Showdown: PlayStation Vita vs Nintendo 3DS

Will the Vita be able to catch up and dominate the market? Let’s look a bit deeper

Sony's PlayStation Vita

Sony's PlayStation Vita

With the launch today of Sony’s new dedicated handheld console, the PlayStation Vita, there are again two “new generation” handheld consoles out there. The Nintendo 3DS has had over half a year head start on the Vita, but it only started selling well around Christmas time with some big game launches.

Will the Vita be able to catch up and dominate the market? Let’s look a bit deeper.

The Hardware

Without a shadow of a doubt, the Vita is the more powerful console. Capable of producing visuals that are almost PlayStation 3 quality, this is one powerful console. It’s backed up with an awesome OLED screen that, while not Retina display in quality, is bright and vibrant, and far bigger than any phone you might want to use.

In terms of inputs, the Vita enjoys dual analogue sticks, plenty of buttons, and rear and front touch panels to give people a wide range of play options.

The Nintendo 3DS’ hardware rests on one gimmick – the glasses-free 3D screen. Indeed, one of the reasons the 3DS struggled to take off in the early months was that 3D is a hard sell – a fact the television makers have also struggled with.

That 3D screen does provide for a very different visual style in games, though, and indeed, it is such a striking effect that it compensates for hardware that is barely up to Nintendo Wii standards.

There’s also a single touch screen, and a very comfortable circle slider pad in the place of the analogue sticks. The lack of a second analogue input device has proved to be so problematic that Nintendo has had to develop an ugly hardware attachment to give players what comes on the Vita by default.

Conclusion: The Vita was always going to win this category, but the PSP won similar contests against the Nintendo DS, and proceeded to sell about a third as many consoles worldwide. Power isn’t everything.

The Games

This is where a console is successful or not, and Nintendo has a big leg up here. With Mario Kart, Super Mario Brothers, Nintendogs, Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil games, Nintendo and its partners have built a range of games that should appeal to most gamers.

Nintendo also has the advantage that games produced for the 3DS are not easy to recreate on the competition, so essentially every game is an “exclusive” experience to the console. Furthermore, all Nintendo DS games will work on the 3DS, and that’s a library some 1000 titles in size.

The Vita meanwhile, is a very new console, but launched with a very strong line-up. Uncharted is a blockbuster game, and there are some 20 other games exclusively for the Vita. The console is also able to download and play PSP games from Sony’s digital shop, the PlayStation Network, meaning there’s a big back catalogue of classic games available from day one.

Conclusion: It’s a draw, really. Both consoles already have classic games, so whichever you go with you’re likely to get your money’s worth.

Non-game applications

Though the Vita will never rival the iPhone, there’s a lot you can do with it that doesn’t involve playing games. There’s Facebook and Twitter, as well as a robust map tool. Sony’s online store has a lot a movies available for purchase, much like you would with iTunes.

There’s also standard music and photo applications, and though the Vita’s cameras aren’t superb at 1.3 megapixel, they do fine for Facebook or taking random videos. There’s an internal camera too, which can be used for video chat. There’s also a number of voice chat options for anyone you add to your PlayStation Network friends list.

There’s also the neat ability to wirelessly connect the Vita up with your PlayStation 3. Remote play then allows the PS3 content to stream through the Vita, allowing you to play your games away from the TV.

The 3DS is a far more limited non-gaming tool. There’s a charming little messaging service, but you’ll only be able to message your 3DS-owning friends. There’s a video app that streams a few basic videos each week, and if you’re in the US, you can get Netflix.

The social system of the 3DS is quite inferior to the Vita, as you’ll need to exchange 12-digit “Friend Codes” before you’ll be able to add your friend to your 3DS, and then it works like a basic presence system – telling you when the friend is online, but not allowing you to directly message them.

One neat feature of the 3DS is StreetPass. When two people pass by each other on the street, their 3DS consoles “talk” to one another, and exchange basic avatar and game information with each other. It’s a great deal of fun to get home from work and find a few new scores on a game’s leaderboard to beat. The 3DS does handle this is a far more accessible manner than the Vita equivalent, which is called “Near.”

Conclusion: If you want to use your console for more than just playing games, then the Vita is the way to go (assuming you don’t have a smart phone, which is a cut above again).

Price

The 3DS is far cheaper than the Vita. The RRP is $249, though if you shop around it can likely be found even cheaper. Games also tend to be cheaper, and the console is good to go out of the box.

The Vita, meanwhile, retails for around $349, and more if you want the 3G version. Furthermore, the console uses a proprietry memory card format that is expensive (around $30/ 4 GB) and is absolutely necessary if you want to play games on the console; there is no internal memory.

However, it’s possible to instead fork over $55/month to Vodafone and get a Vita console on a 1.5GB/ month plan. For some, paying a monthly fee rather an up-front cost will be very attractive.

Conclusion: For price sensitive consumers, the 3DS is by far the more attractive option.

So which wins?

If Sony is able to get the console into enough consumer hands that developers continue to support it with quality games and applications, then it’s hard to imagine the mass market won’t respond this time. While the 3DS does have a great 3D effect, that’s an effect only attractive to a small percentage of the population, and the Vita promises more in just about every category.

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