Viva la vita

Viva la vita

PSVita. Image: Sony

Sony’s new handheld game console

Until recently, it was computers that were influenced by new technologies in game hardware development. Since Nintendo’s DS handheld (or perhaps even since Apple’s Newton pad), that vector has flipped. Now, both computing and gaming hardware development are running toward a middle segment that is closer to the idea of ubiquitous computing than any technology has been before. Sony’s new handheld PSVita sets new standards in this respect.

After Sony’s flop with the PSP Go in 2009 (contrary to the wishful thinking of many producers, data carrier-less software is not everyone’s cup of tea), the company tried it again three years later, but did not just omit the UMD drive, but released a completely new pocket console, which can be seen as the prototype of a new handheld generation, if you look at the hardware of the PS Vita alone.

Sony’s new handheld PSVita. Image: Sony

Four ARM 9 Cortex A9 processor cores tick away inside, which Sony has carefully underclocked with 1.4 GHz. Together with the graphics processor (PowerVR SGX 543 MP4+) and the 960 x 544 pixel Truecolour OLED screen, they deliver the best graphics display on the handheld market to date. Besides half a gigabyte of RAM and 128 MB of video memory, the Vita does not have any semi-permanent memory for backing up data or programs. This has to be augmented by up to 16 GB of coarse, proprietary and therefore very expensive SD cards. It is obvious that memory, computing and graphics power alone are not the only decisive quality features, especially in portable devices. So what else does PS Vita offer in terms of hardware capabilities?

The outer values (also) pay off

Sony has learned from its own past, but even more from its competitors. 3D graphics capability, as with Nintendo’s 3DS, currently still seems to be an eye-watering (and quite dim when running in 3D) gimmick with no real gameplay value, which is why Sony decided against the feature. However, the frontal 16:9 OLED screen is touch-sensitive and allows gesture control. On the back of the device there is another 12 diagonal centimeters coarse, touch-sensitive surface, so that instead of a blob simulated graphical three-dimensionality a real 3D control is possible, which is also used sensibly and imaginatively in some of the games available in stores at the same time as the console launch.

The two built-in cameras with their only 1.3 megapixel resolution are located on the front and back of the device. Taking photos with the PS Vita is possible, but pointless due to the lack of flash and quality. For this, playing augmented reality games is now possible from the factory, for which an overpriced and poor VGA camera had to be purchased separately on the handheld device. (Sony is giving away three of these games to new PS Vita customers).) The front also features two small speakers, the function keys familiar from all Sony game consoles, and USB-capable and headphone jacks on the bottom.

Taxes and storage

Sony has also ruffled feathers in the control system. In addition to the at times sensible, but not infrequently quite "dangerous" Gesture controls (the gesture-controlled AR titles in particular often put the Vita in danger of crashing), the handheld also has Sixaxis controls, a digital directional pad, the familiar Sony-typical four function keys, two shoulder buttons and two (!) analog sticks. The latter, in particular, represent perhaps the greatest added value in terms of control for frequent players. If you compare this control variety with the possibilities of the 3DS, Sony is once again ahead from a purely technological point of view.

PSVita. Image: Sony

In many reviews of the PS Vita, two problems are mentioned again and again: First, the already mentioned, missing memory: Especially if you load games from the Playstation Network, you need a memory chip, which is offered propritarily by Sony. In terms of price, it is even higher than the comparatively expensive ProDuo chips that were needed for the PSP. Store-bought games come on so-called "Playstation Vita Cards" therefore, to be plugged into another slot. So in contrast to the UMDs of the transaction model, you have less to carry around and can be glad that Sony has given up the idea of download-only games again. The other point of criticism concerns the battery life, which, depending on the intensity of use, is between three and five hours. Considering the fact that you can’t replace the PS Vita’s battery (for example, with another charged one), this is probably the biggest problem for mobile gamers.

The operating system

As written at the beginning, the PS Vita has learned quite a bit from the competition from its hardware and software functionality. However, this does not mean blob Nitendo’s 3DS, but above all the smartphones and tablet computers that are now increasingly penetrating the market for mobile games. Starting with the gesture control to the additional functions of the operating system, the PS Vita contains quite a few things that were previously only available on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch Co. was available. In addition to the convenient management of multimedia content and the Internet capability, the Vita can also be used as a means of communication: Especially if you opt for the 50 euro more expensive version with 3G capability, various chat and communication possibilities come to the handheld. But even in the cheaper WiFi version, data transfers to other PS Vitas in the vicinity can be realized. The Bluetooth built into both versions could also be useful here.

