Playstation Vita ready for Europe launch

The Playstation Vita
Image caption Over half a million Playstation Vitas have been sold in other markets so far

Sony's new handheld console - the Playstation Vita - is set to launch in Europe on Wednesday.

The device launched in Japan last Christmas and Sony say more than half a million units have now been sold.

It will be a rival to Nintendo's 3DS, boasting a quad-core processor and 5in (12.7cm) OLED touch screen.

However, it is entering a competitive market as mobile casual gamer space becomes increasingly dominated by game applications for smartphones.

Two different versions of the device will go on sale: a model with wi-fi connectivity for £229 and an enhanced version that also uses the 3G mobile network.

Johnny Minkley, from video gaming website Eurogamer, said the Vita was "the most competent handheld gaming system ever made", but he believed price would be an issue.

Image caption Some gaming industry pundits have questioned Sony's use of proprietary memory cards

"It is a high-end device and Sony has shot itself in the foot with the proprietary memory cards, which is an added expense which everyone needs to make on day one," he added.

Launch line-up

When Nintendo launched its 3DS system last year, sales were poor, forcing the company to slash 40% of the price, despite critical acclaim.

It was not until games such as Mario Kart were launched that sales of the 3DS started to pick up.

In contrast, the Vita will have 30 different games available at launch. Some will be full-price commercial titles, while others are third-party downloads priced at under £10.

The device has had mostly positive response from the gaming media. Tech Radar gave it four-and-a-half stars out of five andsaid it took "gaming to a new level".

However, CNet gave it andistinctly average three out of five starsand said it was "bulky with an unimpressive battery life".

The site added: "All but the most hardcore gaming nuts would be better served by something like the iPod touch."

Jim Ryan, president and CEO of Sony Europe, told the BBC the device would stand out among smartphones and tablets.

"Gaming on the smartphone and tablet is a reality and it would be foolish to stick our heads in the sand," he said.

"We have to demonstrate that our device and the gaming experience is differentiated and we provide great value to justify the financial outlay they have to make to buy into Vita."

'Pent-up demand'

Piers Harding Rolls, an analyst with Screen Digest, said CNet had highlighted a problem that, longer term, Sony may have to face up to.

"There are plenty of other devices out there offering games content, so the market is very competitive.

"Our sales figure prediction is not a small amount by any means, but if you compare it to smartphones, it is but a subset," he added.

Image caption As well as traditional rivals like Nintendo, the Vita will also face a growing smartphone gaming market

Sony said that, for the first two years, it would be targeting its core demographic: 18 to 25-year-old males who were gamers first and foremost.

"When we get to year two and year three, we will try to broaden the demographic to bring in the younger consumer - the more casual consumer, perhaps," said Mr Ryan.

How Sony will achieve that remains to be seen.

"Many people have smartphones so already have games on the move," said Mr Minkley.

"The biggest questionmark is, who is it for, outside of gamers. Where does Vita fit in? Right now, I really don't know."

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