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Sony promises thrills with new handheld

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Arts

February 4, 2011

Almost a year ago, Nintendo announced its newest handheld device, the 3DS. With glasses-free 3D gaming, the 3DS stood alone among the next generation of handheld gaming devices.

Now it finally has a competitor. Last week, Sony unveiled what had been considered by many to be Sony’s worst -kept secret—a new handheld system of its own. Having given it the annoyingly generic codename “Next Generation Portable,” Sony plans to release it in Japan this holiday season. No information has become available on a U.S. release date yet, but an announcement should be forthcoming within the next few months.

While it’s still in the developmental stage, Sony’s new handheld is set to include a touch screen as well as next generation hardware comparable to the kind employed by the Playstation 3. Additionally, the system is set to include 3G connectivity in its initial Japanese release. There is no word yet on whether or not any U.S. networks will provide service to the NGP.

Furthermore the handheld, like the current editions of the Playstation 3, will not be backward compatible with Playstation Portable (PSP) discs. The system will be able to play downloaded versions of PSP games for players who prefer digital downloads to disc games. Despite the fears of many trend followers, the one upside remains that the NGP will support physical game cards that you can buy at the retailer of your choice. Throughout last year, insiders noted that Sony seemed likely to move fully into digital distribution despite the failure of their digital distribution only PSP-Go. Thankfully Sony is continuing to offer physical games, which consumers can loan to friends and sell as used when they are done with them.

It’s a good move for Sony to release a new handheld now, as it will possibly revive interest in Sony’s library of games. The previous system, the PSP, has been going through a long and protracted death as fewer games for it have been released, and the devices have also been sitting unsold on store shelves. With improved hardware and better interaction with the Playstation 3, the NGP certainly appears set to improve on the system it is destined to replace.

Of course, how the NGP will compare with Nintendo’s 3DS remains to be seen. As things currently stand, Sony’s PSP offered superior graphics and an experience closer to console systems, yet it was unable to eclipse the success of Nintendo’s DS system. Now Sony is once again attempting a similar strategy by offering higher quality visuals and an experience closer to that of playing with a console. Unlike the current generation, the NGP doesn’t appear to offer any significantly new features except, perhaps, for 3G network access, compared to the way Nintendo’s revolutionary 3DS introduced glasses-free 3D effects.

Whether a new system is necessary is always a matter of personal preference. Personally, I anticipate the system, both as a general enthusiast and as an indicator of where the industry is going. I waited about two-and-a-half years after the release of the PSP before I got one. How long will I wait to get an NGP? Well, that’s still to be determined.

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