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Vita TV: A Question, A Problem, and A Lot of Potential

Sony's new "LittleBigConsole" could be great — with the right touchscreen alternative and more exclusive software

Sony’s pre-Tokyo Game Show press conference Monday offered a glimpse into the Vita’s future. We learned about new hardware with a 20 percent thinner and 15 percent lighter design, extended battery life, and six color options. We also learned about several new games in development. But the Vita TV was the biggest news by far.

After Nintendo announced it would be dropping a “D” from its latest 3DS, Sony upped the ante by unveiling a new version of its own handheld without a screen or buttons. A $100 micro-console, the Vita TV connects directly to a TV via HDMI and to a PS3 DualShock controller via Bluetooth. It plays retail and digital Vita games as well as digital PSP and PSone titles, and it will be compatible with Remote Play to stream PS4 games too.

To a player with my gaming preferences, the Vita TV may be quite tempting — depending on how Sony handles a couple of outstanding issues.

To me, the portability of a portable consoles is actually one of its least important features. I’ve owned several handhelds, but I buy them primarily so I can play their exclusive games. I don’t often encounter situations where others see the value of portability, such as extended public transportation commutes. Whenever I end up with a few minutes to kill, I’m usually satisfied entertaining myself with the iPhone I’ve already got with me. Aside from the occasional flight, I usually play my portable consoles the same way I play my traditional consoles: at home, on the couch. The only difference is I'm less comfortable, either with a cramped neck from looking down or tired arms from holding the system up.

So the ability to play Vita games the way I already prefer, with a controller, for half the cost of a regular Vita, is a big deal. And the future ability to play PS4 titles off-screen à la Wii U but with a full-size TV is quite the inviting prospect too.

That said, I see two barriers Sony will have to overcome before I'm completely sold.

1. The touchscreen question

Don't get me wrong: I'm far from crazy about touchscreen controls. Nonetheless, they're a common (and sometimes mandatory) Vita game feature.

Without a screen to touch, what's the alternative going to be? Will touchscreen-enabled games simply be incompatible? Some, probably, but I can't imagine all. Such would exclude several of the Vita's biggest titles (e.g., Uncharted: Golden Abyss). More likely they'll be patched to support a controller, but results could vary.

I recently tried the PS3 release of Dragon’s Crown, which is a bad example of how to adapt touchscreen controls. To revive a defeated ally, for example, you have to touch the character's name at the top of the screen. The Vita version handles this process smoothly: You literally touch the screen, and you're done. The PS3 release, however, requires moving a cursor with the right analog stick and pressing a button. If you don't hit exactly the right spot, nothing happens. I found it to be an obtuse alternative, my hands apparently lacking the dexterity required to save my allies without dying myself. Although I was digging the game, I was becoming increasingly frustrated until eventually I stopped, resolving to buy the Vita version instead.

 2. The game problem

I said I buy handheld consoles primarily so I can play their exclusive games. The Vita is light on exclusives, and the Vita TV highlights the problem. With ports (and sometimes ports of ports) dominating the Vita's library, and their Vita-exclusive features such as portability and touchscreen controls definitely or possibly gone,  why buy the Vita releases?

For example, I own the Vita version of Mortal Kombat, which I re-purchased because of the new touchscreen-centered Challenge Tower and the ability to play on the go. With the Vita TV, I would no longer have either of those benefits over the console releases; plus, the resolution and character models are worse. I'd probably never play it again instead of the original.

If Sony can address my question and my problem effectively, then I’m on board.

How about you?




09/10/2013 at 12:12 PM

I see this as having far more important implications in emerging markets, or parts of the world where gaming is astronomically expensive (i.e. Latin America). There, the port-heavy library may actually work to the system's advantage, as it would allow people a much cheaper way of playing games they wouldn't touch on the more expensive home consoles.

In the West, though, I don't see a place for it, for the same reasons you bring up. If people aren't interested in the same platform when they can play it on the go, then I don't see them buying a $100 screenless version. Not when the PS3 can be had for $200 new and the PS4 and Xone are two months away.


09/10/2013 at 06:03 PM

Sony will likely adapt at least some games to the PS4 controller's touchpad, but indeed, it won't be a perfect fix.

Either way, I might buy the device primarily for its streaming services (Netflix, Hulu and the like), and simply view the Vita functionality as a nice bonus. Everything did seem easier in the PSP days, though, when the handheld could simply connect to the TV for game playing. Ah well.


09/11/2013 at 10:18 AM

My problem with the Vita is that it's too expensive, I like playing games on a big screen, and I freaking hate touch screen games.  With this Vita-tv thing, I only have to pay $100, I can play on my tv and well...., I don't give 2 shits about touching the screen.  Any games that requires me touching the screen, the odds of my buying it was slim to begin with.  The main point though is the price issue.  I refuse to pay more than $100 for any handheld.  The Vita is just too expensive.  Maybe I'll get one after I collect my usual gift cards over the holidays. Undecided

Nick DiMola Director

09/11/2013 at 10:56 AM

This is an attractive device for me, though I think I'd be happier if I could do all of this with my current Vita without having to buy another system. I want to connect my Vita to a TV and I want to use a Dual Shock 3 to play the games. Having that dual functionality would be fantastic.

If this thing had a PSP UMD drive, or peripheral that could read those games, I'd be instantly sold. I detest using that nub on the PSP, so anything to avoid it would be a win for me.

Daniel Iverson Staff Alumnus

09/11/2013 at 02:37 PM

Definitely agreed, Nick. Adding HDMI and DualShock 3 compatibility to the regular Vita would offer the best of both worlds. Then new buyers could weigh how important the portability aspect is and decide whether or not to spend the extra $100 to have it.

If I were to speculate why Sony hasn't already done this, I would guess it's because the profit margins are already too thin to think about adding even more components (which I'd venture is the same reason behind the switch from the OLED to LCD screen).


09/11/2013 at 06:22 PM

It looks pretty cool. I have no interest in the Vita, really. The buttons feel like pressing tacks, everything is smooshed so much that my thumbs end up covering the screen, and I'm not a fan of the dual analog sticks - they stick out too much. That being said, the biggest strength of a portable console would have to be that it's PORTABLE. Those things often go with me on trips to family member's houses or when work calls me away. Although I am most excited to play Duodecim Final Fantasy on the big screen. Awesome. BTW, this concept has already been done by Nintendo with the Super Game Boy and Game Boy Player, so I think Sony will do just fine with this.

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