On Monday, the PS Vita TV was announced. Essentially a PlayStation Vita with no screen or control interface, but with an HDMI output. Essentially, it’s a microconsole for the PS family. That alone doesn’t make it sound like a massively appealing prospect, but by delving a little deeper, it’s possible to glean a bit of information about Sony’s big picture for the upcoming next gen fight.
On first glance, the Vita TV looks like Sony’s answer to the Ouya. It’s small, it’s cheap and it can play a number of inexpensive games from a pretty large library of titles. The Vita card slot in the side also makes it a nice little side product for Sony to push out, as you will be able to play games such as Persona 4 Golden and other Vita exclusives on your big screen alongside your current consoles. The really interesting thing, however, comes in the shape of what it does with Sony’s next home console.
Much like its handheld equivalent, the Vita TV will allow you to remotely access your PS4 and play games wherever it’s located. Not only is this the case within your home network, but you can take it round to a friend’s house, connect your DualShock 4’s (I believe it’s up to 2) to it, and stream games from your house, giving you your own personal OnLive style setup. The prospect of being able to play any digital games (and presumably, any disc based games in the system) whichever house you’re at is a great idea, and one that Sony should market the hell out of. Imagine going round to a mate’s house with a Vita TV and 2 DS4 controllers, powering it up and playing some split-screen multiplayer from a machine in your house. Whilst the Vita TV is limited to 720p, that’s a pretty impressive idea (provided both internet connections are steady enough). The Remote Play feature of the Vita was a cool one to start with, and one that had me seriously considering picking up the handheld machine, but I’m now much more convinced that the Vita TV will be a better product for me. I imagine it will also be a boon for Sony, as if folks want to make the most of the Remote Play functions, they’d be best off buying games from the digital store.
So, not only are people going to be swayed to pick up digital games if they want to use Remote Play, they will also be able to rack up a growing library of PS Vita games through Playstation Plus. With PS+ being required for online multiplayer on the PS4, I suspect the majority of PS4 users will be subscribed anyway. This is where I suspect the “Trojan Horse” element of the Vita TV will come into play. Once people realise that they’ve got the ability to get unique, ‘free’ games on a mini-box under the TV, it will surely give them a bit more of an incentive to pick one up. Sony have already committed to providing games for the PS3, PS4 and Vita every month going forward, and I already have a substantial library of games waiting for me if and when I ever do invest in a Vita branded product. I’m not saying that a Vita TV will ever become most people’s primary console, but if a library of games is available for a machine that could well be priced at under £100 for no extra cost (provided you’re already a PS+ subscriber, that is), it’s not a bad value proposition at all. Once people start to enjoy the content that they get for free, then chances are they might well pick up some older Vita cards and downloads, as well as getting a (still ridiculously overpriced) Vita memory card to store some more games on.
In my opinion, Sony have stumbled upon a trick that Microsoft have missed. The rumours earlier in the year of an “Xbox 360 mini” that would only play digital downloads and media services were certainly interesting, but now they appear to have vanished into the ether. With the Vita TV, Sony have come up with a product that could very easily be described as the Apple TV for gaming. I would assume that once the Gaikai streaming solution gets worked out, the Vita TV will be a prime target for the service, and will offer yet another library of games. Obviously not much has been said about Gaikai yet, but I would hope it’d be rolled into existing PS+ subscriptions. With the Vita TV also offering media functionality such as Netflix and other services, it’s a small set top box for any room in the house that opens up a lot of functionality. Whilst it won’t replace anyone’s plans to pick up a next-gen console, it’s definitely a very exciting prospect for both customers and Sony themselves, as they are poised to make the PS Vita TV the Trojan Horse that could well push a lot of people down the route of digital distribution in a way that doesn’t force restrictive policies on their users.