Sony PlayStation Vita vs Nintendo 3DS

After announcing the Sony NGP in January 2011, Sony has finally confirmed that its next-generation handheld console will be known as the PlayStation Vita. Officialy unveiled at the E3 gaming show in LA, the Vita sports a 5-inch OLED touchscreen and there will be both Wi-Fi and 3G models available. But, how does it compare to rival, the Nintendo 3DS?

We pitted the two handheld consoles against each other in a tense spec-off to see which one has the most to offer for the mobile gamer. Here's how it panned out.

Dimensions

1st: 3DS
134 x 73 x 20mm, 226g

2nd: Vita
182 x 83.55 x 18.6mm, ???g


The key element for a handheld gaming device is that it should be portable. There's no point having a gadget that's so big that you don't want to carry around all day as it's something that you want to have with you at all times so that you've got games at your fingertips whenever you want.

Like its predecessor, the 3DS is pretty compact and weighs in at just 226g, so it's easily small enough to cart around in your bag and possibly even in your pocket (albeit in a fairly large pocket). In contrast, the Sony PlayStation Vita is a fair bit larger than both the 3DS and the Sony PSP, so unless you've got very big pockets, you'll need to carry it separately. Sony hasn't given an official weight for the PS Vita yet, but according to our hands-on preview from the show floor, it's much lighter than it looks. Whether it can compete with the 3DS's 226g remains to be seen, but for now we reckon the 3DS looks like the more portable of the two.

Display

1st: Vita
5-inch, 960x544, 220ppi

2nd: 3DS
3.53-inch, 3D, 800x240, 237ppi


When it's comes to gaming, one of the most important aspects is the graphics and, if the screen isn't up
to the job, then it won't make for a very enjoyable experience. The PS Vita offers a whopping 5-inch OLED capacitive touchscreen display with a a resolution of 960x544 pixels, which works out at 220ppi. The 3DS is noticeably smaller, with a 3.53-inch display (plus a secondary 3.02-inch QVGA screen).

On the main screen, the 3DS packs a 800x240-pixel resolution and at 237ppi, the pixel density is very slightly higher than in the Vita. However, it's unlikely that this marginal difference would be visible and the fact that the screen is smaller also contributes to cancelling out the advantage for the 3DS. What's more, the OLED technology on the PS Vita is going to make for superb colours and at low battery cost too.

Of course, Nintendo's console does have the advantage of glasses-free 3D capability - although the downside here is that the viewing angle is very limited - but, on balance, the Vita takes this round thanks to the sheer size (and relative pixel density) of its display.

Engine room

1st: Vita
Quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore, SGX543MP4+ GPU

2nd: 3DS
2x 266MHz ARM11, 64MB RAM, PICA200 GPU

When it comes to gaming, the processing power on offer is a key concern, especially when we're talking about the graphics units. So far, we know that the Vita will be powered by a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore chipset. The SGX543MP4+ GPU offers processing at 133 MPolygon/s and a 4GPixel/s fill rate. There's no official word on the RAM count just yet, although it has been suggested that the Wi-Fi model may have less RAM than the 3G version.

Nintendo doesn't seem to have ever officially confirmed exactly what CPU the 3DS uses (beyond it being ARM) but the accepted rumour is two 266MHz ARM11 processors with 64 of RAM. What we know for sure is that the 3DS is based on a custom PICA200 graphics processor which reportedly offers processing at 15.3 Mpolygon/s and 800 Mpixels/s. The fact that the PS Vita will use a quad-core processor, along with a faster GPU means that Sony takes the win in this category.

Connectivity

1st: Vita
Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth 2.1

2nd: 3DS
Wi-Fi



The PS Vita really pushes the boundaries in terms of connectivity and is the first handheld games console to include 3G connectivity. In the US, AT&T will be the exclusive carrier partner, although there's no word on networks for the rest of the world just yet. Along with the the 3G version, they'll also be a cheaper Wi-Fi-only option. The Vita will also include Bluetooth 2.1 connectivity for hooking up with compatible devices. In comparison, the 3DS looks rather basic. Aside from the 3DS/DS games slot and the SD card port, all it offer is Wi-Fi. Sony's PlayStation Vita is the clear winner in this round.

Media

1st: 3DS
DS compatible, 2GB Flash, SD card slot

2nd: Vita
NVG cards, PSP downloads


Rather than sticking to the UMDs used by the PSP, the Vita will use NVG cards - a brand new flash card format, that will be available in 2 and 4GB versions, while higher capacity options are also due to land at some point in the future. Gamers will be able to save gaming data and patches as 10 per cent of the cards' writable space will be held back for this very purpose. The PS Vita will be backwards compatible with PSP games from PlayStation Network downloaded via the PlayStation Store.

As well as suporting the new wave of 3D-capable games from Nintendo, the 3DS is also backwards compatible with existing DS games. It also incorporates 2GB of on-board Flash memory along with an SD card slot. Apart from the the 10 per cent of spare writable space on the Vita's NVG cards, there is currently no other mention of storage capability on Sony's console.

Games

1st: 3DS
15 launch titles, more added since

2nd: Vita
Approx 30 launch titles?


This is a tricky one to call as there are pros and cons to the games selections offered by each console.
The PlayStation Vita has around 30 games confirmed although it's not yet clear whether all of these will be available from launch - they're more likely to be released in waves. Early titles are set to include big names such as Killzone, LittleBigPlanet and Call of Duty, and PSP downloads will also be compatible, but they won't be optimised for PS Vita play.

