September 10, 2013, 6:00 AM —
Source: Sony Japan
In the wee hours of Monday morning (wee hours, at least, from the point of view of those of us living in the Eastern US) Sony dropped something of a bombshell when they announced Playstation Vita TV: essentially a small box that contains the guts of a Playstation Vita handheld system. Instead of a built-in display and controls, it connects to a TV and uses a Playstation controller.
So what's the point of PS Vita TV? Well that depends on who you ask. I've seen a lot of coverage of the device that suggest it is Sony's response to Apple TV or Roku streamers. And for a non-gamer I guess it can look like that. The Vita supports Netflix, YouTube and Sony's Video Unlimited store. But I think both Apple TV and Roku are both more compelling devices for non-gamers.
You could look at PS Vita TV as a micro-console, similar to the Ouya or Gamestick. The PS Vita TV plays most Vita games (the actual Vita has front and back touchscreens, a microphone and a camera so if a game relies on any of those optional input methods then it probably won't work on Vita TV) as well as PSP and PSOne games currently available on the Vita. In Japan, where PS Vita TV launches in November, this could be a compelling use-case for the device. The Playstation Vita (and handheld games and gaming systems in general) seem to enjoy a lot more popularity in Japan than in other parts of the world. An easy way to play your game collection on a big screen could be worth the $100 (or more accurately, 9,954 yen) cost of entry.
Here in the US the Vita has struggled to find an audience and I just don't think the install base is large enough to support Vita TV as another way of playing Vita titles. So I think the killer app for the PS Vita TV in the US will be its remote play capabilities. One of the features of the Playstation 4, which arrives in November, is that most games will feature remote play support. Remote play allows someone with a Playstation Vita to stream gameplay from the Playstation 4 to their Vita, so when you're in the middle of a game and someone wants to watch TV, you can just grab a Vita and keep on playing.
(This is similar to the popular "tablet play" feature of Nintendo's Wii U, without the Wii U's limitation of having to stay in close proximity to the base console.)
This sounds like a nice feature if you happen to own a Vita and don't mind working around the fact that the PS4 controller has 4 shoulder buttons and the Vita has only two (the other two are emulated on the rear touch screen, I'm told), as well as playing on a much smaller screen.
With the PS Vita TV, you can take your game to another TV in the house and use full controllers to play. For any Playstation 4 household with more than one TV I think the PS Vita TV will become a 'must-have' accessory; it's almost like getting a second PS4 for $100. Coupling the PS Vita TV with a PS4 also opens up more video streaming possibilities (assuming the PS4 has as robust a selection of video streaming services as the PS3 does).
When the PS Vita TV launches in Japan in November it will not support streaming. I think this is why Sony hasn't announced a launch date for the rest of the world yet. The PS4 doesn't launch in Japan until February so they won't miss the streaming feature until then.
At this point I'm diving into sheer speculation, but my guess is that Sony won't bring PS Vita TV to the US until it supports remote play. Also while the official word now is that you can use the DualShock 3 controller (i.e., the PS3 controllers) with PS Vita TV, in the video above you seem 3 young men playing Knack via Remote Play and using the PS4's controllers.
I wonder if the touchpad on the PS4 controller will allow for even more Vita games to be supported.
Anyway, as I'll have a Playstation 4 come November 15th, the PS Vita TV is definitely high on my gadget wish-list. As soon as it supports remote play and becomes available in the US, I'll be getting one for the TV in our office. When American Idol next starts up and I lose access to the living room TV for the 100 hours/week (I may be exaggerating a tad) that it's on, I'll still be able to enjoy my PS4 games upstairs in the office...without having to purchase a 2nd PS4.
In other Sony news, a new Playstation Vita 2000 was also announced. This model is lighter, thinner, has 1 GB of on-board storage and gets an additional hour of battery life, but it swaps the OLED screen for an LCD one. They also introduced a 64 GB proprietary memory card for the Vita line. (I shudder to think what it will cost, giving the high prices of the other Vita memory cards.) The new Vita launches in Japan on October 10th but again, there's no release info for other regions.
Once you have your PS4, your Playstation Vita and your PS Vita TV, this is what your life will be like:
One thing I noticed in this video is that one person accesses their PS4 via remote play from a school cafeteria or somewhere, which is interesting. I was under the impression that Remote Play only works if you're on the same WiFi network as your PS4, but perhaps not. I guess we'll know more come November 15th.
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