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Should you import a PlayStation Vita?

PSM3 offers its advice on Japanese launch...

The decision to import a Vita isn't as simple as, say, the decision to import the very first PlayStation was.

Those were the days of region-locking and epic waits for Japanese or US conversions - conversions that were often disappointingly shoddy. Now, simply getting quality games into your country, then onto your console, is far from the only concern. With 'games as services' becoming the norm, you have to worry about how you're going to get on with all those Japanese online features, and how an imported console is going to get on with the ones in the UK.

Let's assume first that you actually want a Vita - probably because you've been amazed by something like the near-PS3 quality of (the platform exclusive) Uncharted Golden Abyss or the super-fast Wipeout 2048. Or maybe you've already realised that a PSP with proper dev support, two analogue sticks, a complete online feature set and console-grade horsepower is a mindblowing proposition.

This feature is from the latest issue of PSM3, order it here and have it delivered straight to your door. Alternatively, get it on iOS or Android.

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The first thing to know is that Vita launches on December 17 in Japan (that's this weekend) at a cost of 29,980 (around £240) for the 3G model and 24,980 (£202) for Wi-Fi only. By contrast, you'll wait until February 22 2012 in the UK, and it'll cost £279.99 (£40 more) and £229.99 (£50 more).

However, don't go thinking the Japanese version is actually cheaper. Postage costs are high, while you could pay a potentially huge amount in duty if customs pick up on it. You may also even find an inflated unit price.
Those two special months, then, could very well cost you an awful lot, and that's not including the games.

Your best bets for importing are to actually go to Japan for a timely holiday (cheaper Vita, mindblowingly expensive everything else) or, best of all, find someone else who's going and turn them into a kind of Vita mule. The worst that can happen is that they'll get strip-searched, probed, locked up and treated to some Midnight Express-type ordeal, which is, of course, highly likely. Ish.

REGION-FREE PROMISE

Sony has confirmed that Vita will be region-free. That's great news - in theory, it means you can play all the world's games on your Japanese machine - but take it with a pinch of salt. Vita is largely service-based, meaning that the games are only part of the long-term package.

Who knows what new subscriber services and partnerships will arrive after a few months, and whether they're locked to your hardware? Sony could even renege on region-free gaming altogether. However, if Vita is like PSP, then simply installing European firmware (once it's available) will turn it, in essence, into a UK machine, solving many of your problems at a stroke.

If it's stuck as a Japanese machine, however, what do you do about games? It's best to look at an import site such as Play-Asia for an idea of availability and price. One thing to note is that PA is already charging £340 for Japanese Wi-Fi models - around £138 more than the retail price. Disgusting? Yes. Unusual? No.

Historically, Play-Asia also doesn't ship Sony products to the UK, though competitor YesAsia.com does.
As for games, launch title Uncharted is currently going for £47.45 and is tentatively 'confirmed' as region-free. Ridge Racer is £33.31, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 is £40.22 and Wipeout 2048 is... not out until January 17, less than a week before the UK launch date. Oh dear.

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Choice is an issue: the Japanese launch line-up will involve a handful of global showcase titles and a stack of local favourites and shovelware. Just how much do you like Mahjong Fight Club: Shinsei Zenkoku Taisen Han? (Clue: it's not a beat-'em-up).

There's a strong chance, then, that you'll be looking beyond mere games to make the cost of importing worthwhile. Question is: what services will be available those first two months, and how much use can you make of them? The first thing is that you should be able to use 3G to go online.

From the UK launch, Vodafone will be the 'preferred' network and will sell the machine in its shops with a SIM plan. It will also sell them without a SIM, however, so you can choose any network - this means there's nothing stopping you whacking a SIM of your choice into a Japanese Vita the instant you get it. However, while you'll have all the connectivity, European Vita features will not be available until the February launch anyway. You'll be able to connect via Wi-Fi too, of course.

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