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Breaking down the PS Vita TV: Why Sony's $100 set-top box is more than a consolation prize


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Late last night / very early this morning, Sony's PlayStation team finally unveiled a release date for the PlayStation 4 in Japan: February 22, 2014. That's just short of 100 days after the company's new game console launches in the US, and nearly as far away from the console's arrival on European shores -- a far cry from the PlayStation 3's launch strategy, which put the console in Japanese gamers' hands first.

Instead, Sony's got another idea for Japanese gamers this holiday in the PlayStation Vita TV. The $100 set-top Vita hooks up to televisions and functions as a Vita does, albeit with a DualShock 3 paired for control. It'll even act as a Remote Play device for the PlayStation 4 when that console eventually launches in Japan. Unlike some Japan-only PlayStation hardware from Sony's past (PS3's Torne DVR device, for instance), Vita TV seems bound for an international release.

In Sony's official PR, the company says, "PS Vita TV will be available first in Japan prior to any other regions, on November 14, 2013." Prior to any other regions, eh? PlayStation's US counterparts are keeping coy. We asked if the console was being considered for release in North America and were told, "We are considering every opportunity, but have nothing to announce at this time," by an SCEA rep.

Gallery: PlayStation Vita TV eyes-on | 10 Photos

Gallery: PlayStation Vita TV press shots | 16 Photos

Of course, it seems a no-brainer that PS Vita TV will launch in North America and Europe (and elsewhere, for that matter). It's exactly the game console concept that's been rumored for years from the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon: inexpensive, small, media-capable and ready to run media-streaming apps. There's also the convenience of it employing DualShock controllers, a standard known to hardcore and mainstream gamers alike. Sure, it's got some Japan-centric quirks at the moment -- Remote Play won't likely see wide use outside of Japan, nor will the Nasne connectivity -- but it's otherwise ready for international consumption.

OUYA's marketing team can beat the open-source drum as loud as it likes. If Vita TV goes global, stuff like OUYA and GameStick won't stand a chance (in the long run, anyway). For the same price, not only is the Vita TV offering a massive library of games that people actually like and want to play (with some exceptions, sadly), but it also brings the security of the PlayStation brand to consumers. Suddenly, the novelty of OUYA's indie approach comes off as painfully trite; Vita's got a better lineup of indies in a more-polished system, and it's coming from a name you trust. And that's before we mention Netflix, Hulu and Sony's own Music / Video Unlimited stores.

By getting out ahead of the rumored parallels from the likes of Apple and Google, Sony's making a smart play for consumers buying into the PlayStation ecosystem (from Music Unlimited to the Vita game digital storefront) at an incredibly low price point. Vita TV's price is lower than that of even the Vita itself, which just got a price cut! And Microsoft... well, Microsoft's not making much of a play in this arena at all. Despite rumors of an Xbox set-top box circulating for a few years now, no such box ever materialized (and at this point, it's rumored to be little more than a prototype on a shelf somewhere in Redmond).

Japanese gamers may not be getting the new PlayStation 4 this holiday, but that doesn't mean they're not getting a new PlayStation console. Vita TV's a little weird, and a little familiar, but it's got incredible potential for throwing a wrench into the lackluster mobile-device-as-game-console model we've seen thus far. We know: not much solace for Japanese gamers anxiously awaiting the new PS4. But hey, they got it good last time, right?

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