E3 2011: Sony debuts PlayStation Vita, its next-gen handheld

A Wi-Fi version of the newly announced successor to the PlayStation Portable will be available over the holidays for $249, and a 3G version with Wi-Fi will run $299.

PlayStation Vita
PlayStation Vita Sarah Tew/CNET

Sony's next-generation PlayStation Portable got its North American debut today at E3, as well as a new name--PlayStation Vita.

The device, which Sony unveiled in Japan in January, comes with two joysticks, multitouch 5-inch OLED screen, front and rear touchpads, and front and rear cameras for augmented reality.

"Vita means life," said Kazuo Hirai, president and group chief executive officer of Sony Computer Entertainment. "And we're confident that Vita will be the first product that blurs the lines between reality and interactive entertainment."

The Wi-Fi model will run $249, and a model that includes 3G and Wi-Fi will cost $299. Sony said it will be available for the holidays.

One of the first titles for Vita will be Uncharted: Golden Abyss. The device takes advantage of visually advanced technology that uses water shaders and dynamic lighting to create slick graphics on such a small gadget. And it features a touch screen that lets gamers move characters, for example, using joysticks or by tapping on the screen--or by using a combination of the two.

The device will also offer a social-networking component called Near that lets gamers play against friends with Vitas nearby. And Hirai announced a partnership with AT&T to carry the 3G version in the United States, an announcement that received hisses from some of the 6,000 in attendance at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.

A passel of developers have agreed to provide launch titles, including the Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Activision. And during a presentation, Bioshock's Ken Levine announced plans to develop an as-yet-unnamed game for the NGP.

"This is going to be interesting too," Levine said, holding up an NGP device.

Sony first unveiled the device in January. Back then, the company disclosed many of the tech specs, including the fact that it has an ARM Cortex A9 (core) CPU, and a SGX543MP4+ GPU, and a Sixaxis motion-sensing system.

Sony launched its PSP line in 2004 and has sold 68.2 million units worldwide, according to independent analyst outfit VGChartz.com. But it remains a distant second to the line of Nintendo DS devices, which have sold 147.5 million units worldwide, according to VGChartz.com.

Sony's previous attempts to update the PSP have done little to close the gap with Nintendo. In 2007, the company introduced a slimmer version of the device. And two years later, it launched a more compact version, dubbed PSP Go , that failed to catch on with consumers.

And, of course, Nintendo isn't sitting still. The new Sony handheld will have to do battle with the Nintendo 3DS, which offers users 3D capabilities without special glasses.

Separately, Jack Tretton, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, apologized once again on behalf of the company for the security breach that compromised consumer data.

Sony also played up its focus on 3D, handing out 3D glasses to the crowd and showing off title after title of 3D games, including Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception and Resistance 3.

"We're going to break the mold on pricing with 3D this year," Tretton said.

To that end, Sony plans to offer a new 24-inch, 3D PlayStation-branded display where two gamers can see unique 3D images, rather than having to use a split screen. This fall, Sony will offer a bundle of the TV with glasses, a 3D game, and HDMI cable for $499.

Related links
• PlayStation Vita vs. Nintendo 3DS
• PlayStation Vita: the games
• Full E3 coverage
About the author

Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).

 

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