Recently, I covered a 40-day honest breakdown of the Playstation 4 on ExitEvent to help users know what to expect. As part of my holiday celebrations, I also picked up the PS Vita for myself and a family member based on the rave reviews online. I honestly had no idea what to expect. Here is what I found out and what you need to know.
The PS Vita and all of its peripherals are unlocked right out of the box. Gone are the days of having to worry about where your disc is from and whether is it NTSC or PAL, in the Vita’s case. If you chose to do so, you could import games and the system itself from any part of the world and play them at home without any difficulties. The only drawback to this is that digital downloads and releases are country specific in the same way the App Store is.
Remote Play is the killer app for the Sony family of gaming devices. In 2012, Sony purchased game streaming company Gaikai for $380 million USD to incorporate their tech into a cloud-based streaming feature for the new console called Playstation Now. Sony also incorporated tech from Gaikai to allow for Cross-Play and interconnectivity between the PS Vita and the Playstation 4. All Playstation 4 titles (except those that use the Playstation Camera) are required to support Remote Play.
If your internet speeds on both your home and away network are sufficient, Remote Play even allows you to travel and still enjoy your PS4 from afar. I, for one, had little to no lag playing Battlefield 1,500 miles away from my home system. Remote play also allows the Vita to act, in many situations, as a second screen experience or even an extra controller.
I’m telling you now, if you buy a PS Vita, the amount of games you have to choose from is mind-boggling. Sony created the Vita with backwards compatibility in mind, and has a large catalog of Playstation 1 and PSP classics available for purchase. Outside of that, there are a wide range of releases from big budget AAA titles to underground hits from indie publishing studios.
In the few months that I have owned a Vita, at least one or two sales on various games have prompted me to execute on another digital purchase. Two months in, and I already have more titles than I have time to play. A first world problem, if I have ever heard of one.
Playstation + is the most important service that Sony offers today. A subscription-based service similar to Netflix/Spotify/Xbox Live, users pay a monthly or yearly fee to have access to online gaming features on the Playstation Network. The real benefit behind Playstation + is the extra discount, cloud features, and free games. Every month Sony releases a minimum of 1-2 PS Vita Games, 1-2 PS3 Games, and usually 1 PS4 game for free. From 2013- January 2014, Playstation released 70+ games on their Playstation + Service.
The only stipulation to these games is that you must have an active Playstation + account to be able to play. During my investigation, I also learned that Playstation has sales on Playstation + several times a year. I was able to purchase a year of the service at a discounted $30 as opposed to the normal rate of $50. Beta Invites, early demos, cloud saving, and discounts are other features that subscribers receive. Playstation + alone offered me more gaming that I could possibly have time for. Think about it this way: Playstation + is the price of ONE pre-owned game.
Cross-Play games allow users to play multiplayer across systems between the PS3/PS4 and the Vita. Persistent and engaging multiplayer experiences across two separate gaming devices is not a thing of the future anymore. Cross-Buy, on the other hand, means that if you purchase a Vita copy of a game, you also receive a console version (or vice versa). Finally, Cross-Save allows you to transfer your save across devices via the cloud so that you can pick up where you left off on another system.
Sony has had a track record of putting fantastic screens in their handhelds. With the PS Vita, the OLED screen in the PCH-1000 and the LCD Screen in the new PCH-2000 are absolutely breathtaking. Playing on the OLED screen gave me a console-like experience on a 5 handheld. These screens are capacitive touch-screens as well, meaning that game developers have been able to incorporate front and back touch mechanics into their design.
Sony announced Playstation Now last week at their CES Keynote. The service is a Netflix-like subscription based service that allows users to stream Playstation 1/2/3 games to Playstation 3,4, Vita, and various Sony TVs. The service is another result of Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai in 2012.
At CES, Sony demoed games such as The Last of Us in real time, and it seemed that the experience was just as seamless as playing off of a disc. It isn’t clear at this time what the specific release date for Playstation Now currently is. The service is slated to start for the PS3 and PS4 this June, with Vita and TV support later this year. Games will stream in 720p provided your home bandwidth can support it. The tricky part will be seeing how Sony deals with countries that have Bandwidth caps like Canada, the EU and Australia.
In August 2013, Sony cut the price of the PS Vita by $50 USD to $199.99 and in general cut the costs of their proprietary memory cards across the board. Prices for the handheld, a game or two, and a few peripherals, is now equally competitive with, if not cheaper than, the competition.
The surprising part of my entire foray back into handheld gaming was the lack of press and marketing I saw on the PS Vita. I get bombarded regularly on blogs, commercials, and YouTube in one form or another about the 3DS. In contrast, unless I went searching for it specifically, I saw little to no marketing on the PS Vita, which was disappointing.
I ended up purchasing a 3G-enabled PS Vita to test out the 3G functionality and see what the feature was all about. I was sorely disappointed, as 3G plans and prices from exclusive Partner AT&T are equal to that of a mobile hotspot at either $15 or $30 dollars a month. Worse, even if you shell out for a 3G plan, you are limited to syncing your trophies, messaging your friends, and browsing the store. You cannot play online, download any new games, or in general use any traffic-heavy features of the system on 3G. Save your money and purchase a mobile hotspot with 4G connectivity instead and enjoy online features on the go.
At the time of writing, outside of YouTube, Netflix, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, other third-party app offerings on the handheld are slim to none. I was disappointed to not see any integration with Amazon Prime, Vudu, Hulu, Spotify, or HBO GO on the hand held. My experience browsing Netflix and Youtube on the device was fantastic and the lack of other options was sorely missed. Hopefully with the rumored inclusion of HBO GO to the PS4 shortly, perhaps a companion app can be released for the PS Vita.
In the era of an almost universally adopted micro-usb standard for charging, it was frustrating to see that the PS Vita uses a proprietary charger. Interestingly enough, Sony rethought their decision of proprietary charging with the new PS Vita. It is compatible with any micro-usb cables for charging and syncing purposes.
Memory Card Woes:
The universal biggest problem with the PS Vita however, is the price of memory cards for the unit. If you own a Playstation + subscription, going digital is an absolute must for any PS Vita owner, at least on some scale. Memory card prices and availability have become somewhat of a problem state-side.
Card offerings run from 8 GB to 32 GB in the United States. In Japan however, 64 GB cards are available and are regularly imported to the states for those that need the space. Since their Fall price drop however, memory card prices have been slashed by around $20 USD. During the holiday season I saw that prices dropped even further, with 32 GB cards going for a reasonable rate of $30 USD as opposed to the normal $79.99 USD.
Sales for the PS Vita have not been nearly as exciting or widespread as the Nintendo 3DS. However, with the advent of the Playstation 4 and Remote Play capabilities coming online, sales have started to turn around. I have had an absolutely fantastic experience with my Vita, especially given its compatibility with the Playstation 4. Having Playstation + was another boon, as I turned on the system already having 10+ PS Vita games from owning Playstation + for a month in advance.
The combination of Remote Play, Playstation +, and the ability to relive old classics on a new device has made it a no-brainer purchase for me personally. That being said, exorbitantly high memory card prices and charging issues with the original model of the PS Vita were frustrating, to say the least. These things have changed for the better with the advent of the new model of the PS Vita.
It should be noted that the future for the device seems to be brighter. Sales for the PS Vita increased 68% for the weeks following the launch of the PS4, as new users like myself heard about the device and were intrigued. I, for one, will be extremely curious to see how the PS Vita fares in the future as more people stumble across this hidden gem of the Playstation family.