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Category: PlayStation

Sony PlayStation Vita hands-on [Video]

Sony's PlayStation Vita has got me intrigued.

As much of the gaming world has moved toward smartphones and tablets, I've wondered if consumers (or myself as a gamer) would take to new handheld consoles the way they did with the Vita's predecessor, the PlayStation Portable.

But after spending a few minutes with the Vita in my hands at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, my interest has piqued.

If you've played video games on the PlayStation Portable, which affectionately became known to most as the PSP, then the Vita will look very familiar at first glance. Joysticks and buttons are placed to the left or right of a nice, wide display and the graphics produced by the system are detailed and sharp.

But unlike the PSP, there are many features of the Vita that better equip Sony's handheld formula for competition in a smartphone-riddled future. On the front of the Vita is a 5-inch OLED touchscreen and a similarly sized touch panel can be found on the back of the device.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Sony PlayStation Vita

I played a bit of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, one of the titles that will launch with the Vita during its U.S. release on Feb. 22, and the game used traditional controls and the touchscreen. And switching between the different control options was intuitive and easy.

The Vita can also be used as a controller for Sony's PlayStation 3 home console, which could bring touch controls to even more games if developers embrace this feature. Though I didn't get to spend a long time with Uncharted or the Vita, the potential for some really creative game-play options was obvious. 

The Vita will also run a number of smartphone-like apps, including apps for the photo-sharing site Flickr and video-streaming service Netflix, local-discovery app FourSquare and social networks Facebook and Twitter.

There are also two cameras on the Vita, one on the front and one on the back, and in the few test shots I snapped on the CES showroom floor, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Photos didn't seem to be high quality and colors were washed out and not sharp. Sony wouldn't say what the resolution of the cameras would be for the U.S. release of the Vita, but the Japanese version (which went on sale on Dec. 17) featured VGA-quality cameras in front and back with a resolution of 640-by-480 pixels, which is about the same as an Apple iPad 2. 

We'll be getting a review unit of the Vita in a few weeks, and I'll reserve final judgement for then, but after my hands-on time with the system, there's a lot to like and a few things that I'm not so excited about (aside from the camera). One of them is the pricing of Vita's new proprietary memory cards. 

The Vita will sell for either $249 in a Wi-Fi-only version or $299 for a 3G/Wi-Fi model that runs on AT&T's network. AT&T is offering no-contract data plans for the Vita of $14.99 for 250 megabytes of data per month, or three gigabytes for $30. Games (on a new card format and not the UMDs found in the PSP) will sell for about $9.99 to $49.99, according to Sony. All of that seems to be pretty fair pricing in my opinion.

However, memory cards for the Vita -- which you will definitely need if you want to store any apps, downloadable games, movies, music, photos or any other content on the Vita -- are sold separately.

A four-gigabyte memory card will sell for $19.99. Not bad. An eight-gigabyte card will sell for $29.99 and a 16-gigabyte card will sell for $59.99. Getting a bit higher. And, a 32-gigabyte card will sell for a whopping $99.99.

It seems a bit painful to think you may end up spending an extra $100 after plunking down as much as $300 for a Vita, but this is the current reality, depending on how much stuff you'd like to store in the device. Ouch. 


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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Photo: The game Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Sony PlayStation Vita. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Sony's Tablet S gets $100 price cut

Sony Tablet S

Sony has cut $100 off the price of its first tablet, the Tablet S, in a move to entice consumers to its Android slate.

Those who buy a Tablet S also receive a free 180-day trial of Sony's Music Unlimited service, as well as five free rentals from Sony's Video Unlimited Service.

Through the end of January, the company is offering up five free downloadable "Classic PlayStation" games in its PlayStation Store app for new Tablet S owners as well.

The price drop, as listed in Sony's online store, pushes the Tablet S down to $399.99 with 16 gigabytes of built-in storage or $499.99 for 32 gigabytes of storage.

The dual-screen Sony Tablet P, which made its debut alongside the Tablet S as a prototype in April, still hasn't been released or given a launch date, although the tech giant promises it is on the way.

The Tablet S features a 9.4-inch touchscreen with 1280 x 800 resolution and a wedge-like shape that makes the slate feel something like a rolled magazine in the hand. A Wi-Fi Internet connection is needed for use.

