With its new NGP portable entertainment gadget, Sony has stuck to its tried-and-true strategy of packing as much technology as it possibly can into a device.
From a quad-core processor to multiple motion sensors, the NGP, which Sony announced today, has more technology packed into it than any other gadget out there. That tells us a few things about its chances for success, its likely pricing, and where it’s going to fit in the market among the competitors.
The device will likely cost around $299 at debut. By comparison, Nintendo’s new 3DS will start selling for $250 in March, and Apple’s iPod Touch models start at $229. This kind of Sony device will appeal to the company’s core crowd of hardcore gamers. But that may not be the winning bet.
All-out technology for technology’s sake hasn’t won lately. In recent years, gimmicks such as motion-sensing have ruled the video game market. Nintendo went with the cheaper Wii system and its motion-sensing controller, undercutting Sony and Microsoft on pricing and taking the No. 1 position. The DS also took the No. 1 spot, even though it didn’t have fancy technology compared to the PSP. That’s because Nintendo had cool games such as Nintendogs.
The good thing for Sony is that it has also made some smart bets. It has gone with flash memory technology for storing games, not its earlier spinning-disk media format (the universal memory disk) that it used in the PSP. That will allow content to be downloaded directly on the device. Unfortunately, this is only a partly good decision, as the flash memory format looks like it will be proprietary. That choice appears to be an attempt to head off piracy, but users won’t like the lock-in.
And there was another good decision: Sony has introduced PlayStation Suite, a way to publish NGP games on Android phones and a way to bring Android games to the NGP. That’s perhaps the wisest thing Sony has done, since it will keep gamers from feeling like they’re locked into a Sony-only solution for games. Sony will also let users enjoy non-gaming apps through the Android connection.
But everything else is a big bet on technology. For processing power, Sony has gone over the top with a quad-core ARM Cortex A9 processor at a time when many other mobile devices are starting to use their first dual-core devices. The graphics processor comes from Imagination Technologies, which designed the PowerVR SGX543MP4+, a beefed up version of earlier graphics components. Sony says that the performance will be a lot like the PlayStation 3’s visual rendering powers, which are considerable. The previous PlayStation Portable was more like PS 2.5 in terms of graphics capability. The graphics sound cool, but will likely make the device more expensive.
With motion-sensing, the NGP has tossed in the kitchen sink. It has added a compass, three-axis gyroscope, and a three-axis accelerometer. That’s pretty much what Sony included in the PlayStation Move, a motion-sensing wand introduced in September for the PlayStation 3. The only thing missing is some kind of 3D depth camera, as Microsoft uses in Kinect. But you can expect the NGP to have very precise motion control with this device.
The device also has front and rear-facing cameras, which can be used for video phone calls when used with the device’s 3G and Wi-Fi wireless technology. The wireless capability will allow people to download games directly into the device; the inability to do so with the previously launched PSPgo device was a sore point with users, who had to get its games via a PS 3 or PC connection. Sony has clarified that not all the devices will have 3G; some models will be Wi-Fi only.
The rear touch pad, which allows you to touch objects on the screen from the back, has been used in some smartphones. But it hasn’t been used in a gaming device yet. The benefit is that you can have a touch-controlled game on a relatively small screen, since your fingers won’t block the view of the action.
And the screen is a 5-inch capacitive touch screen with 16 million colors. Since it’s an organic light emitting diode (OLED), it’s going to be both thin and incredible to look at. But it may draw a lot of power. Sony says the device will get four or five hours use on a battery charge.
The company hasn’t said if the device will be used as a phone, but clearly it has the technology for that.
The only technology that Sony chose not to put in the device is stereoscopic 3D, which Nintendo is using in the 3DS. Kaz Hirai, overall chief of Sony’s networked products group, said that game developers asked Sony not to go down that road. That’s a rare act of restraint on Sony’s part, since the rest of Sony is busy making 3D TVs and Blu-ray players.
Sony’s NGP is likely coming out this holiday season.