newvitaSony have this morning announced a new model of their current handheld, the PlayStation Vita. At 15 percent lighter and 20 per cent thinner than the current variant it is impressively svelte, and comes in a range of colours – I must say, I quite like the bright yellow. Set for release in Japan on October 10, there is currently no word whether the new model will see release outside of that territory. You can see a teaser video for it below.

Besides the reduction in dimensions, there are other changes to the system. Perhaps most importantly, the Vita’s much-lauded OLED screen has been replaced by an LCD panel, which has led some fans to decry it as inferior. This seems a bit premature to me; OLED displays are good for deep blacks and vibrant, over-saturated colours, but a good LCD is much better at accurate colour reproduction, so it’s effectively a trade-off. If there’s one thing Sony knows, it’s display technology, so I’m sure it’ll still be a fine screen. The new model’s display will retain its 5-inch size and 960×544 resolution.

Another change is onboard storage, in that the new model actually has some. While the current Vita requires a buyer to also purchase a memory card if they intend to save their games, the new model will have 1GB built in. Ok, so it’s a pretty paltry amount, but it should do for saves. Alongside this, Sony have finally announced that a 64GB memory card is incoming (again, currently Japan-only, also set for an October 10 release), though I shudder at the thought of how much it will cost; I paid around Ā£60 for my 32GB card (which is now nearly full). Even with the recent reduction in the price of the existing cards, I’m sure the new capacity will be very expensive.

The new console also has improved battery life, which is certainly a welcome addition. Rated at six hours gameplay time, the updated Vita should keep running for an hour longer than the current model. Other than memory card prices, battery life is my one niggle with my Vita; while battery life varies depending on what you’re doing (playing a PS1 game will give you quite a lot more play time than a visually impressive Vita title), the machine can burn through a full charge alarmingly quickly. I suppose that’s the price you pay for having games like Killzone: Mercenary on the go.

In aesthetic terms, the new console looks very similar indeed to the original model, retaining the first Vita’s “super oval” design, though the edges seem to have been smoothed off and it appears to have been built with a matte plastic this time. Also worth noting is that the screen is a separate embedded panel now (as you can see in the top image), whereas on the original the entire front of the device is a single piece. I have to say I prefer the original design as it looks a little more ‘premium’ to me, but the new model is close enough to the original that many likely wouldn’t notice the difference. Factor in the slimmer, lighter design, on-board storage and better battery life, and this machine is likely to be the definitive PlayStation Vita for many.

While this announcement came as something of a surprise (no leaks? What a world we live in!), I think most people expected Sony to iterate on the Vita at some point. Less expected is Sony’s other new piece of hardware announced today, the Vita TV. It’s basically a Vita without a screen or controls, a tiny mini-console that hooks up to your TV, pairs with a DualShock 3, and allows you to play Vita, PSP and PS1 titles (via a game card slot, download or memory card) on the big screen. It also has the ability to Remote Play PS4 games, so you could, for instance, have a PS4 hooked up to your living room TV, a Vita TV in the bedroom, and simply stream gameplay from one room to the other. It also has the expected video streaming capabilities (and I’m sure we’ll see the likes of Netflix and Lovefilm on Vita TV), making it a mini-console/set top box. Here’s a video of the diminutive machine in action.

I think this is a bit of a masterstroke for Sony. It simultaneously attacks two market segments; the Apple TV/Roku Box market with it’s streaming video capabilities (and I’m sure it’ll tie into Sony’s own set of services such as Music Unlimited), and the Android console arena championed by the likes of Ouya. Only Sony’s attempt offers a large range of games from across three well-regarded platforms, with streaming gameplay from PS4 also an option. I know which of these I’d choose as a gamer. The Vita TV could serve as both a TV box and a cheap, small console – all for 9480 yen (around Ā£60, though there will also be a 14,994Ā„ bundle with a DualShock 3 and 8GB card).

Furthermore, it could also lead to additional purchases – say you buy one to stream PS4 games and TV shows and then pick up a couple of Vita games for it; perhaps you’ll be impressed enough with the quality of your Vita titles to pick up a handheld so that you can continue them on the train in the morning. Or maybe you’ll buy one to play Vita games on the TV and the thought of streaming PS4 games to another room will convince you to put down the money for Sony’s new home console. Made widely available (like the new Vita, it’s also currently slated for Japan only) and priced accordingly, Sony could easily have a hit on their hands with the Vita TV. I’m certainly interested.

As we head into the next generation of home console gaming, I have to say that Sony really seem to have an excellent ecosystem coming together. It’s an exciting time to be a gamer.

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