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Sony announces Playstation Vita release date for U.S. and Europe

PlayStation VitaMark your calendars, gamers: Sony’s Playstation Vita will hit shelves February 22 in the U.S. and Europe.

The official release date for Sony’s successor to the Playstation Portable handheld gaming system was announced today by the company, ending months of speculation and rumors.

According to the statement from Sony, the Vita will be available in two versions at launch: a $250 Wi-Fi model and a $300 model which can use Wi-Fi and 3G service. It’s not clear how many Vita games will be available at launch, though there are over 100 currently in development.

Rumors spawned by online retailer pre-orders had the Vita pegged for a December 31 release, though Sony Corp. Executive Vice President Kazuo Hirai indicated back in August that the system would hit the U.S. and European markets in “early 2012.”

Along with various smartphone-inspired apps for social media and other tools, the PS Vita features a five-inch, multi-touch screen, front and rear cameras, two thumbstick controls, a rear touch pad, SixAxis motion controls, and GPS support.

What it doesn’t feature at this point, however, is support for the Universal Media Disc format used for Playstation Portable games and movies — though Sony has indicated that it’s considering methods of easing PSP users’ (and their UMD libraries) transition to the new system.