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Useful Notes / PlayStation Vita

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Short story: Sony's successor to the PlayStation Portable that turned the company "successful failure" in the handheld gaming market into an indisputable actual failure. While the device managed to perform decently well in its home country, thanks to Japan's overall preference for handheld gaming over home console, the Vita completely failed in cultivating an user-base outside of Asia and is currently the company's worst-selling system by a wide margin.

Long story: Debuting at the beginning of 2011 in a private press conference by Sony, and bestowed with the official name of Playstation Vita at E3 2011, pre-release reactions towards the company's newest handheld eerily mirrored those of its predecessor. Just as the PSP before it, gaming media denoted the Vita as the Nintendo Killer. In light of the Nintendo 3DS's lackluster debut, combined with the multimedia capabilities the Vita provided and the substantial power gap between the two, Sony's handheld was once again seen as the obvious consumer buy over Nintendo's offering. After all, following their two previous systems falling below expectations in terms of sales, Sony appeared to be making all the right moves:

  • Instead of using the highly custom console technology that the PS3 used, the Vita utilized common smartphone technology in order to ease game development.
  • It was the first widely-available dual analog handheld. This not only addressed one of the hardware flaws levied at the PSP, but also further differentiated it from the Nintendo 3DS, whose early models required an add-on for a second analog stick.
  • The Vita shared features similar to smartphones, such as a touch screen and motion sensor, in addition to a device called PlayStation Mobile, which allowed users connectivity between the Vita and a smartphone/tablet and essentially allowed developers put their games onto it for freenote .
  • The handheld used flashcards instead of optical disks for game distribution, as the original PSP, despite selling reasonably well, suffered from numerous problems caused by its use of optical discs that are detailed on it's own Useful Notes page.
  • The system supported "Cross Play," a cloud saving system that allowed gamers to take up and continue their console games on their Vita using the same save file. Games that supported this were almost always "Cross Buy" titles as well, meaning that buying one version included a copy on the other platform as well.
  • It was visually stunning; while not as powerful as the PlayStation 3, games for the Vita did boast similar visuals, with certain titles being decent if not one-to-one ports of their home console counterparts - the Vita port of Criterion Games' Need for Speed: Most Wanted was acclaimed for being largely unabridged, save for less complex lighting and lower-resolution textures. The system also sported an OLED screennote  at a resolution of 960×544, far surpassing the 3DS's LCD 800×240 screen.
  • Finally, the launch price was US$249 for the Wi-Fi only model, the same initial price as its much weaker, then-struggling competitor the Nintendo 3DS. There was also a model with 3G support for US$299.

So naturally, when it was released in Japan on December 17th, 2011, it performed well for its debut week... before losing almost 80% of its sales numbers the next, being outsold on Christmas week not just by its main competitionnote , but by the original PSP as well. Sales also proved nonexistent following its launches in North America and Europe, with the Playstation Vita selling only 4 million units globally by the end of its first year. The company would stop publicly revealing the sales numbers for the device due to its underwhelming performance after two years on market, instead giving combined figures for both the PSP and Vita, with even those sales projections routinely falling short. While a price cut a few months into the system's lifenote  allowed the Japanese sales to recover and establish the system as a modest seller in its home country, all attempts to fix the trend fell flat overseas. So, how did this happen? Well, there are a couple of possible reasons:

