I’m not sure I’d call it the killer app the PS Vita’s looking for, but if you’ve been waiting for a video chat option that lets you avail yourself of the Vita’s dual cameras, it’s finally here, as in right now, courtesy Skype. All you need do is download it (it’s free for all) from the PlayStation Store, though Sony notes it could take up to 48 hours to roll out completely.
The PSP, you’ll recall, already had Skype, but that version was feature-limited — namely, you couldn’t make video calls, in part because the PSP had no inbuilt camera, but also in part because Sony and Skype never got around to supporting the snap-in PSP camera Sony released in 2010 (in the U.S. — it hit Japan much earlier). PSP owners frequently complained about the latter on message boards over the years, urging Sony and Skype to convert the PSP into a Wi-Fi videophone, but nothing materialized.
With Skype on the PS Vita, Manrique Brenes, a senior director at Skype, says the company is “taking another step towards our ultimate goal of making Skype video calling available on every platform, all over the world, and meeting the demands of existing PlayStation users to offer video on a gaming console.” No, Brenes doesn’t mean the PlayStation 3 when referring to “a gaming console” — Sony’s angle from the get-go has been that the Vita counts as one, too.
How does Vita Skype work? It wasn’t available to download yet while I was tying this story up, but Sony notes that it’ll work on either the $249 Wi-Fi or $299 Wi-Fi and 3G versions of the Vita, which makes it the first viable PlayStation-based videophone that’ll function anywhere you have Wi-Fi or access to AT&T-based 3G.
In keeping with the Vita’s modus-operandi, Sony says Skype runs in “background mode” while you’re using other apps or games (though games or apps that shut down the Vita’s network connection will kill a current Skype session). You can pause a game or app, slide over to Skype, make a call, then slide back to whatever you were playing or doing. And since the Vita has both front and rear facing cameras, Sony says you can switch between the two during a Skype call. I assume this means that even if an app or game is using one of the cameras, Skype’s intelligent enough to automatically grab the unused one.
Worth dashing out to snatch up a Vita if you don’t already have one? For Skype alone, probably not — if you Skype, you probably do so already from either a smartphone or computer. But then the Vita speaks for itself, with or without voice and video chat. Call this another arrow in the handheld’s quiver, and one more feature Nintendo’s 3DS lacks.