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PS Vita TV and new PS Vita hands-on: is there life in Sony's portable system?

PS Vita TV and new PS Vita hands-on: is there life in Sony's portable system?

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Gallery Photo: PS Vita TV and PS Vita-2000 at Tokyo Game Show
Gallery Photo: PS Vita TV and PS Vita-2000 at Tokyo Game Show

Tokyo Game Show 2013 is underway, and Sony's marked the occasion with a public debut for its two-point plan to save the PS Vita — the redesigned handheld is on show alongside the PS Vita TV set-top box. Vita TV has its own section in Sony's booth designed to demonstrate how Sony's portable console adapts to the living room. The box itself is impressively tiny, closer in size to a smartphone than an Apple TV or Roku, with an array of ports along the side.

Its most obvious function is to play PS Vita games on the TV; I tested God Eater 2, the upcoming sequel to Namco Bandai's Monster Hunter-inspired action RPG, and came away impressed. Though it's not quite the same as playing a high-definition console game, the image quality is pretty clear and the Vita title adapts well to the PS3's DualShock 3 controller. God Eater 2 makes use of the L2 and R2 shoulder buttons on Vita TV, for example, which the handheld Vita doesn't have, although some games that rely on touchscreen functionality won't work.

The Vita TV's interface is lifted directly from the portable

The Vita TV's heritage is most apparent in the interface, which is lifted directly from the portable. The cartoonish bubbles weren't the most attractive thing in the world when the Vita launched almost two years ago, and a large TV doesn't make for any more flattering a canvas. Still, as a basic launcher it works well enough, providing basic access to the Vita TV's other functions. I saw the box demonstrated with PS1 games, video services, a manga reader, and more; although it's not announced for release outside Asia yet, the Vita TV will launch in Japan with a pretty robust content lineup.

Sony is also promoting the Vita TV as an extender for the PlayStation 4 — if someone's using the TV that your PS4 is hooked up to, you can beam the image to a separate screen connected to a Vita TV. I saw PS4 title Knack played this way, and while it's probably not something you'd want to use if you can avoid it, it does work as advertised. There's definite artifacting and blurriness, as you might expect from streaming a high-end video game while aiming to maintain responsiveness, but the feature could come in handy for dodging arguments about who gets to use the TV.

Vita TV looks like an easy sell for anyone with an interest in Vita games

All in all, Vita TV looks like an interesting product that, at around $100, would be an easy sell for anyone with an interest in Vita games. The question is whether Sony can position it as an attractive option for a wider audience.

PS Vita TV and PS Vita-2000 at Tokyo Game Show


Also on show is the new 2000 series of the PS Vita. The redesigned system is impressively thin and light, enough so to make the original unit feel burdensome in comparison. There are further improvements to minor pain points such as the finicky Start and Select buttons, and the shoulder buttons feel more responsive.

Many will be sorry to see the OLED screen go

It's a conservative update, though, and even alongside the current model it's hard to call it a clear victory. In a surprise move, the Vita's excellent 5-inch OLED screen has been replaced with a more pedestrian — and undoubtedly cheaper — LCD panel. The new display doesn't look bad, and some may actually prefer the color balance; it's less saturated than the OLED model, which also suffers from color shift at wider viewing angles. Still, the way Vita games pop on the punchy OLED display is a major attraction of Sony's system, and many will be sorry to see it go.

The new Vita comes out on October 10th in Japan, and the Vita TV will be released on November 14th. Sony is yet to announce international plans for either device, but we'll be sure to bring you more coverage. The PS Vita may be on the ropes, but if nothing else, Sony's new hardware represents a valiant attempt to breathe new life into the platform.