SEPT. 9, 2013 • The PlayStation 4 Japan launch date is now set for February 22nd. When Sony Computer Ent. announced North America would receive the new console on November 15 and November 29 in Europe, no mention was made on when the home market in Japan would receive shipments. The PS4 will be marketed in two SKUs: ¥39,980 ($400) for the console with Dualshock 4 controller, and a ¥43,980 ($441) package that includes the PlayStation camera accessory. Consumers in Japan who preorder the base package will receive the PlayStation 4 First Limited Pack that includes a digital copy of Knack, the new PlayStation exclusive platformer. In related news, Sony has refreshed the Vita handheld in Japan. The new PCH-2000 is 15% lighter and 20% thinner than the existing launch model, and switches out the five-inch OLED screen for a less expensive LCD model of the same dimensions and 960 x 544 pixel resolution. Other changes include the addition of 1GB of storage memory in the unit, as well as eliminating the proprietary USB connector in favor of a normal micro-USB connector. Sony says battery life will increase from five hours to six hours, which may be a result of the change to an LCD screen. The new Vita model arrives in Japan on October 10 at ¥18,980 ($190). Sony is also bringing a new living room device derived from the Vita to Japan on November 14 called PS Vita TV. Smaller than the Vita and without the built in screen, the 6.5cm × 10.5cm x 1.3cm PS Vita TV will retail solo for ¥9,954 ($99), and in a Value Pack that includes a Dualshock 3 controller and 8GB memory card for ¥14,994 ($150). To connect the unit to televisions, video signals are delivered through an HDMI port with WiFi and Bluetooth data connectivity supported. A full size USB port and a 100MB Ethernet port are also provided. As the PS Vita TV shares the same video resolution output as the standard Vita, 720p and 1080i resolutions are supported, but not 1080p. Similarly, the PlayStation 4s Remote Play feature, as well as the Dualshock 4 controller, will be supported in a future operating system update. Sony says the PS Vita TV will arrive with support for more than 1,300 Vita and PSP titles. Access to those titles can be accomplished through both the PlayStation Store and PlayStation Plus without owning a PlayStation 3. Through PlayStation Plus, Japanese consumers who buy a PS Vita TV get a 90-day free trial and will have access to video streaming from services such as Hulu, Niconico, and Tsutaya.
Impact: While Japanese consumers have to wait to get their PS4s, Sony is sweetening that delay with some very intriguing PS Vita devices that arrive there at the same time the U.S. and Europe are getting their new consoles. For handheld-crazy Japan that might not be a bad strategy. For a Japanese company to launch a significant game system in foreign markets first is not unprecedented, yet our impression is that doing so does create some ill-will back home. A more affordable Vita, plus this new living room device, are excellent olive branches, however. The standard Vita has been retailing for ¥19,980 ($213) since February, which helped to boost unit sales considerably. The latest PCH-2000 model is not a great deal less expensive, yet the extra affordability will not go unnoticed, especially when paired with onboard memory for the first time. A lighter and smaller footprint, plus greater battery life will also be welcome to portable-conscious consumers. The extra marketing spend Sony will put behind the new model could lead to more Japanese consumers taking the plunge and buying into the handheld. But it is the PS Vita TV that has really caught our attention. At the equivalent of just under $100, with a wide selection of content, this device could be a boon for the PlayStation Plus service, as well as Sony’s aspirations to be a major content provider in the home. This is the same consumer category that Android consoles such as the Ouya are seeking to corral, but the quality and breadth of PlayStation Plus content is so much richer there really isn’t a contest at this price point. There are some knocks too. The existing Dualshock 3 controller cannot manage all of the input handled by some Vita titles, and video resolution output is a little gimped. At least for input, the upcoming Dualshock 4’s touchpad will alleviate those compatibility issues. Cohabitating with a PS3 or PS4 will add additional options and features, yet we do not see the PS Vita TV as a console-dependent play. In our view the device is a viable conduit to get PlayStation Plus into more homes. For a major consumer electronic firm like Sony with heavy investment in high-end HDTVs, that’s a potentially winning proposition for the company to market around. We’ll have to wait and see how much muscle Sony puts behind this tiny console, and how well it is received, but we see the PS Vita TV as a promising game changer.