The device will allow gamers to be connected with one other over cellphone networks and Wi-Fi hotspots, and use GPS location-tracking technology. In the U.S., Sony is partnering exclusively with AT&T Inc. for cellphone service.
The device, available for $249 for its Wi-Fi-only version, was unveiled at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the video game industry's annual convention known as E3. A version that will also have cellphone service will retail for $299, and buyers will have to subscribe to a cellular data plan.
The handheld has front and back cameras, a touchscreen in front, a touch pad on the back and two knob-like joysticks. It will enable gamers to play against people using PlayStation 3 consoles over the Internet-based PlayStation Network, a system that was recently restored after being shut down due to a massive hacking attack.
The hardware comes with an accelerometer, which means it will also react to being held at different angles and being moved through the air.
"PlayStation Vita will revolutionize the portable entertainment experience," said Kazuo Hirai, president and chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment America. "The whole world is really in play."
The Vita is slightly bigger than the PlayStation Portable, which has sold more than 70 million units worldwide since its launch in 2004. The PSP will continue to be sold along with new games.
But the Vita - code-named "NGP," or next generation portable, until Monday - will enable gamers to do more.
A Sony staffer demonstrated a version of "Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception," in which he used the familiar buttons and knobs but also touched the screen to move the Drake avatar across ledges and attack opponents in close combat.
Another game called "Reality Fighters" will allow users to take a picture and have fighting characters battle each other using objects from the real world.
Along with social games and email, Sony also unveiled a communication service it called "Party" that will enable voice and text chat during games or when using the Web browser.
Users will also be able to sense when other gamers are nearby, what games they have played recently, and enable in-game gifting of virtual items.