  • Like its predecessor, Sony's initial message was that the Playstation Vita would be console gaming on-the-go, and it sought to prove this with a launch year lineup that mainly consisted of new entries in major console franchises such as Uncharted and Resistance. However, these games were made by different developers than their console counterparts, with critics viewing most of these new Vita installments as B-Team efforts that sorely lacked in quality; the most notable of these failures including the critically-panned launch title Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. More impressive efforts such as Killzone: Mercenary would only come years after initial enthusiasm depleted. By the end of its life, the closest title the system had for a killer app ended up being Persona 4: Golden, an Updated Re-release of a PS2 game.
  • The original version of the console has no internal memory; only external memory in the form of a proprietary Sony Memory Stick, a new type of memory stick exclusive to the Vita; as the sticks were modified microSD cards, previous PRO and DUO Memory Sticks used by the PSP could not work with it. These memory sticks were also rather expensive and slow: a 32-gigabyte stick cost US$80 at launch (four times the cost of an equivalent SD card at the time), and their transfer rates compared very poorly to Class-10 and UHS-1 SD cards in the same price bracket, with one article about a battery of speed tests proving that in some cases, the Vita cards are even slower than Class-4 SD cards.note  It didn't help that there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to which retail Vita games could save data to the cartridge and which required external memory. Later versions of the console would add internal memory to the device, but still stick with the proprietary memory format.
  • Portable gaming has traditionally been the realm of "AA" developers due to the cheaper development costs of making a handheld game as opposed to a home console title. In targeting console-quality graphics, the Vita ironically ended up being too powerful for its own good, as the Nintendo 3DS was much cheaper to develop for in comparison and thus seen as a safer finanical risk.

By the end of 2013, Sony decided to shift focus with the Playstation Vita, pushing it as a companion system to the Playstation 4, with a firmware update allowing PS4 games to be playable on the PS Vita via Remote Play over a wireless network. This had the unfortunate effect of making the device even less desirable to consumers, as Sony was now painting the Vita as a US$200 game controller in the vein of the Wii U's Gamepad rather than a distinct gaming platform with its own library of titles. At this point, many developers outside Japan had all but ceased creating games for the platform due to low sales. Sony themselves would cease development and publishing of first-party content in 2015, in addition to porting the handheld's most noteworthy exclusives (such as Gravity Rush and Tearaway) to the home console, further reducing the value proposition of buying a Vita as the system's life dragged on. Physical game cartridges for North America and Europe ceased manufacturing in May 2018, with shipments of the Vita itself to those regions rumored to be ending in the same year.

Despite all this, the Vita has still managed to develop a small but devoted fanbase in non-Asian markets, remaining relevant to that audience thanks to its solid library of Eastern RPGs and Visual Novels and aforementioned PS4 companion features. In addition, despite many believing the system's lack of global success meant the company no plans on a successor, with various Sony execs even stating that they saw no future for dedicated gaming portables, SIE CEP Tsuyoshi Koderahad would later state that a successor is one of their many options going forward, most likely in light of Nintendo's recent success with the Nintendo Switch.

One unique feature of the hardware was the inclusion of a touch-sensitive pad on the back of the system. The first application was shown at the debut of the system demonstrating Nathan Drake of Uncharted climbing a vine. Sliding your fingers down the touch pad would cause Nate to ascend the vine.

Following the footsteps of the PlayStation 2 and early versions of the PlayStation 3, the Vita was backwards compatible with PSP games, though only through downloadable games purchased from the Play Station Network are supported. The PS Vita has a battery life of 2-5 hours depending on the system's settings. Sony also produced a second version of PS Vita (model PCH-2000) in 2013 that was both 20% thinner and 15% lighter, came in several colours, had 1GB of storage for small games and media, and replaced the OLED with an LED screen.

Sony also released a home version of the device called the PS Vita TV in Japan on November 14th, 2013. A "microconsole", the Vita TV was a HDMI device that could play PS Vita and Playstation Plus games on the television with the use of a DualShock controller, as well as stream PS4 games onto a different television through Wi-Fi. The device's primary purpose was to form a foothold for Sony in the multi-function streaming device (Apple TV, Roku Box, etc.) market in the Eastern markets, where living room streaming admittedly had less of a foothold. Sadly, a fair chunk of VITA games are not compatible with itnote , though a large collection of PS1/PSN games are downloadable and compatible with it. Due to low sales, it was renamed PlayStation TV when it was released in North America and Japan the following year, to avoid association with the Vita brand.

