Sony surprised the industry with the reveal of PS Vita TV this morning, but what does the device say about the company’s forward thinking?
Put simply, it shows that Sony has ambitions to tap into what many perceive to be the biggest growth sectors open to core gaming.
An alternative interpretation is that Sony recognises that the games market is changing and does not want to be left beghind. The fact that neither Microsoft nor Nintendo have demonstrated similar intentions could potentially leave both in a spot of bother.
On the face of it PS Vita TV seems to square up firmly against one of gaming’s liveliest upstarts – Ouya.
Both devices are small and both attach discreetly to a user’s TV. Both eschew raw technical power in favour of affordable access to indie and smartphone-orientated gaming – and considering how much airtime indie games have commanded throughout this year’s next-gen excitement, that’s seemingly an increasingly sensible move.
Interestingly, both microconsoles make the same compromise, too. Ouya is designed to work with Android games, the vast majority of which were designed for touchscreen interfaces. PS Vita TV is designed to work with Vita games that may or may not utilise Vita front touchscreen or rear touchpad.
This does look to be an area where Vita TV has an advantage, however. Plenty of Vita games favour traditional controls only, and don’t forget that the device swill also work with the sizable PSP back-catalogue.
Ouya’s use of Android will likely gain favour amongst the tech-minded, but Sony’s closed-walls OS will almost definitely make Vita TV the more accessible unit for the average user.
Ouya may have enjoyed a head start on the market, but its brand power simply cannot hope to compete with that of PlayStation. And depending on how PS Vita TV’s £61 Japanese price translates to the West, Sony’s unit may have a price advantage too.
PS Vita TV houses an ARM Cortex A9 quad core processor compared to Ouya’s Tegra 3 quad core CPU. Both have 1GB of RAM, wireless internet access and HDMI out, although Ouya can output in full 1080p HD whereas PS Vita TV has an upper-limit of 1080i.
Sony tells MCV that it has “not made any announcement about whether the 2000 series Vita and PS Vita TV will be releasing in the UK/Europe" although it is hard to imagine it not doing so.
You could argue, of course, that the microconsole market is a non-starter regardless. Ouya’s relatively low sales can’t really be seen as an any sort of indicator, considering its non-traditional route to market and low brand value. Can the famed PlayStation brand fare better? We’ll see.
"Regardless, if nothing else
it’s certainly true that Sony’s
adaptability reflects poorly on
Microsoft and Nintendo."
It could also be that Smart TVs, for years held up as the brave new world of in-home gaming, could yet grow to eradicate microconsoles before they begin. But with no uniformity across manufacturers this doesn’t seem likely.
Whatever proves to be true, it’s fascinating to see how Sony is adapting its strategy to the evolving market. Just recently the company was aiming in three directions – console, handheld, smartphone. But with its PlayStation Mobile plans seemingly abandoned, that third prong has been completely re-evaluated. How viable PS Vita TV will prove to be is uncertain to say the least.
The same can be said for vanilla Vita. Pundits bemoaning the Vita Slim’s ditching of an OLED screen in favour of an LCD panel are spectacularly missing the point – Vita’s single biggest challenge from the moment it was launched right up until today is price. Hardware prices, software prices. Any move that lowers the barrier to entry can only help the handheld. Lowering Vita prices is absolutely necessary – a fact Sony should have recognised long before now.
Regardless, if nothing else it’s certainly true that Sony’s adaptability reflects poorly on Microsoft and Nintendo.
Microsoft’s Xbox One is such a hugely important release. The Windows giant will be ruined with nerves ahead of the console’s release, with execs behind closed doors riddled with uncertainty about their ability to overcome what was a terrible E3 period for the Xbox brand.
Its acquisition of Nokia’s mobile assets demonstrates its determination to crack mobile. And while Windows 8 remains fragile, there are signs that Nokia’s quality Lumia handsets could yet make inroads into the market – even if Microsoft’s Surface tablets face an potentially less positive future.
So what of Nintendo? 3DS is a viable platform and can likely sustain it for the time being, but it’s hard to conjure any kind of positive assessment or outlook for Wii U. Can Nintendo, a company doggedly determined to do things its own way at the cost of everything else, genuinely be expected to even attempt a raid on gaming’s emerging markets? I think we all know the answer to that.
That leaves Nintendo in a position where it must do again what it once did with Wii – crack open a whole new market segment that none of us yet know exists. The truth is that only the most ardent and blinded Nintendo fanboy retains the faith the Iwata and his execs are still capable of this.
As we look forward right now, Sony and PlayStation appear very much in the driving seat. Can the company right the wrongs of post-PS2 and embrace this chance? Many are starting to believe.