The 3DS had just 15 launch games lined up when it hit the shops in April although new titles have since been added to the selection and the device is also compatible with existing DS game cards. By the time the Vita launches (near the end of 2011), the 3DS should have a substantial selection of 3D games on offer including the likes of Mario and Zelda in 3D. So, we're tentatively awarding the win to the 3DS for the timebeing as it will have a larger selection of specifically designed games on offer than the PS Vita to begin with. However, as more of the the big gaming sagas land, on both consoles, it's likely that this will eventually result in a draw.

Controls

Tie: Vita
D-Pad, touchscreen, rear touchpad, gyroscope

Tie: 3DS
D-Pad, 3D, gyroscope


Comparing one gaming system to another is never going to be an exercise in objectivity. No doubt most users will have some sort of loyalty towards their chosen gaming brand and the experience and games that it offers. Both consoles on this spec-off have their advantages.

Each includes motions sensors and gyroscopes for physical three-dimensional gaming while the PS Vita has two analogue joysticks to the 3DS's one, a D-pad, a set of standard PlayStation buttons and two shoulder buttons, along with Start, Select and a touchpad on the back. The Vita's capacitive touchscreen means that you'll be able to use it without a stylus, or you stick to the hard controls if you prefer.

The 3DS is equipped with the familiar D-pad, four y, x, a, b buttons as well as start and select configuration from the DSi, along with an analogue joystick and a Home button. It also includes a secondary resistive touchscreen along with the main 3D-capable display. This one is going to come down to personal preference, so we're calling it a tie but that all might change of the rear pad on the Vita turns out to be a marvel.

Video

1st: 3DS
2D video capture, 640×480, 3D playback

2nd: Vita
2D video capture, 640×480


The PS Vita has both front- and rear-facing cameras with Sony quoting frame rates of 120fps at a QVGA resolution (320x240) and 60fps at a VGA resolution (640x480). It's not yet clear which resolution refers to which camera, but the the VGA resolution puts it neck and neck with Nintendo's console in terms of video capture.

Although the 3DS can take 3D snaps, it only offers 2D video capability (at 0.3MP). However, it can show 3D videos and Nintendo has signed deals with BSkyB, Eurosport and Wallace and Gromit animators Aardman studios to bring short clips of their content to the console. Thanks to its 3D playback capability, the 3DS has the slight edge in the video category.

Stills

1st: 3DS
0.3MP 3D images

2nd: Vita
0.3MP, 2D images


While the cameras on mobile phones are getting better, in some cases better than cheap compact cameras, the introduction of photo capabilities to handheld consoles is relatively new. Inevitably, the image quality is still not the same as you'd find on a top-tier smarphone, as the cameras will largely be used for in-game snaps, rather than taking pictures while out and about. The PS Vita incorporates a VGA camera, that's capable of taking 0.3MP snaps. The 3DS ups the ante with two cameras that are capable of taking 3D and 2D photos (also 0.3MP). There's also a camera on the inside, above the top screen, that can take 2D photos and video. Once again, Nintendo's 3D capability puts it slightly ahead of the PS Vita when it comes to imaging.

Social

Tie: 3DS
Messaging System, StreetPass

TIE: Vita
Near, Party


The PS Vita has a new UI called LiveArea which includes several social networking features, via the PlayStation Network. Developed specifically for the new console, Near enables you to find out what other PS Vita users in the vicinity are currently playing and what titles are most popular in the area. You can also meet with chums and new players virtually by sharing game information across PSN using 3G or Wi-Fi. 'Near' also allows for location-based gaming features - for example, you can access virtual items when checking in at certain locations. On top of that, there's a new app called 'Party' which lets you chat (using voice or text) during online gaming and also when you're playing different games or using different applications such as an internet browser

The 3DS is fairly evenly matched when it comes to social gaming. Using StreetPass mode, Nintendo's device can automatically detect other 3DS units nearby and connect to them, enabling you to play games with other users. You can tweak the settings or opt out of the service altogether if you'd rather not play computer games with random people on the street. The 3DS also offers the the Messaging System that replaces PictoChat from previous models and enables users to send and receive messages via the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection. The 3DS will also include an internet browser that will be available by download some time after launch.

Price

1st: 3DS
£157

2nd: Vita
From £229.99?


The only official European price that has been given by Sony for the PS Vita is 299 Euros, which would work at about £266 when converted. However, retailers Amazon UK and GAME have since priced the new console at £229.99 for the Wi-Fi-only model and £279.99 for the 3G version. Whether this turns out to be the final price or not remains to be seen, but it's a cert that it will cost more than the Nintendo's device. Priced at £219 at launch, the 3DS can now be found online for as little as £157, making it a bit of a bargain for a 3D-capable gaming gadget.

Conclusion

In terms of the amount of rounds won in our spec-off, the Nintendo 3DS emerges as the victor. It's compact chassis, lower price, 3D capability and its head start when it comes to the number of games available all put it ahead of the Sony PlayStation Vita. However, the PS Vita also wins several, arguably more important, categories thanks to its impressive 5-inch screen, its superior processing power and GPU, and its 3G connectivity. The consoles are also quite evenly matched in some areas such as social capability.

But, what does all this actually mean in practice? When it comes to the important stuff, the PS Vita looks like a far more powerful machine that's likely to appeal existing PSP and PS3 fans and gamers who want more than what is offered by smartphone gaming or existing consoles on other platforms. The 3DS still has its charms - specifically its 3D capability and its backwards compatibility with the entire DS back cataogue.

We'll know more once as the PS Vita launch date approaches and we can get one in for a full review. In the meantime, you can check out our hands-on preview of the PS Vita and our full review of the Nintendo 3DS.

Will you be saving up your pennies to buy the PS Vita? Let us know in the comments box below.



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