Why Vita TV is a Great Idea

Why Vita TV is a Great Idea

Sony's completely unexpected jump into the microconsole market is a really, really smart move, for several reasons -- not least of which is the fact it'll potentially get more people playing games from the sprawling and underappreciated PSP and Vita libraries than ever before.

It was nice knowing you, Ouya. So long, GameStick. See you later, whatever you're almost inevitably planning, Apple; so far as "microconsoles" go, Sony has just won my heart in one fell swoop.

In case you missed it, Sony announced a few new Vita-related things earlier today, one of which was the Vita TV. This 9,480 yen (just under $99) device is set to launch on November 14 in Japan (other regions are yet to be announced) and is, like the aforementioned Android microconsoles, a tiny little game-playing box that you connect up to your TV, then use with a wireless controller -- in this case, the PlayStation 3's familiar, comfortable DualShock 3. It features the same hardware guts as the Vita handheld (an ARM Cortex-A9 core processor and an IMG SGX543MP4+ GPU, for those who enjoy unmemorable strings of letters and numbers) which makes it -- currently at least -- one of the most powerful microconsoles on the market. It has 1GB of onboard storage and slots for both Vita game cards and memory cards, plus USB and Ethernet ports along with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 wireless capabilities. It outputs video at 480p, 720p or 1080i, and can even stream PS4 games to a different TV via Remote Play.

Even with some of the Vita's strongest titles being absent, there will still be somewhere in the region of 1,300 games available to play. Not bad for a launch lineup.

At launch, the system will support all the downloadable PSP games available on PlayStation Network along with PSone classics and select Vita titles. Vita games which will not be supported at launch tend to be those that make use of features such as the Vita's touchscreen, back touchpanel, tilt controls or camera -- which makes sense, really, since neither the DualShock 3 or the Vita TV unit itself have anything that could serve as an equivalent to these things, with the possible exception of tilt controls. Unfortunately, this does mean that some of the Vita's strongest titles -- including Gravity Rush, Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout -- will not be available for play on the system at launch, which sounds like a bummer until you realize that even with these titles being absent there will still be somewhere in the region of 1,300 games available to play. Not bad for a launch lineup, huh -- and even more impressive when you consider that with the addition of PlayStation Mobile, the Vita TV is also, in effect, an Android microconsole as well as a TV-connected Vita. As I said... it was nice knowing you, Ouya.

Direct comparisons to Ouya and GameStick, both of which are ready to roll straight out of the box, perhaps aren't entirely fair, though -- aside from the $99 cost of admission to the world of Vita TV, you'll also need to pony up for a DualShock 3 controller and Vita memory card, neither of which are included in the package. However, there will apparently also be a bundle available for 14,994 yen (about $150) that includes both a controller and an 8GB memory card, which isn't a bad deal at all -- though most people will probably want to spring for a bigger storage solution, even at Sony's grossly inflated prices. $150 to get started is still pretty reasonable, though.

Response to the announcement of Vita TV has been somewhat mixed on social media this morning, with reactions ranging from simple "WTF" to people wishing Sony would have just included HDMI-out on the Vita in the first place. Me? I'm very excited about the prospect of Vita TV and will almost definitely be getting one, for several reasons.

Vita TV invalidates all the excuses given by people who, for whatever reason, dislike playing games on handhelds.

Expect both Brendan and me to explain exactly why you should play ZHP over and over and over again once Vita TV is out in the wild.

The first reason I'm excited about Vita TV is that it allows me to be somewhat more sociable when I'm gaming. I enjoy the "personal" nature of handheld gaming -- put a pair of headphones on and you can immerse yourself in your own private experience, which is brilliant for titles designed to take advantage of this like Corpse Party -- and the fact that it's portable, but I'm always conscious of the fact that handheld games are all but impossible for other people to watch.

Why should that matter, though? Surely the important thing is that it provides a good experience to the player. Well, sure, but I -- and doubtless a lot of other people -- have a consideration when playing, which is the presence of a partner who perhaps doesn't play that many games themselves, but who enjoys watching them, particularly stuff that is designed to be cinematic and exciting to observers as well as players.

My girlfriend very much falls into this category (Animal Crossing addiction notwithstanding), and -- thankfully -- particularly enjoys watching me play JRPGs and other story-heavy games. I'm very grateful for this, because even outside of my professional life penning pieces like this for you, dear reader, gaming is an important part of my leisure time, and I like being able to involve her in it. This is a situation that handheld gaming isn't all that compatible with, and as such my handheld time tends to be confined to when we're both sitting in bed, me with Vita in hand, her tapping away at Plants vs. Zombies on the iPad for the umpteenth time. With Vita TV, I'll be able to catch up on all those incredible JRPGs that the PSP in particular plays host to, and share the experience on my TV.

The second reason I'm excited about Vita TV is that it invalidates all the excuses given by people who, for whatever reason, dislike playing games on handhelds. Finally, I'll be able to share the joy of some of my favorite games like Corpse Party and Trails in the Sky with my friend who enjoys story-heavy Japanese games but suffers eye strain when looking at a small screen; finally, my JRPG-loving friend who has a curious and unexplained aversion to all things handheld will have a wealth of "new" (to him, anyway) games to play. I'm looking forward to Vita TV as much for the fact that it will open up the PSP and Vita's incredible library of games to people who otherwise wouldn't have touched them as anything else. I can't wait to start talking about these games with my friends who are yet to encounter these joyful experiences.

I'm genuinely excited about Vita TV -- more than I am about Xbox One and PS4, if I'm being perfectly frank.

Trails in the Sky is one of the best JRPGs in recent years; with Vita TV you'll be able to play it on your television.

There are a host of other benefits to Vita TV, too. It'll be good for livestreamers and Let's Players, for example, who will finally have a reliable, affordable and good quality means of getting footage from handheld games. If the concept video above is to be believed, it looks like there'll be some means of playing multiplayer games with a single system. The Vita TV will be compatible with popular video streaming services, making it an affordable Netflix box. And the Remote Play functionality will allow people to enjoy playing on the PS4 from another room if the television it's connected to is tied up with something else.

There's a lot about Vita TV we don't know yet, and it remains to be seen if the console remains free of issues such as the controller lag that has plagued Ouya since launch, but my first impression of the new gadget is overwhelmingly positive. I'm genuinely excited about this -- more than I am about the Xbox One and PS4, if I'm being perfectly frank -- and I can't wait to see what effect it has on the PSP and Vita markets in the future.

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