The device also has a 5-megapixel camera in the rear and a 0.3-megapixel camera up front, 1-gigabyte of RAM and a dual-core Nvidia Tegra2 processor. The tablet runs on Google's Android Honeycomb operating system, but Sony has promised an update to the newer Android Ice Cream Sandwich.


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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Image: A Sony Tablet S running Sony's Video Unlimited service. Credit: Sony

Sony to take over Sony Ericsson

Sony Ericsson

Sony has agreed to buy Ericsson's half of the Sony Ericsson smartphone-making joint venture, the two companies announced on Thursday.

Sony will pay Ericsson about $1.5 billion for its stake in the company, which makes a wide range of smartphones with some Google Android handsets among its offering.

The move will make Sony Ericsson a "wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony and integrated into Sony's broad platform of network-connected consumer electronics products," the companies said in a statement on the deal, which has been rumored for months.

Sony's connected products include desktop and laptop PCs, tablets, TVs, digital cameras, Blu-ray players and PlayStation gaming consoles, as well as online services such as the PlayStation Network or Sony Online Entertainment. The tech giant also owns the Sony Pictures film studio and record labels as well.

As a part of the deal, Sony and Ericsson will also cross-license and share in ownership of "five essential patent families "relating to wireless handset technology."

The patent segment of this deal reflects the growing concern handset makers have for growing their respective patent portfolios.

Sony teamed with Apple, Microsoft and three others to buy more than 6,000 patents from the bankrupt Canadian tech company Nortel earlier this year for $4.5 billion.

Google is known for having one of the weaker patent portfolios in the mobile technology space, and Microsoft and Apple have ended up in patent battles with various companies using the Android operating system on smartphones and tablets.

A number of companies are paying Microsoft royalties to use Android, which Google gives away for free. Google has been working on beefing up its patent holdings. The company purchased Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion as part of that effort.

"With a vibrant smartphone business and by gaining access to important strategic IP, notably a broad cross-license agreement, our four-screen strategy is in place," said Howard Stringer, Sony's chairman, chief executive and president in a statement. "We can more rapidly and more widely offer consumers smartphones, laptops, tablets and televisions that seamlessly connect with one another and open up new worlds of online entertainment."

Sony Ericsson was launched on Oct. 1, 2001, and at that time combined "the unprofitable handset operations from Ericsson and Sony," the two companies said. "Following a successful turnaround the company has become a market leader in the development of feature phones by integrating Sony's strong consumer products knowledge and Ericsson's telecommunications technology leadership. The Walkman phone and Cyber-shot phone are well-known examples."

But feature phones (or just regular cellphones that can do things such as store and play music, shoot photos and video but not run full-out mobile apps) are less desired nowadays than smartphones and with connectivity and online services becoming increasingly important, Sony sees an opportunity in taking over the company fully.

"Ten years ago when we formed the joint venture ... it was a perfect match to drive the development of feature phones," said Hans Vestberg, chief executive and president of Ericsson. "Today we take an equally logical step as Sony acquires our stake in Sony Ericsson and makes it a part of its broad range of consumer devices. We will now enhance our focus on enabling connectivity for all devices, using our R&D and industry leading patent portfolio to realize a truly connected world."

The boards of both companies have approved the buyout deal, which is subject to regulatory approval. Sony and Ericsson said they expect the deal to close sometime in January.


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Sony: 93,000 PlayStation, Online Entertainment accounts hacked

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Image: Sony Ericsson Xperia Play smartphone. Credit: Sony Ericsson

Sony: 93,000 PlayStation, Online Entertainment accounts hacked

Sony PlayStation

Sony's hacking problems aren't over yet.

On Wednesday morning, Philip Reitinger, Sony's newly hired chief information security officer, said that about 93,000 PlayStation Network and Sony Online Entertainment user accounts have been breached in a Web attack.

The attack is merely the latest for Sony, which has been dealing with online assaults on its user accounts most of the year. So far, more than 90 million Sony user accounts across the company's online services have been breached, which led to online video gaming services being suspended for more than a month.

The security breaches haven't been limited to Sony's gaming business either. Sony's cloud-based Qriocity music service, Sony music websites and Sony Pictures websites have been hacked this year too.

Reitinger, whom Sony hired in September, is a veteran of the online security world and formerly was a top security official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Microsoft Corp.'s chief trustworthy infrastructure strategist. He's also worked for the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice and holds a law degree from Yale.

