new solid-state card format which looks suspiciously like an SD card. Little is known about the format at present, but it seems likely that they’ve gone with a slightly modified memory format in order to curb casual piracy (and to allow them to charge whatever they like for expanded memory).
In addition to WiFi and Bluetooth, a 3G variant for mobile broadband connectivity will also be on offer at a higher pricepoint. Amusingly, the crowed at the Sony press conference erupted in boos when AT&T was announced as the exclusive US cellular carrier for PSV, no doubt due to the fact that the congested US mobile network is still suffering from over-subscription from their iPhone exclusivity deal with Apple.
That announcement may be bad news for Americans, but it likely means that the 3G modem in the PSV will operate on the same frequencies as the iPhone, which are utilised by all three major mobile carriers here in Australia (and the two main 3G carriers in Sony’s native Japan) so there’s a good chance we won’t get any carrier lock-in here. That said, Sony have confirmed that the device won’t include any phone functionality, which leaves multiplayer gaming, web browsing and downloading games on the go as the only real reasons to opt for the 3G version.
Given the patchy coverage and high-latency of even the most reliable mobile carrier here in Australia, I’m struggling to think of a reason why anyone would bother paying the extra premium for the 3G model.
Which brings us to the all important price point. We’re still waiting on Sony’s Australian contingent to come through with local pricing, however international pricing already varies quite wildly from good value in the USA, to questionable in Europe and the UK.
Given their track-record with Australian pricing, we’d be very surprised to see a direct dollar conversion of the US price offered here (USD$249 is currently AUD$236), I’d say we’re much more likely to get a Euro conversion figure of around AUD$330. But the fact that Sony have yet to finalise an Australian price might be a good thing, in that perhaps they’re waiting to see how the Aussie dollar is doing closer to launch before committing to a lower number.
The other big unknown of course is battery-life and it really won’t be until this fact is known that we can pass any solid judgement on the device. What is the point in a portable console if you spend most of the time tethered to an AC socket in your lounge-room because you only get an hour and a half of Killzone from each charge? This sticking point is made all the more pertinent when you realise that unlike the first PSP, the PSV’s battery will not be replaceable -- a concession that Sony claims is due to the rear touchpad's placement.
All told, the PlayStation Vita is looking like a great piece of tech with what appears to be a lot to offer all hardcore gamer types. The software stable is looking incredibly strong, with big names from many of Sony’s in-house staples as well as some big third parties like Call of Duty and Monster Hunter already posturing support. In fact Sony is boasting over 80 titles currently in development which although probably includes dozens of throwaways, should nonetheless make for one of the most impressive console launches ever if they can deliver.
The only other thing the PSV is potentially missing is glasses-less 3D, and that’s merely a superficial function that could be trivially added to a later revision. If it has kept the price down, I’m glad they’ve held off on that for now.
With smartphones having taken such a huge piece of the mobile gaming pie, it remains to be seen if there’s still room for specialised portable gaming devices, but with the PlayStation Vita's feature set, Sony really look to be giving the market the best shot that they can.