The Sony PS Vita has led a relatively quiet existence since it was introduced back in early 2012, with Sony not backing its handheld gaming console all that aggressively in the marketplace.
However, with the pending introduction of the PlayStation 4, Sony appears to be trying to spark some new life into the Vita franchise. First, it offered a price drop on the existing Vita (it's down to $199.99 in the U.S.). And now it's introduced the PS Vita PCH-2000, which will be released in Japan on October 10. It's 20 percent lighter and 15 percent thinner than the current Vita, and comes with 1GB of onboard storage. And the good news keeps coming: the Vita 2000 swaps out Sony's proprietary charging/data port for a standard Micro-USB port.
From a design standpoint, Sony says it's improved the ergonomics of the device.
"The new PS Vita system features an enhanced, rounded shape," the company says. "Coupled with the trimmed down body, users will be able to enjoy game play more comfortably. In addition, the PS button / START button / SELECT button have been modified to a round and convex shape, allowing users to push more easily."
While the Vita's screen resolution hasn't changed, the display has been swapped from the OLED one on the current Vita to an LCD screen. Sony hasn't said what exactly is so special about the new display, but it claims that "thanks to the rapid progress of LCD technology in recent years, the new display provides users with the highest-level image quality." OK, then.
Battery life has also improved by an hour -- it's now rated at 4-6 hours instead of 3-5 -- and better yet, the new Vita 2000 will retail for 18,980 yen (US $190), a big price drop over the current model, which costs over $300 in Japan.
It's unclear when the new unit will hit stores in other parts of the world -- or how much it will cost outside Japan -- but it shouldn't be that long before it arrives in its six color options. (You'd think that Sony would be smart to make the holiday season here in the US, but I wouldn't count on it).
Assessing the changes
Obviously, any time you can make a device lighter and slimmer and make it cost less, it's a good thing. Adding another hour of battery life is also nice. But I think that in some ways moving to a standard Micro-USB port for charging and data transfers is a big deal. With the current Vita, it's a pain to have to carry around Sony's proprietary cable to charge the device (and you have to charge it a lot because 3-5 hours just isn't great battery life).
In theory, what that Micro-USB port also means is that you'll be able to use an affordable external battery charger (many have integrated Micro-USB cables) to keep the device going on the go.
Sony reduced the price for Vita memory cards back in August, when it cut the price of the existing Vita model. They were way overpriced before and while they're still not as affordable as standard microSD or SD cards, at least they're not a total ripoff now. Additionally, Sony has announced it will begin selling a new 64GB Vita memory card.
Adding some internal memory to the device is helpful. 1GB isn't much, but it's enough to store some downloadable titles, as well as some images and video. In other words, at least you can do something with it out of the box without having to buy a memory card.
The original Vita is a great handheld gaming console that has been hampered by a few serious drawbacks. Some of those revolved around the price of the device: It was already somewhat pricey, but when you added in the cost of a higher-capacity 16 or 32GB memory card, the "real" price for the device made a lot of people hesitate before buying it.
With the new device, Sony has removed -- or at least taken some of the sting out of -- Vita's downsides, so it should be significantly more appealing. Another potential selling point is that certain PlayStation 4 games will support cross-platform play, which means you'll be able to start a game at home on the PS4 and then take it with you on the road using the Vita.
Unfortunately, the relative dearth of games for the Vita (and overall developer support) remains a question mark going forward. Sony has announced several new games, including God Eater 2, Gundam Breaker, Final Fantasy 10 and Phantasy Star Nova, and says there will be 100 Vita titles by the end of the year. But there are thousands of games available for smartphones and tablets and they cost much less than Vita games.
It's also worth mentioning that Sony has unveiled the new PlayStation Vita TV, an Apple TV-like multimedia streaming station that allows remote gameplay from a networked PlayStation 4, streaming video services, as well as the ability to play some (but not all) of the Vita games on a big-screen TV.
Alas, like the Vita 2000, the Vita TV is only officially announced for Japan at the current time.
As soon as we get our hands on a Vita 2000 and Vita TV, we'll post full reviews.