Hardware Review: PlayStation Vita Console

Of course putting photos and other content on the machine wouldn’t be much use without apps to deal with them, and cunningly these are named Photos, Music and Videos! However these programs are quite some way from being the perfect set of media handlers, with some obvious flaws.

The video playback app is decent enough, and has improved since the machines launch. The list of supported formats is rather restricted, however,  with it only supporting  file that are either MPEG-4 simple profile level six up to 1280 x 720 pixels with AAC sound or H.264/MPEG-4 AVC profile level 4 up to 1080p, again with AAC sound, necessitating the installation of a video converter to your computer. Playback is more than acceptable and the footage looks as good as it could be, and you can set it up to continuously play through all the files on your system and skip using the shoulder buttons (but annoyingly not fast forward/fast rewind). One slight annoyance is that you can’t zoom the video, so, for instance, a letter-boxed video file cannot be forced to fir the screen.

The music app was incredibly disappointing at launch as it didn’t even support play lists, but at least it can now import these from the PS3. However the inability for the machine to create a play list is laughable and utterly beyond being forgivable. Ok fine you have automatically created “frequently played”, “recently played” and “recently added” lists and can organise by artist, album, song or genre, as well as shuffle play all MP3s… but REALLY? Seriously Sony – look at an iPod and learn – anything an iPod can do, especially the iPod touch, the Vita should have been doing at launch (hell the PSP should have been doing it 7 years ago…) The touch screen interface is reasonable enough with an equaliser available along with the repeat and shuffle options. The equaliser only has a few settings which is okay but some form of graphic equaliser might have been nice to “shape” the sound as you wanted it. However another unforgivable omission is that the should buttons don’t act as skip/fast forward etc. The PSP music app was better!  Fortunately the app runs in the background happily and appropriate other apps can pause the music while they take over the sound output. The very basic pause/play and skip touch screen buttons are available when you minimise the music app with the PS button. If you hold down the PS for a second regardless of what you are doing, you get access to the basic audio controls as well as a music volume slider and screen brightness slider, plus a tick box to disable the microphone and whether or not to allow the Party app to take priority over the audio.

The photo app is also reasonably basic but does offer slideshow options, and you can use the front and back cameras to take photos and videos. Bizarrely any video footage taken has to be played from the photo app and not the video one though! At least JPEG, TFF, GIF and PNGs are supported. Any images on the system can be accessed using the categories All, By month, Folders, Camera Images and Screen shot, which are all reasonably self explanatory. Screen shots can be taken by the underlying Vita system software from within any of its apps or games by simultaneously pressing the PS, Start and Select buttons. However some game developers need to remember this when setting up their game controls, as grabbing screen shots sometime is a little tricky! Luckily the screen shots menu files the shots by which game or app they were taken from, which is rather useful. When viewing images, unless you are using the slideshow functionality, you have to swipe across to change image, and again like the music app the shoulder buttons do nothing. That’s just daft.

The final pre-installed app is the Welcome Park. Presented as a series of mini-game like tutorials the welcome park essentially teaches you how to use the features of the Vita including the touch screen, motion controls and microphone, gaining trophies on your way. You can even tap the little man in the corner to replay the video that introduced the Vita to you when you first booted it up.

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