Everything You Need to Know About Sony’s PlayStation Vita Launch

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We’re just a few weeks out from Sony’s U.S. PlayStation Vita launch, so now’s a great time to review what it is, how it works, what it’ll cost, what’s under the hood and what you’ll probably need to buy a la carte. Ready, set…

What’s a ‘PS Vita’?

A device formerly known as NGP, or “Next Generation Portable.” Sony announced this successor to its PlayStation Portable dedicated gaming handheld on January 27, 2011 (it had been rumored for months) with that unsightly codename. Six months later at E3 2011, the company revealed the device’s much smoother name would be “PlayStation Vita” (the Latin word vita means “life”).

(MORE: PlayStation Vita Finally Arriving in U.S. February 2012)

What’s So Special About It, Design-Wise?

The Vita retains the PlayStation Portable’s hockey-rink-style shape, but it’s slightly wider and taller. That’s to accommodate the super-sized 5-inch, 960 x 544 pixel, OLED capacitive multi-touch screen capable of displaying up to 16.7 million colors. By comparison, the Nintendo 3DS’s top screen is 3.53 inches, the PSP’s screen is 3.8 inches and the Galaxy Nexus smartphone’s screen is 4.65 inches (the only smartphone I’m aware of with a 5-inch or greater screen today is Samsung’s unreleased-in-the-U.S. Galaxy Note). The spec to pay attention to here is OLED (organic light-emitting diode), which means the Vita doesn’t need a backlight, thus improving contrast ratios and allowing for the display to be housed in a thinner, lighter design (the Vita weighs just 260g — that’s 20g less than the original PSP).

While Sony’s eschewing 3DS-style features like stereoscopic 3D (I say wisely) or dual screens, their contribution to the “look, innovation!” pool is the Vita’s rear capacitive multi-touch pad, a back panel wallpapered in Sony’s trademark face button symbols that your fingers can “tap” while wrapped around the handheld. You can use the rear pad to “shoot” the ball in a Vita game like FIFA Soccer, for instance, or to “zoom” the sniper rifle in a game like Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Oh, and the unit includes Sony’s six-axis motion-sensing system (a three-axis gyroscope plus a three-axis accelerometer).

In the “standard features” department, the Vita includes both front and rear facing VGA (640 x 480) cameras, stereo speakers, a microphone, a d-pad and four PS-style face buttons, Sony’s classic PlayStation button, “start,” “select” and volume buttons, a rechargeable (non-removable) Lithium-ion battery and built-in Wi-Fi (3G + GPS optional). Slot-wise, you’ve got a place to stick in PS Vita game cards, one for memory cards (the Vita lacks inbuilt storage memory), a SIM card slot (3G, GPS), a headset jack, a multi-use port (mini-USB) and an accessory port.

The Vita also includes dual analog sticks, and by “sticks,” I mean actual raised control columns with convex-shaped grips (contrast with the flush nubs on the PSP and 3DS). While Nintendo plans to sell a cradle-style peripheral for the 3DS that adds a right-hand joystick, the Vita’s the only gaming handheld on the block with dual analog sticks built-in.

What’s Under the Hood?

The Vita employs an ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor and a PowerVR SGX543MP4+ GPU. To put that in context, Apple’s A5 processor (used in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S) is based on ARM’s Cortex-A9 core architecture, and you’ll also find the dual core version of PowerVR’s SGX543MP technology in those devices (the ‘4’ in the Vita’s GPU indicates the quad-core version, and the ‘+’ refers to features designed specifically for Sony).

How powerful is it really? Sony’s made several comparisons to the PlayStation 3. They don’t mean spec-for-spec, of course, just that the Vita’s games are expected to look much like PS3 games, detail-wise.

What Colors Does It Come In?

Sony’s offering the Vita in one color only at launch: “Crystal Black.”

(MORE: PS Vita Bumped to 2012—Your Move, Nintendo)

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