We’re just a few weeks out from Sony’s U.S. PlayStation Vita launch, so now’s a great time to review what it is, how it works, what it’ll cost, what’s under the hood and what you’ll probably need to buy a la carte. Ready, set…
What’s a ‘PS Vita’?
A device formerly known as NGP, or “Next Generation Portable.” Sony announced this successor to its PlayStation Portable dedicated gaming handheld on January 27, 2011 (it had been rumored for months) with that unsightly codename. Six months later at E3 2011, the company revealed the device’s much smoother name would be “PlayStation Vita” (the Latin word vita means “life”).
What’s So Special About It, Design-Wise?
The Vita retains the PlayStation Portable’s hockey-rink-style shape, but it’s slightly wider and taller. That’s to accommodate the super-sized 5-inch, 960 x 544 pixel, OLED capacitive multi-touch screen capable of displaying up to 16.7 million colors. By comparison, the Nintendo 3DS’s top screen is 3.53 inches, the PSP’s screen is 3.8 inches and the Galaxy Nexus smartphone’s screen is 4.65 inches (the only smartphone I’m aware of with a full 5-inch screen today is Samsung’s unreleased Galaxy Note). The spec to pay attention to here is OLED (organic light-emitting diode), which means the Vita doesn’t need a backlight, thus improving contrast ratios and allowing for the display to be housed in a thinner, lighter design (the Vita weighs just 260g — that’s 20g less than the original PSP).
While Sony’s eschewing 3DS-style features like stereoscopic 3D (I say wisely) or dual screens, their contribution to the “look, innovation!” pool is the Vita’s rear capacitive multi-touch pad, a back panel wallpapered in Sony’s trademark face button symbols that your fingers can “tap” while wrapped around the handheld. You can use the rear pad to “shoot” the ball in a Vita game like FIFA Soccer, for instance, or to “zoom” the sniper rifle in a game like Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Oh, and the unit includes Sony’s six-axis motion-sensing system (a three-axis gyroscope plus a three-axis accelerometer).
In the “standard features” department, the Vita includes both front and rear facing VGA (640 x 480) cameras, stereo speakers, a microphone, a d-pad and four PS-style face buttons, Sony’s classic PlayStation button, “start,” “select” and volume buttons, a rechargeable (non-removable) Lithium-ion battery and built-in Wi-Fi (3G + GPS optional). Slot-wise, you’ve got a place to stick in PS Vita game cards, one for memory cards (the Vita lacks inbuilt storage memory), a SIM card slot (3G, GPS), a headset jack, a multi-use port (mini-USB) and an accessory port.
The Vita also includes dual analog sticks, and by “sticks,” I mean actual raised control columns with convex-shaped grips (contrast with the flush nubs on the PSP and 3DS). While Nintendo plans to sell a cradle-style peripheral for the 3DS that adds a right-hand joystick, the Vita’s the only gaming handheld on the block with dual analog sticks built-in.
What’s Under the Hood?
The Vita employs an ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor and a PowerVR SGX543MP4+ GPU. To put that in context, Apple’s A5 processor (used in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S) is based on ARM’s Cortex-A9 core architecture, and you’ll also find the dual core version of PowerVR’s SGX543MP technology in those devices (the ’4′ in the Vita’s GPU indicates the quad-core version, and the ‘+’ refers to features designed specifically for Sony).
How powerful is it really? Sony’s made several comparisons to the PlayStation 3. They don’t mean spec-for-spec, of course, just that the Vita’s games are expected to look much like PS3 games, detail-wise.
What Colors Does It Come In?
Sony’s offering the Vita in one color only at launch: “Crystal Black.”
Will My PSP Games Work?
The PS Vita will play PSP games, but won’t take the PSP’s UMD game discs, so if you want to play PSP games, you’ll have to buy and download them from the PlayStation Store. That said, you’ll have the option use the Vita’s second analog stick in select PSP games (to pan the view around in a first-person shooter, say) by simply remapping the controls.
Will It Support My Favorite Social Network?
Probably. While these are all “coming in early 2012,” Sony says the Vita will eventually have access to Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Flickr and Foursquare via freebie app downloads from the PlayStation Store.
What’ll It Cost?
The basic Wi-Fi model runs $249.99, while the version with integrated 3G will set you back $299.99.
How About Games?
While you’ll no doubt be able to buy games for less once developers have bite-sized Vita content up on the PlayStation Store, the average going price for a Vita game is currently $39.99 (a handful are $10 more, others are $10 less).
What Are the Launch-Day Titles?
From Sony Computer Entertainment America: Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational, Super Stardust Delta, Little Deviants, ModNation Racers: Roadtrip, Wipeout 2048, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Escape Plan and Hustle Kings.
From third-party publishers: Army Corps of Hell (Square Enix), Asphalt Injection (Ubisoft), BEN10 GALACTIC RACING (D3), Blazblue: Continuum Shift EXTEND (Aksys Games Localization), Dungeon Hunter Alliance (Gameloft), Dynasty Warriors Next (Tecmo Koei), F1 2011 (Codemasters), FIFA Soccer (Electronic Arts), Lumines Electronic Symphony (Ubisoft), Michael Jackson The Experience (Ubisoft), Rayman Origins (Ubisoft), Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen (Namco Bandai), Tales of Space: Mutant Blobs (Drinkbox Studios), Touch My Katamari (Namco Bandai), Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Capcom), Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition (Sega) and just announced — Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus.
What Else Do I (Probably) Have to Buy?
The Vita ships without built-in storage (like the PSP before it), which means you’ll have to buy proprietary memory sticks (from Sony) if you want to save games or download content from the PlayStation Store (some games may let you save to the game card itself, but not all). Sony’s price lineup Vita-brand memory cards is as follows: $20 for 4GB, $30 for 8GB, $60 for 16GB, and $100 for 32GB. Note that it’s possible to backup or transfer data between memory cards, but you’ll need a PC or PS3 (as intermediary) to do so.
If you opt for the pricier $299.99 3G model, you’ll have to pay AT&T for the privilege (AT&T’s the exclusive wireless carrier for the system). An “AT&T Data Connect” plan for the Vita runs $14.99 per month for 250MB and $30 per month for 3GB. Both plans have 30-day recurring opt out options and include complimentary access to about 29,000 AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots in the U.S. Note that the 3G feature is currently touted as a way to socialize with friends, sync news feeds, and play turn-based games — just like using your 3G phone tethered to your PC for Internet access, the connection won’t be fast enough to handle head-to-head racing sessions or first-person shooter square-offs.
You might want to budget $10 to $20 for a carrying case, too — remember that we’re talking a full five inches of OLED screen real estate you’ll want to protect.
Does It Support the PlayStation Network?
Of course, but what’s more (and unlike the PSP), PS Vita games now support PlayStation Trophies — Sony’s version of game achievements — too.
How Much Space Do Saved Games Take Up?
This varies by game, of course, but to give you an idea based on back-of-the-box specs, a game like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 requires 4,096 KB, Uncharted: Golden Abyss needs 64 MB and FIFA Soccer will use a whopping 160 MB.
When Can I Actually Get One?
Both models go on sale in the U.S. on Wednesday, Feb. 22 (the system originally launched in Japan on Dec. 17, 2011).
[This post republished from TIME's Techland.]