Compared to the PS3 and PSP, the hacking/homebrew scene for the Vita family was limited and made slow progress for years due to the locked-down nature of the hardware and software. This all changed however in July 2016. The firmware v3.60 and 3.65-exclusive Henkaku system hack finally allowed unsigned code to be run freely and is very simple to install straight from the internet browser. Several notable developments have resulted from this. The Retroarch multi-console emulator was ported to the Vita, giving good support for all consoles up to and including the PSX (and they're working on the N64!). Vita Shell is a comprehensive file manager, allowing access to all partitions of the systemnote , a FTP for transferring files wirelessly, a QR reader for scanning files in from websites and a USB functionality to allow direct access to the memory card on your PC for the Vita (but not the PSTV)note . It used to be necessary to use one of those methods to transfer .VPK homebrew files to the Vita, but an ingenious program named Vita Homebrew Loader allows for direct downloads of said files to the device. Similarly, a simple plugin allows for more unconfined downloading via the internet browser, for example for classic Genesis ROMs.

The Adrenaline custom PSP firmware program allows the entire PSP OS (including the ubiquitous X Cross Media Bar interface) to be emulated on the Vita, essentially allowing you to do anything within that environment that you could with a regular PSP. For now, Henkaku has been relying on a browser re-install every time the system is rebooted, but the Enso variant has been unleashed to allow permanance of the system modification and removing the requirement to use the browsernote . Finally and perhaps most significantly, two important developments have occurred to tackle the notorious problem with overpriced memory cards (and their reportedly occasional failure rate). On the PSTV side, the USB port has been harnessed to provide this form of storage media via Vita Shell (but note that hard drives must be externally powered for example by a Y-splitter cable)note .

More generally, the Vita gamecard format is being tinkered with to allow micro-SD cards to be mounted in a card reader, known as "SD2Vita". These readers have progressed from crude prototypes to full-on duplicates of the gamecard board, allowing them to fit flush and pretty in the game slot. This represents a several-fold increase in value when you compare like-to-like prices, R/W speeds and the ease of interface access of Sony and micro-SD card storage, and is essentially limited in capacity only by the constraints of the format note . If you're concerned about these devices preventing gamecards from being played, it's possible to use a plugin to switch the ux0 (primary) and uma0 (secondary/backup) partitions back and forth between the official Sony card and SD2Vita, allowing you to use the Sony card for gamecard installs and saves note . All in all, with Sony more or less abandoning official support for the Vita, the homebrew scene is thriving and breathing new life into the scene alongside the developers which are still making official games for the console.


Technical specifications

Processors
  • The CPU is a quad core 32-bit ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore that can run up to 444 MHz, however, the CPU only runs at 333 MHz to save battery life. Despite being 32-bit, it does come with a plethora of nice features.
  • The GPU is a quad core PowerVR SGX543+ running at 111 MHz. Compute performance for the GPU is far worse than the PS3's Reality Synthesizernote  at 28.4 GFLOPS versus 228.8 for the RSX.

Memory

  • 512 MB of general purpose RAM
  • 128 MB of video RAM
  • The PCH-2000 model has 1GB of internal storage.
  • External data is saved onto proprietary memory cards, not the more commonly used (but not quite common) MemorySticks used in the PlayStation Portable. Comes in sizes of 4 GB up to 64 GB, with Read and Write rates equivalent to Class-2 and Class-4 SD cards.
  • Vita games come in game cartridges, like the DS and 3DS. Games may reserve some space for save files or patches.

Graphics

  • The 5" OLED display has a resolution of 960x566 with a 16.7 million color output
    • The PCH-2000 model uses an LCD instead.
  • The GPU makes 140 million triangles and 4 gigapixels per second per core. Totaling all that up puts this at 560 million triangles and 16 gigapixels per second.
    • Polygon wise this puts it worse than the PS3 ( 560 million versus 800 million per second). However, you probably will be hard pressed to notice any issues with polygonal edges because of the smaller resolution.
    • Fillrate wise this is much better than the PS3 ( 16 gigapixels versus 6.8 gigapixels per second).

Other

  • Two touch interfaces, one on the screen, the other on the back.
  • Two cameras, one on the front, the other on the back.
  • Accelerometer for motion sensing
  • 802.11n wireless
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • The 2200mAH battery is rated for about 3-5 hours of game time.
  • The PCH-2000 model adds a USB Micro port and about an additional hour of battery life.


Games:


Alternative Title(s): PS Vita

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