Sony PS Vita (2013)

Sam Byford, The Verge:

The original Vita’s headline feature was its beautiful 5-inch 960 x 544 OLED display, but Sony has made the somewhat controversial decision to replace it with an LCD for cost-saving reasons. On paper, that’s not necessarily a bad thing: LCD technology has improved leaps and bounds since the Vita’s introduction, and many of the best screens in the smartphone world are LCDs.

But the Vita is a fixed gaming platform, so upgrading the resolution was likely never an option for Sony. The new model’s 220 ppi LCD is decidedly behind the curve on paper, then — more like a two-year-old smartphone than an HTC One — but in practice it’s not really a problem for the Vita. Despite Sony’s continued reputation for putting out phones with less-than-top-tier displays, this panel does reasonably well in terms of contrast, color reproduction, and viewing angles, and the resolution is more than sufficient for games and the system’s chunky OS.

Some may even prefer the LCD, as it doesn’t exhibit color shift when viewed at an angle. Still, the punchy colors and fast response time of OLED are perfectly suited to video games, and for me the old model has the better screen overall. It shouldn’t be a big issue for first-time buyers, but many with an original Vita will want to think twice about upgrading.

I get the impression Byford assumes OLED display technology has been ahead of LCD technology and LCD technology had to play catch up. Actually it’s the other way around for the most part. There are three things OLED displays do better than LCD displays: black levels, response times, and thinness. For a portable gaming machine fast response times are paramount and Sony’s choice of OLED was spot on. LCDs are getting better, but they still lag behind OLED displays. OLED displays are generally thinner and if the portable device’s main feature is thinness an OLED display is the best choice. Yes, LCDs have gotten thinner and some are just as thin, but OLED technology has the upper hand. And then there are black levels. Similar to thinness black levels on LCDs have improved over the years, but next to a OLED display those improved black levels look like really dark grey. The biggest knock on OLED is cost relative to LCD. LCD has a massive global manufacturing infrastructure that cranks out millions of LCDs amazingly low cost thanks to years of multi-billion dollar capacity investments. OLED manufacturing infrastructure might eventually get there, but it is not today.

Upgrading the resolution was never an option for Sony? Wrong. Look at Apple. The iPhone’s original 3.5-inch LCD had a pixel format of 480×320 (landscape). Millions—many millions more than the PS Vita—bought the iPhone and when the SDK came out thousands of developers started developing apps for the iPhone. Then Apple introduced the iPhone 4: The pixel format jumped from 480×320 to 960×640. The old apps looked relatively the same because now 2×2 pixels made up a pixel. Sony could have done the same thing and upgraded the display to 1920×1088.

Next, color shift. LCDs don’t exhibit color shift? I’d like to see one. The fact is all LCDs exhibit color shift; it’s a matter of how much. I do agree though about punchy colors: Over-saturated colors might be great for a lot of games, and since the PS Vita is a portable gaming machine an OLED display might have been the better choice. Not that it matters anymore.

Apple has the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch that can be used as portable gaming devices and when at home can be easily connected to a large TV via Apple TV. (I’m sorry but I don’t consider Macs proper gaming hardware.) Microsoft has a similar, larger, more powerful gaming ecosystem: Windows-based desktops, laptops, Windows Phone smartphones, and Xbox. For Sony to compete it will need to reverse course and start building an ecosystem comprised of devices that seamlessly work with one another and much easier than the competition: Sony-branded TVs, desktops, laptops, smartphones, PlayStation, PS Vita, etc. A small example would be to allow starting Gran Turismo 5 on a PlayStation 4 in the living room on a big 4K XBR, resume on the train ride into the city on the Xperia Z, and get back to it during lunch break on a VAIO notebook at work. And then vice versa back home. Unless the Sony experience gets to something like that in the near future updates on the PS Vita will not matter one bit.