Sony created an entirely new position for Reitinger in hiring him in a bid to show it was serious about changing what is becoming an image of having a weak security system for users of its online services.

In a statement on Sony's PlayStation blog, Reitinger said it is unsure how successful or widespread the most recent attacks have been, but it has "detected attempts" to crack into Sony's Entertainment Network, PlayStation Network and the Sony Online Entertainment services "to test a massive set of sign-in IDs and passwords against our network database."

"These attempts appear to include a large amount of data obtained from one or more compromised lists from other companies, sites or other sources," he said. "In this case, given that the data tested against our network consisted of sign-in ID-password pairs, and that the overwhelming majority of the pairs resulted in failed matching attempts, it is likely the data came from another source and not from our Networks."

Reitinger said that Sony has made moves to fend off the attacks.

"Less than one tenth of one percent (0.1%) of our PSN, SEN and SOE audience may have been affected," he said. "There were approximately 93,000 accounts globally (PSN/SEN: approximately 60,000 accounts; SOE: approximately 33,000) where the attempts succeeded in verifying those accounts' valid sign-in IDs and passwords, and we have temporarily locked these accounts. Only a small fraction of these 93,000 accounts showed additional activity prior to being locked."

The nearly 93,000 accounts that were hacked and then locked down are currently under review by Sony so the company can figure out if an outside party really did access those accounts or not, Reitinger said.

Despite what Sony believes is the likely hacking of the large number of accounts, credit card numbers were not at risk in the security breach, he said. However, Sony "will work with any users whom we confirm have had unauthorized purchases made to restore amounts in the PSN/SEN or SOE wallet," Reitinger said.

"As a preventative measure, we are requiring secure password resets for those PSN/SEN accounts that had both a sign-in ID and password match through this attempt," he said. "If you are in the small group of PSN/SEN users who may have been affected, you will receive an email from us at the address associated with your account that will prompt you to reset your password."

"Similarly, the SOE accounts that were matched have been temporarily turned off. If you are among the small group of affected SOE customers, you will receive an email from us at the address associated with your account that will advise you on next steps in order to validate your account credentials and have your account turned back on."


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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Photo: A customer watches a video of a Sony PlayStation 3 video game console at a Tokyo electronics retailer on April 27. Credit: Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP/Reuters

Sony to launch PlayStation Vita in Japan in December

Sony Sony Worldwide Studios chief Shuhei Yoshida demonstrates PlayStation Vita
Sony will launch its next-generation handheld gaming console, the PlayStation Vita, in Japan on Dec. 17 and debut it in other countries next year, reports say.

The Vita, expected to be a strong competitor to Nintendo's 3DS gaming console, will reportedly bypass the holiday shopping season in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world, missing out on potentially big sales.

At a Wednesday news conference, Hiroshi Kawano, head of Sony's Japanese game unit, said the device will be "packed with every possible function," according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Indeed, the Vita will contain some fancy specs, including a 5-inch touch-screen display and a touch pad on the rear for controlling games with finger motions, cameras in the front and back (features the Nintendo DS line has had for a while) and wireless capability.

The Vita will also have functions outside of gaming. Kawano said the console will have a music player, its own Web browser, photo and video apps and access to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, according to Dow Jones Newswires. 

The console will be priced at $249 for the Wi-Fi only model and $300 for the 3G/Wi-Fi version.

The Vita could help prop up Sony's gaming business, which was dealt a serious setback this year when hackers dug their way into its PlayStation Network, compromising the personal data of millions of gamers and forcing the Japanese company to temporarily shutter its online gaming service. The consumer electronics giant estimated the cost of repairing the hacker damage at nearly $172 million, only about $30 million less than the damage suffered from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March.

By releasing the Vita after the holiday season, Sony will also miss a chance to speed past Nintendo as the leader in sales of portable gaming consoles. Despite fanfare surrounding the device, Nintendo's 3DS console has yet to catch on with consumers in a big way, selling 4.3 million units worldwide so far. Last year, Nintendo sold 27 million units of the previous generations of DS consoles. On Aug. 12, Nintendo dropped the price of the 3DS to $169.99 from $249.99.

Handheld gaming consoles are facing serious competition as people increasingly play games and watch entertainment designed for smart phones, tablet computers and social networks.


