Sony PS Vita coming to America Dec. 31?

Summary:Amazon and Game Stop seem to think the PlayStation Vita -- Sony's answer to both the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U -- is heading our way this New Year's Eve.

Does Amazon and Game Stop know something we don't because both sites are listing the Sony PlayStation Vita's U.S. release date as December 31, 2011, according to the Washington Post. You can see in both screenshots that the companies have pegged the last day of the year as the Vita's big day in America.

But Sony Computer Entertainment head Kazuo Hirai told Bloomberg just last month that the global launch of the next-gen console has been delayed to 2012, with only the Vita's debut in Japan on target for this December. In fact, December 17 is the lucky day for Japanese fans to get their hands on a Vita, as Sony announced earlier this week prior to the Tokyo Game Show.

North American and European gamers, however, will just have to wait-and-see on exactly when the innovative console will roll-out to the rest of the world. But the uncertainty over the launch date is hardly stopping Amazon and Game Stop from taking pre-orders for the Vita; hardcore gamers just don't want to risk missing out on the first shipment of the Vita, whenever that may be.

What's so special about the PS Vita, anyway? At a glance, it looks just like a PlayStation Portable but the Vita really is its own beast. For one thing, its 5-inch OLED display is a touchscreen so you can tap on it with your finger to navigate the interface and play games. There is also a bottom touchpad where you use the rest of your digits (because your thumbs and index fingers are on the trigger buttons and analogue sticks and directional pad) to control what's happening on-screen.

Under the hood, the Vita is powered by the quad-core ARM Cortex A9 processor with SGX543MP4+ GPU, built-in gyroscope, accelerometer, GPS, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, Wi-Fi and or even a 3G radio depending on model. There is no UMD slot so it won't be able to play your old PSP games out-of-box, but you can download most of them via the PlayStation Store, or wait for an accessory that may or may not materialize (Sony is thinking about it). In a demo of the Vita at Sony's pre-TGS press conference, Hirai showed the handheld's multitasking prowess by listening to music while he opened the photo gallery application without first closing the music app.

The handheld's specs are intentionally beefy because Sony sees the Vita as a portable version of the PS3, and includes Nintendo Wii U and 3DS-like features:

  • Transfer data between PS3 and Vita: You can start a game like Wipeout 2048 on the PS3 and continue it on the Vita when you're on the move and vice versa.
  • Remote Play: You can access content on the PS3 using the Vita without having to turn on the television thanks to this feature. For example, you can play a PS3 game on the handheld only, or watch a show you recorded using PS3's Torne HD recorder (in Japan).
  • Use Vita as a PS3 controller: Multiplayer games will recognize both the Vita's touch controls and a traditional control pad's analogue buttons to play the same game.
  • Will play Android OS games/content: Can run the same games/photos as on the Android-based Sony Tablet S and P, and the Xperia Play smartphone.
  • Augmented Reality games: They kick in with multiple cards/markers to expand the playing field (the 3DS is limited to a single card so its scope is smaller); cardless AR is also possible using the built-in front and rear cameras.
  • Integrates social media interaction into games: Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, NicoNicoDouga -- Japan's version of YouTube -- are built into some titles.
  • Incorporates with the PlayStation Store: To download and or purchase in-game items.
  • near: A preloaded app that can detect nearby Vita players and share game content with them (Sony's version of the 3DS' StreetPass).
  • 3G connectivity (for the $299 model from AT&T): So that you can make use of the near app whenever and wherever you are.

For a device as ambitious as the PS Vita, it's not entirely surprising that its battery life will be poor -- 3-5 hours with no Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/3G and screen at default brightness according to Sony, but actual use could be even worse. (Penny Arcade shares a similar concern in its latest comic.) That said, I'm sure there will be a third-party battery pack out there to address this very problem or be sure to play near a plug. Without a doubt, Sony has its sights set on beating both the 3DS and the still unreleased Wii U. Will the Vita's strong launch lineup (at least for Japan) and established fan base in PS3 players be enough to edge Nintendo this time around? Or will consumers still balk at the $250 price tag for a Wi-Fi-only entertainment machine, or $299 for the 3G and Wi-Fi version from AT&T, like they did with the 3DS? Your call.

[Source: Kotaku, Sony PS Vita's website, Amazon & GameStop via WashingtonPost, Bloomberg]

Updated @ 8:51pm PT: Updated with link to Penny Arcade's comic.

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Topics: Amazon, Hardware, Mobility

About

Gloria Sin is a New York-based freelance journalist who writes about the tech toys that you can't live without for ZDNet. She has little patience for poorly designed user experiences, and is not afraid of opening the guts of her own machines for repair or hacking her gadgets for new uses.She has written for FastCompany.com, Popular Scienc... Full Bio

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