Sony positioned the PS Vita to be not just a great handheld, but as the perfect companion for its home console brethren. It sported connectivity with the PS3 before shifting into full gear with the PS4. But as we all know, this wasn’t enough to stop things from turning out pretty poorly for the little system. Still, that doesn’t mean this is truly the end of Sony handhelds. What if there really is a new portable PlayStation on the horizon and it acts as a companion for the PS5? In some ways this might work, but it’s not an idea that I’m particularly fond of.
Right off the bat, I want to mention that I first heard this idea from a video on YouTube made by TnVGaming. They were pretty enthusiastic about the concept of having the PS5 platform essentially split between a dedicated home console and a handheld companion. The gist of the idea is that the new handheld would be able to act as a standalone device, but would also be interconnected with the home unit. It wouldn’t have the same raw power as the home unit but could make up for the power gap by being able to stream games from the home unit in addition to playing less demanding titles natively. As the video brought up, this is similar to what happened with the PS Vita. There have been a few multiplatform games between it and the PS3/PS4, but the vast majority were not the same versions. This is where the Remote Play functionality picked up the slack and in reality, it does work well, but I don’t see that as being a real selling point.
Admittedly, the idea of game streaming as a whole is becoming more popular. In fact, both EA and Microsoft made mention of pursuing it during their E3 press conferences back in June. Thus, it is likely that perhaps within the next few years, game streaming services will be as common as what we have now for movies and music.
But, the biggest thing holding game streaming back is the availability of high-speed Internet on a global scale. Even in developed countries like the US, not everyone has a good enough connection to handle something as demanding as game streaming. Movies and music have been able to convert to this form of media distribution rather easily due to them being consumable-only content. Games are fully interactive. Pro players are already put off if there’s latency in their controller or display, so imagine trying to stream a game on a low-speed connection. Netflix buffering is annoying enough, but a situation like that any in basically any game would be dreadful. Thus, when I consider the idea of a new PlayStation handheld having streaming as one of its main features, I can’t help but be a bit turned off.
Interconnectivity is great, but it has its issues. At home may be fine, but what about when on the go? High-speed Internet availability is still spotty in many places around the world.
What would really make something like this hard to pull off is that it would undercut the handheld’s portability to a certain degree. Let’s say a user’s Internet at home is good enough for game streaming. What about when they’re out, like in a public space such as a restaurant or store, or on a bus or even a plane? In moments like that, high-speed connections aren’t typically readily available. So, if the user’s library is dependent on streaming from the home PS5 unit, they’d have to wait until they get to an area where they could stream properly. That significantly neuters the convenience of having a portable system in the first place.
Still, I’ll give this concept the benefit of the doubt for a moment. Let’s say something like this could be pulled off without the aforementioned hiccups. There is still one issue that would put some people off. In fact, it’s an issue we’ve already seen happen with the Vita and PS4. That’s the fact that this handheld would be a pretty expensive ‘companion’.
In my eyes, companion devices should be simple and economical. Stuff like headphones, keyboards/mice, etc. On the other hand, the PS Vita x PS4 combo proved to be a tough sell. Of course, a lot of people were turned off from the Vita mainly due to its sub-par library and overpriced memory cards. But even if you were to buy it just for the sake of using it alongside your PS4, it still seemed like too big of an investment. If it were an attractive offer, there’d likely be more Vitas out in the wild.
Yet, despite having released two years before the PS4 and being the cheaper device overall, the Vita has sold somewhere in the realm of 13-14 million units worldwide whereas the PS4 is now approaching 80 million. That’s a pretty massive gulf. So, if every single Vita out there were paired with a PS4, that would mean that only 10-11% of PS4 owners would own the ‘companion’ handheld. I can’t help but think that history would repeat itself if the concept of a new handheld going along with the PS5 were to actually become a reality. Meanwhile, we have an elephant in the room—the Nintendo Switch.
The hybrid design of the Nintendo Switch offers a decent middle ground between having a home console and handheld.
I truly believe that one of the main reasons as to why the Switch has become so popular is because it’s a hybrid system: both a home console and a handheld. Nintendo does consider it to be a home console first and foremost, but the beauty of its design is that players are able to decide for themselves on a case-by-case basis what the system really is. It’s this flexibility which makes it so attractive because it’s a console that can adapt to almost any situation. But, this design is not without its own drawbacks. Due to it being a hybrid, the Switch has the serious task of trying to juggle portability with performance. Its small size is good enough to make it portable, but that comes at the cost of raw hardware power even when it’s running at peak power in docked mode.
Mobile technology is continuing to advance quite rapidly, but we’re just not at the point yet where we can fit something like the power of a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X into such a small form factor like the Switch. But even so, I still think this is a better idea than a PS5 being paired with a companion handheld. At the very least, the Switch is able to offer a handheld/console experience as one device rather than a seperated family of devices. So, if Nintendo chooses to expand upon this concept with a successor, I think it’s likely it would be more well-received than a PS5 x Vita 2.
If Sony is interested in the idea of offering the experience of PS5 separate from the main system itself, I think the company might try to do so in other ways. This ties into the aforementioned concept of game streaming. Sony still makes TVs, so for example, perhaps there could be a feature where PlayStation 5 games are streamed via Smart TVs, similar to how some of these TVs have built-in Netflix support. Alternatively, Sony could also offer a service like this through an app for Android and iOS. The whole point is that I see Sony trying to get people to use devices they already own rather than buying two sets of completely new hardware. To me, it just seems like this approach would garner more interest since consumers wouldn’t have to allocate more funds towards their budget.
Ultimately, what I think the PS5 will turn out to be is what all of Sony (and Microsoft’s) home consoles have been this whole time: iterative upgrades. After finding such a sweet spot with the PS4, I would be baffled if Sony tried to shake things up too much with its successor. After all, the industry’s current obsession is making 4K/60FPS (and higher) a reality. Thus, a lot of power is needed for that and only a standard home console could pull something like that off right now.
If Sony really were to try to jump back into the world of handhelds, I don’t see anything other than a Switch-inspired hybrid being the best option. And if things were to turn out like that, it would be interesting to see if Nintendo would once again prove that it owns the handheld space bar-none. After all, neither the PSP or PS Vita topped the DS or 3DS despite being more advanced. So, maybe Sony should just stick with what it’s clearly good at and what the industry loves them for—making powerful home systems.