When Andrew House came on stage at the end of a long and quite impressive Playstation conference in Japan he delivered the biggest surprise of the night. Not only does he speak Japanese with his, um, unique voice, but he brought with him the PS Vita TV. This tiny little box has many functions and while the details have yet to be completely sorted it came storming out of the gate as a versatile little piece of tech at the magic $100 price point. And with that Sony closed the conference having answered many of the biggest questions the entire Playstation brand has faced… namely, where are the big PS4 games for early next year and are they willing to try to make the Vita a success. There were no doubts about either by the time that House walked off the stage. Sony looks like a smart, hungry corporation ready to take over the world. I’ll leave the arguments of whether they will or not to the internet prognosticators, but it sure is nice to see them on solid ground with smart people. Just seven years ago it was the Microsoft people who seemed down to earth and lovers of gaming and the Sony folks who seemed out of touch with reality. Boy how times have changed…
The obvious question about the Vita TV is who is it for. I think it has many fairly particular uses but it remains unclear whether it will be a device that strikes a cord with the mainstream or if it fills in several niches. But let’s get the niches out of the way because as a tech lover it’s those functions that excite me the most. The basic concept of the box is the same as an Apple/Google TV or Roku. It’s a little box you put near your tv and it allows you to use Netflix or Amazon or whatever streaming services are available to you. It also links you with that company’s store so you can buy or rent TV shows/Movies/Etc. For many people who don’t have consoles this is the cheapest and best way to get Netflix on your TV.
The Vita TV also treads into the Ouya market. The Ouya is a $100 box that allows you to play Android games on a TV. Except, in the case of Vita TV it plays PS Vita, PSP, and PSone games. There is absolutely no comparison to the quality of games available to the Vita TV compared to Ouya. The Vita has a much stronger lineup than most give it credit for, but beyond that the PSP has one of the best libraries of all time for fans of Japanese games in particular and there are more amazing PSone classics than you can shake a stick at. So now we have the access to Sony’s movie and music services, like Apple and Google provide, access to games like the Ouya (but of much higher quality) and all of the above will stream Netflix/etc. And all are priced at $100. So right now the PS Vita TV wins in terms of features/price but we haven’t even gotten to where things get interesting.
The PS Vita TV will also act as remote play device for your PS4. So you can have your PS4 hooked up in your living room and be playing a game and decide you’re getting tired but want to play a bit more in bed. You head upstairs and turn on your TV in your room with the PS Vita TV hooked up and stream the PS4 game to that tv and continue playing. I know many people who buy two of the same console, one for the living room and one for the bedroom; Sony just saved those people $300. Even if they never use it for Netflix, buying movies, Vita games, or anything; it’s still a tremendous value for this one feature alone.
At $100 this also makes a very good console for kids, especially with amount of kid friendly games available in the PSP library. Handheld games are going to look pretty crappy blown up on a big screen but this may actually be desired somewhat by parents. The violence is less graphic. Much like 2DS this device is extremely kid friendly and at a price where parents won’t wince.
In 2014 when Gaikai is rolled out it’s also coming to the Vita (and hence Vita TV) which will give access to even bigger library including PS2, PS3, and PS4 games. I personally have taken a wait and see approach with Gaikai – if it works, awesome, if it doesn’t… well, that kinda what I expected. Gaikai on the PC worked quite well but until we see it running on consoles and on the Vita we don’t know if this is a killer app or something that just isn’t ready for the prime time. It is worth keeping an eye on as another asset for this machine.
There are other things that will matter to even less people but are cool nonetheless. The Vita TV will allow me to stream Vita games on Twitch TV (I have a capture card in my PC – this feature won’t be available to those who don’t). Also the many fans of the Vita are obviously happy about anything that puts more units out there in the world because it helps cement the future of the platform. The sales uptick in Japan for the last six months had pretty much guaranteed that rumors of the system’s death were greatly exaggerated (exaggerated on the internet!??! WHAT!??!), but this helps put that notion to rest. Sony isn’t giving up on the platform, in fact they are doubling down. It’s a show of confidence that up until this point Sony has shied away from displaying. They believe in the Vita platform and are working to expand it. For fans of the device this is great news.
Questions still remain about just what is capable with the device and when things will be happening. I’m not expecting it to come stateside (or to EU) until Spring 2014. I think Japan is getting it this fall because it’s not getting the PS4 until late February. Sony doesn’t want to compete with itself. I believe they will wait until the end of the fiscal year (March) before releasing it. As of launch in Japan it will not support the Dual Shock 4 which is not all that surprising considering that the Dual Shock 4 won’t be out in Japan for another few months. I have heard that support for it will be patched in but who knows how long that will take. There is also a question of what will happen to Vita games that require the touch screen… as of now the word is that they won’t work. Will this change when the Dual Shock 4 support is added since it has a touchpad? I could also see an inelegant but feasible workaround of using L2 to put you in cursor mode which acts as a touching the screen would. This obviously wouldn’t work well for games that require very fast touch screen support like Fruit Ninja, but it would be fine to do the stupid touch stuff in Uncharted like clearing brush. Or will these games be updated to remove these touch sections? Also can the Vita itself be used as a controller? That would solve the touch screen issues for those of us who plan on getting the device and already own a Vita.
It’s good news for most Vita owners, at least, that going forward we will have less forced touch controls in games. There are obviously many games where touch controls are needed and welcomed but any Vita lover could rattle off a list of games that have it tacked on for no good reason. Those days are officially over. Thank you Vita TV!
It also has been announced that the system does not output at 1080p. I’m not sure why this is and Sony hasn’t explained it, to my knowledge. Can it be patched in later or is the power just not there to do it? I’m guessing it was a concession made to get the price to $100. That brings me to my final point… if you are reading this thinking “Well, I watch Netflix on my consoles, I play Vita and PSP games on my Vita, I don’t ever need to move off my main TV and even if I did I only want the highest quality picture available and the Vita TV not supporting 1080p is a big negative to me. So why on earth should I buy this?” The answer for these people is that they shouldn’t. This device won’t be ubiquitous. It has many features that many people will find appealing and it comes in at the same price as other devices that do less which makes it very attractive. It is designed to be an inexpensive device though. It’s not a top of the line media center/game system. If you want that buy a PS4 (or multiple PS4s for multiple TVs) and a Vita. The Vita TV is an inexpensive device that fills many niches. Will it catch fire and sell tens of millions of units or will it just appeal to enthusiasts? I don’t know. All I know is that I fit into about four of those niches and I will be buying it on day one. I have a feeling I’m not alone.