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Photo: Sony Worldwide Studios chief Shuhei Yoshida demonstrates the company's new PlayStation Vita during a speech at the Tokyo Game Show on Thursday. Credit: Koji Sasahara / Associated Press

Sony slices price of PlayStation 3 game console

Sony PlayStation 3

In a move that could give video-game sales a much-needed adrenaline boost, Sony Corp. has knocked $50 off the price of its PlayStation 3 game console.

The price drop, announced at the Gamescon conference in Germany, applies to both the 160-gigabyte and the 320-gig version, which will sell for $249.99 and $299.99 respectively. The console launched in November 2006 at $499.99 for a 20-gig model and $599.99 for a 60-gig machine.

"The new price will make the PS3 more accessible than ever before," said Jack Tretton, president of Sony's PlayStation business, in a company blog post.

It's also expected to help sales of video games, which have been hammered by an anemic global economy that has caused consumers to pull back on discretionary spending. In July, for example, U.S. sales of console and computer games hit their lowest mark since October 2006, according to market research firm NPD Group.

Among the three major console manufacturers, Nintendo Co. has been hit hardest as demand for its Wii has dried up. Sales of Nintendo's newest console, the handheld 3DS launched in March at $349.95, have been so lackluster that the Japanese company has been forced to chop the price twice, down to $169.99. That prompted complaints from buyers who paid full price just a few months earlier, and led to a formal apology from Nintendo Chief Executive Satoru Iwata.

Though sales of the PS3 have grown steadily since its introduction five years ago, Sony has not been immune to the current weakness in consumer spending. The company sold 145,000 PS3s in July, down from 215,000 a year earlier, when the platform got a sales lift from its last price cut in June 2010.


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-- Alex Pham

Photo: A person plays a video game at a Sony Playstation in the Sony's flagship store in Berlin, April 27, 2011. Credit: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Sony PlayStation Vita pushed into 2012 for U.S. and Europe

PlayStation Vita

Sony's launch of its PlayStation Vita handheld gaming system won't occur this holiday season in the U.S. and is now being pushed into 2012.

The new gaming system, which will be a follow-up to both the successful but aging PlayStation Portable (PSP) and the slow-selling PSP Go, was previously expected to hit retailers in the U.S. and Europe by the end of the year.

That will no longer be the case, Sony Executive Deputy President Kazuo Hirai told Bloomberg on Thursday. He added, however, that the Vita will launch in Japan before the end of the year.

By not having the Vita in U.S. and European stores this holiday shopping season, Sony is passing up on a chance to rake in big sales.

Bloomberg noted that Sony took in more than 40% its revenue last fiscal year from Christmas sales in the two regions -- something it sorely needs after eight straight years of losses from its Bravia TV unit and costs of more than $172 million related to hacking attacks against the company this year. The cyber attacks have cost Sony nearly as much as the company suffered in damage from the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March.

"The PlayStation business is a key pillar," Hirai told Bloomberg. "The video-game industry is evolving constantly. My expectation is for the PlayStation business to remain at the forefront of this very dynamic industry."

A look at the Vita's specs shows just how serious Sony is taking its gaming business.

The Vita will feature a 5-inch touch screen on the front of the unit and a touch pad on the back for controlling games using hand gestures (a move that can be considered a response to the rise of gaming on touch-screen smartphones). It will also have two cameras, one on the front and another on the back(features the Nintendo DS line has had for some time), that will be used for photos as well as augmented reality gaming.

Sony is also passing up an opportunity to overtake Nintendo as the leader in portable gaming console sales. Nintendo's new handheld, the 3DS, has yet to catch on with consumers and produce the blockbuster sales of its predecessors. So far, Nintendo has sold more than 4 million 3DS units worldwide. Last year, Nintendo sold 27 million units of the previous generations of DS consoles.

As a result, Nintendo is dropping the price of the 3DS to $169.99 from $249.99 starting Aug. 12.

Sony's Vita, when it enters the U.S. market, is set to sell for $249 or $300 in a 3G wireless model.

Hirai told Bloomberg that Sony has no plans to lower its launch price in reaction to Nintendo's move.


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Photo: Sony's PlayStation Vita at the E3 convention in Los Angeles in June. Credit: Fred Prouser / Reuters

Sony's free ID protection offer extended to July 31 for PlayStation, Qriocity users


Sony has extended the cutoff date for its free AllClear ID Plus identity protection offer for PlayStation Network and Qriocity users to July 31.

