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Sony Sets Release Date for the Impressive Next Generation Portable

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Sony Sets Release Date for the Impressive Next Generation Portable

Sony Computer Entertainment America’s successor to the PlayStation Portable (PSP) gaming system, codenamed the Next Generation Portable (NGP), will be available at the end of 2011. The PlayStation Suite, a new gaming platform compatible with portable Android smartphones and devices, will also be forthcoming this year, it was revealed at a recent Tokyo press event.

Sporting WiFi- and 3G connectivity, the NGP handheld will include a surprisingly bright and colorful 5-inch touchscreen, rear-mounted multitouch control pad and play games stored on memory cards. It aims to make featured titles look and feel more realistic, allowing in-game actions to be controlled by push, pull and tug gestures.

An array of gesture-tracking options, including three motion sensors, a gyroscope, accelerometer and electronic compass are all meant to provide deeper immersion, letting owners tilt, turn and physically move the system to produce on-screen responses. Paired with a standard-issue directional pad, dual analog joysticks and buttons, the possibilities for new portable game concepts and controls are suddenly that much greater, constrained only by application and game makers’ imaginations. The interface elements should allow you to explore 3D simulated worlds with greater ease, equipping virtual items with the swipe of a finger before angling your wrists to level a plasma rifle at photorealistic onrushing aliens.

Powered by a beefy, quad-core CPU and dedicated custom graphics processor, expect next-gen visuals and atmosphere. The system is capable of producing PlayStation 3-quality graphics (PS3 games can allegedly be directly exported to the device); at the press event, developers showed the NGP running titles like Metal Gear Solid 4 and Yakuza 4. Support will come from game makers including Konami, Sega, Koei, Activision and Capcom. New titles for the system include fresh installments in the Call of Duty, Hot Shots Golf, Killzone, Metal Gear Solid, Monster Racher, Wipeout, LittleBigPlanet and Uncharted franchises.

Instead of the previously utilized Universal Media Disc (UMD) format, compatible games will ship on new flash memory cards, to which game data and downloadable add-ons can be stored or saved directly. As a result, owners of the original PlayStation Portable may not be able to play disc-based games, with backwards compatibility reportedly limited to downloadable PSP titles.

A built-in GPS will also power new location-based services via the PlayStation Network, with a preinstalled app, titled “Near,” letting you share game info and quickly find nearby friends and discover what they’ve been playing. All video game titles will also support an online-enabled “LiveArea” for sharing game updates and enjoying access to the PlayStation Network multiplayer and online shopping service. As part of the service, regular activity updates will keep tabs on your in-game progress and blast the news to friends.

Next Generation Portable systems also feature two cameras, front- and rear-mounted, enabling use with augmented reality apps and communications programs, with social gaming and interactivity key design focuses.

A new PlayStation Suite gaming platform, aimed at snaring both casual and diehard gamers by bringing certified “PlayStation quality” games to Android mobile phones and tablet PCs, is also planned this year. Initial offerings will include original PlayStation games (dubbed PS1 classics), with a PlayStation Store allowing users to download new titles right to their portable device. Apps and games created for this service can also be played on the Next Generation Portable.

Exact details on timing, price and full software release calendars are forthcoming for both the NGP and PlayStation Suite.

While Sony Ericsson’s long-rumored Xperia Play smartphone wasn’t discussed at the event, insiders expect news to break at Barcelona, Spain’s Mobile World Congress event in mid-February.

All new ventures hope to reclaim Sony’s industry-leading status, with the PlayStation Portable, despite its superior technical capabilities, having been outsold in recent years by the Nintendo DS, which enjoys more widespread developer support. Whether it can triumph against new rival the Nintendo 3DS, capable of glasses-free 3D special effects, remains unproven. But given the Next Generation Portable’s robust hardware specs, it’s clear to see that Sony is again betting on power and performance, coupled with extensive online connectivity, to outmaneuver the competition.

From the looks of initial offerings, millions of players tired of settling for smaller games and simpler technical tricks than those typically found on set-top console systems may agree with the decision.

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