The PlayStation 4 is Sony's last great hope in keeping control of the gaming industry. It's also the best chance at turning the PlayStation Vita into a more relevant piece of gaming hardware.
At last night's PlayStation 4 event in New York, many hew tidbits of hardware magic were discussed, and a good handful of them involved the Vita: as a remote-play device and additional controller like the Wii U's GamePad, and maybe even as a functional second screen. It's encouraging, but not surprising. I bet it would happen long before last night's event even started. That's because the PlayStation and Sony's PlayStation handhelds have been doing this dance for years.
The PlayStation Vita debuted just one year ago, but it feels like a lot longer than that. Time moves fast in tech, but commercial reception and game support for Sony's advanced piece of handheld hardware has been tepid, to say the least. The Vita needs a shot in the arm. Its potential with the PlayStation 3 was never realized -- at least, not as a second-screen satellite experience. Can the PS4 and the Vita be a dream team at last? Here are the best bets for how a PS4 could be a Vita's best friend.
Nintendo's Wii U might have a lot of strikes against it, but one thing it does exceedingly well is leverage a second-screen controller as a multiplayer game accessory. You can grab the Wii U GamePad and have someone else use the TV, and play a two-player game together very easily.
There are already games that accomplish this cross-controller play feature between PS3 and Vita -- in fact, Sony's been rolling out this feature slowly over recent games. But the support and ease-of-use has never made the concept anything more than a novelty.
There's no reason why a Vita can't accomplish a similar goal with the PlayStation 4, but Sony hasn't gone into great detail over how this will work. But the PS4 could pull this trick off with a greater supported library and with faster, more lag-free processing.
Remote play: Off-TV
Imagine if the Vita could access and play the PS4's game library via localized streaming; you could play Killzone -- the console version -- in your bedroom. That's exactly what Sony plans to do, according to last night: a large portion of the PS4 library will theoretically stream and play on a Vita in your home, much like the Wii U's GamePad handles games like New Super Mario Bros. or Madden. On the PS4, this localized streaming will be powered by Gaikai.
Will it work as seamlessly? Sony's presser promised greatly improved transmission times between the Vita and PS4, but what Nintendo's made possible with the GamePad isn't that easy a feat. Then again, the appeal of the Vita as a standalone device that can play another console's games locally feels like something the Wii U GamePad could only dream of being.
Yet, the Vita lacks something the Wii U GamePad has: truly comfortable analog pads and dual rear triggers (correction from what I wrote previously: the Wii U's GamePad doesn't have analog triggers, either). The Vita's controls may resemble a PlayStation DualShock controller, but they don't match it perfectly (and, it lacks rumble and analog triggers). It won't be as seamless a gaming controller as the GamePad, especially for first-person shooters that heavily rely on both dual analog sticks and trigger/shoulder buttons. I make a big deal out of those rear triggers being different because, as I use my game controller, they're among the most-used buttons.
Also, Sony won't be the only company out there trying this remote-play trick. Nvidia's Project Shield, unveiled at CES in January, hopes to do the same thing with Steam-playable PC games on an Android device later this year. And one can only guess that Microsoft's planning a similar feat with Windows 8 devices and the "Xbox 720."
Vita as remote
The Vita is somewhat big and bulky compared with a phone, but it has front and rear touch panels and plenty of buttons to have it serve an easy purpose for remote control duties. Sony didn't detail this functionality per se. Of course, with a full touch pad on the DualShock 4 controller and Sony's announced support for a Smart Glass-like PlayStation App for phones and tablets, the need to use a Vita like this shrinks.
Phone and tablet competition: PlayStation App
Speaking of phones and tablets: Sony's announced that its forthcoming PlayStation App will work on both iOS and Android, and looks like it'll work as a social PlayStation Network browser, means of buying games, spectating game footage online, and even being a second screen for game maps or other in-game features, much like Microsoft's Smart Glass.
If that's true -- and cleverly done -- then where does that leave the Vita?
Sony has made its own Vita competition, in a sense. Even if the Vita is the only way to play locally streamed games on a second device using Gaikai technology, which hasn't been determined, many people might prefer using a phone or tablet out of sheer convenience. The accessory of choice for the PS4 might already be in your pocket.
Sony has supported tablet and phone PlayStation compatibility, at least nominally, via PlayStation Mobile. Maybe PlayStation App is just an extension of PlayStation Mobile...but if it takes away part of the Vita's appeal to a PS4 owner-to-be, what then? It certainly hampers the "Vita as ultimate PS4 accessory" argument a little bit.
The Vita needs its killer app, and so does the PS4. The two could use each other a lot. Whether or not the PS4 makes good on the previous promises made with on the PS3, of course, hasn't been proven yet. I want to believe -- really, I do -- that the Vita will find its way and blossom with the PS4. It's just that I've heard this pitch before.