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Sony Sets Portable Game-Player Rollout

Updated from 4:30 p.m. EST

Sony (SNE) released some more details Thursday on what it hopes will be its Next Big Thing: its new PlayStation Portable game system.

The new handheld device will make its debut in the U.S. and Canada on March 24 at a price of about $250, the company announced on Thursday. Sony will offer the device as part of a "value pack" that includes a memory stick, headphones and battery pack.

By the end of the company's fiscal year on March 31, Sony plans to have manufactured 1 million of the devices for the North American market. However, a Sony representative did not know how many of those the company will have shipped by the launch date or by the end of the company's fiscal year.

The PSP represents Sony's first foray into the handheld gaming market. Although the company displaced Nintendo as the dominant video-game console maker a decade ago, Nintendo has continued to rule the portable gaming market with its GameBoy.

But the PSP is more than just an effort to dislodge Nintendo. Struggling in other areas of its business, such as its digital audio devices and video cameras, Sony is looking for a hit product to revive its fortunes.

Meanwhile, gaming industry representatives and investors are hoping that the PSP and Nintendo's new DS will help buoy the industry as it undergoes one of its periodic console transitions. Analysts expect Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft (MSFT) to roll out their new consoles over the next two years.

Typically, console transitions have been disruptive times for video-game software companies, leading to flat or declining revenue, increased capital expenditures and deteriorating bottom lines. But game companies are hoping that revenue from the new handhelds will help shore up top and bottom lines while they prepare for the next generation of consoles.

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