The Internet browser is much more pleasant to use than the PSP or PS3 browser because of the virtual sensor keyboard offered by the operating system. Connected to the latter, the Vita can be equipped with software and memory banks as well as backed up. In addition to content management programs for music, videos and photos, the Vita has GoogleMaps software that provides maps with the help of the built-in location meter – much more useful than the expensive stand GPS extensions for the PSP – at least if you carry a 3G-capable Vita with you. Compatibility for PSP and mini-games has been announced, but unfortunately only a few titles can be transferred and played on the Vita so far. Whether there is compatibility with PlayStation 1, 2 or even 3 titles remains doubtful. Apparently you have to get your PSP titles on UMDs unlocked for an additional fee before you can play them on the Vita.

Almost nothing is free

The initial failure of Nintendo’s 3DS was mainly attributed to the lack of games available at launch. What use is the latest game console without matching software? Sony wanted to prevent this and has at the launch of the PS Vita immediately ca. 20 titles at launch to showcase the power of the new handheld – alongside old content from PSP and Minis. Some of them are available as test versions on the server, so that the interested player does not have to invest between 30 and 50 Euros for the titles without having tested them first.

Viva la vita

Fireworks

The three augmented reality games mentioned above use the included AR card set to superimpose game content onto video images using the built-in cameras. The games themselves seem to want to introduce the concept of AR rather than to conjure up real gameplay in or on the player’s hands. The game "Fireworks" conjures up virtual fireworks on the real table, "Table-Football" is a much too difficult to control table football simulation and "Cliff Diving" comes in the "Pain"-The new game is designed in the same style and creates cliffs and lagoons outside the home bathroom, which the daring character can use to jump into the virtual water.

jumping and driving

Among the first available titles, the latest version of the PSVita stands out "Uncharted" stands out. In "Golden Abyss" the hero Nathan Drake is once again in a jungle, performing heroic deeds and recovering treasures. The touch controls make extensive use of this title, which, combined with the excellent graphics, may have made the game an early platform seller. Other titles can only be said to take advantage of the PSVita’s capabilities to a limited extent, let alone in an original way.

Viva la vita

Golden Abyss

The racing game, which is also proprietary for Sony devices "MotorStorm" is available for the Vita "RC"-version, which does not mean that "release candidate" means, but "remote control" and stands for remote-controlled toy cars. similar to toy car racing games like "Smash Cars" Here, one controls the mini-versions of the agreements "MotorStorm"-The game is based on the off-road vehicles known from the titles, which run over not uninteresting courses: sandboxes, miniature golf courses and skateboard half-pipes are the ideal terrain for the dangerous vehicles. Its tininess, combined with the Vita’s coarse but still quite small screen for a handheld, proves to be quite a challenge "myopic" Planning the software forge. In combination with the unusual control via the two analog sticks, the once paid purchase price of the game is probably the best motivation to keep playing the title.

Viva la vita

MotorStorm

Push and Fly

A rather expensive joke is UbiSoft’s "Lumines Electronic Symphony", which advertises itself primarily with its game soundtrack, to which several electronic musicians (such as Chemical Brothers or Kaskade) have contributed tracks. The game itself is a somewhat complicated looking but quickly becoming tedious "Tetris"-Variant, to which then just the music ertont, whose licensing may have made a rough part of the nearly 37 euro purchase price.

Viva la vita

Lumines Electronic Symphony

On the other hand, the Vita offshoot of the Playstation stalwart is fast-paced "WipeOut" – here with the year "2048" as a title – has become. The game looks as vivid as the FullHD versions on the PlayStation 3, and can be controlled via both the analog stick and digital directional pad, as well as with the built-in tilt sensor technology. The latter can be seen in the "Watches Tilt"-The first step is to activate the control mode; then the back of the Vita can also be used as an accelerator pedal. After a short time of getting used to this control alternative, you couldn’t do without it.

Viva la vita

WipeOut

Most of the games currently available don’t seem to take advantage of the PS Vita’s capabilities. Nevertheless, the console’s interfaces in combination with its powerful inner values open up possibilities that are currently not found in any other device on the market. This time Sony has to use this advantage to contrast the market segmentation between the rather childish gamers of the Nintendo world and the financially better off young adults of the Sony faction.

Viva la Vita

Viva la vita

Fireworks

What the PS Vita has to offer, and whether Sony will be able to prevent itself from being "blackboxing" as already with the PS3 in the software development itself, remains to be seen and to be feared. As soon as the compatibility to the PSP can be used practically, a hardware upgrade to the PS Vita is highly recommended.

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