The Japanese consumer electronics giant first offered the AllClear ID Plus service at no charge in May to protect users who were affected by a massive hacking attack on Sony servers that affected more than 90 million user accounts across the company's online services.

Sony has also been the target of a number of smaller Web attacks from multiple hacker groups that date back to April.

In May, Sony said the AllClear ID Plus offer would end on June 18, but the company extended the offer once before and now it's been pushed further to allow more disgruntled or concerned PlayStation Network and Qriocity users to sign up. The PlayStation Network is Sony's online video gaming service and storefront, while Qrioticy is Sony's cloud-based music service.

The AllClear ID Plus service is a product of a company called Debix, which Sony says is "one of the industry's most reputable identity protection firms."

The offer from Sony includes a free 12-month subscription to the program with "cyber monitoring and surveillance," "priority access to licensed private investigators and identity restoration specialists," and a $1-million ID theft insurance policy for each user who signs up, the company said in a blog post.


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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Photo: The Sony PlayStation logo on the floor of an electronics store in Tokyo. Credit: Reuters / Yuriko Nakao

Sony CEO says hackers pick on company because of PlayStation protection


Sony Chairman and CEO Sir Howard Stringer says the Japanese tech giant became a target for hackers over the last few months in retaliation for its protection of the PlayStation's intellectual property, according to a report.

"We believe that we first became the subject of attack because we tried to protect our IP (intellectual property), our content, in this case video games," Stringer said at a Sony shareholder meeting Tuesday in Tokyo, according to Reuters.

Some Sony shareholders called for Stringer to step down in response to the streak of hacking incidents that the company has fallen prey to, Reuters said.

Sony's troubles with Web attacks launched by various groups of hackers date back as far as April and have affected more than 90 million Sony user accounts across the company's online services -- including its PlayStation Network for online video games, the cloud-based Qriocity music service, Sony music websites and Sony Pictures websites.

No specific hacker groups have taken responsibility for the massive attacks on the PlayStation Network and Qriocity, but Sony has pointed a finger at the hacker-activist group Anonymous, which has denied direct involvement. 

Stringer might not be wrong in his assessment of why Sony's become a favorite target for so many hackers.

The company sued George Hotz, a hacker much beloved by his online contemporaries, after Hotz, who goes by the online name of Geohot, cracked through the security software on the Sony PlayStation 3, loaded his own choice of operating system, then shared with the world how to do the same in postings across the Web.

Sony didn't like that and said Hotz's actions opened up the PS3 gaming console to being used for pirated video games. In April, Hotz and Sony settled the suit, and now Hotz, just 21 years old, is an employee of Facebook.

Stringer, in the shareholder meeting, did, however, make clear that he believes Sony's hacker problems are also part of a growing wave of Web attacks in general.

"I think you see that cyber terrorism is now a global force, affecting many more companies than just Sony," he said, according to Reuters. "If hackers can hack Citibank, the FBI and the CIA, and yesterday the video game company Electronics Arts, then it's a negative situation that governments may have to resolve."


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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Photo: Sony Chairman and CEO Sir Howard Stringer speaks at the presentation of the AFI Life Achievement Award to actor Morgan Freeman on June 9 at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Facebook hires George Hotz, famed PlayStation 3 hacker known as Geohot


Facebook has hired George Hotz, better known in hacker circles as Geohot, who was famously sued by Sony for breaking through the operating system on the PlayStation 3 video game console.

A Facebook spokeswoman, who declined to be named, said in an email to the Technology blog that "George is employed at Facebook," confirming earlier reports of the hiring from the website TechUnwrapped.

Hotz shared his PlayStation 3 breaches with others on the Web looking to run their own software on the PS3 as if it were a standard computer -- something the U.S. Air Force did at one point. Hotz is also known for hacks of the Apple iPhone's iOS.

In April, Hotz settled with Sony. The consumer electronics giant's case had accused the now-21-year-old hacker of violating federal law by publishing details online on how to circumvent the PlayStation 3's software, which Sony said could "allow the playing of pirated video games."

Facebook declined to say what role Hotz would have at the world's largest social network.

The Washington Post reported there was speculation that he's helping build a Facebook iPad app. It would also make sense that Hotz could be hired, in part, to test how hackable and spamable Facebook's social networking site is, in an effort to improve security.


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