Playstation Portable: Debut in Progress

Sony has yet to provide some pertinent information on its new game player.
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LAS VEGAS -- Surprising no one,

Sony

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debuted its PlayStation Portable at a press event on Wednesday. What was something of a shock was that the company had little to say about how much the handheld gaming device will cost or when it will actually hit store shelves.

At a night club in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Kaz Hirai, CEO of Sony Computer and Entertainment America, showed off the new device to an audience of reporters, developers and other guests. The PSP, which went on sale in Japan last month, can display photos and play music and movies in addition to games. Sony has big plans for the device, expecting it to sell 3 million units by the end of the company's fiscal year this spring.

"The baton has been passed," Hirai said. "The PSP will serve as a disruptive force in the portable gaming space."

But despite Hirai's razzle-dazzle presentation, the revolution still looks a bit sketchy.

Hirai said nothing, for instance, about how much the device will cost in the U.S. Sony expects to ship the device to North American stores and distributors by "late March," Hirai said, but he didn't give any specific date, or how many units the company plans to have on shelves by then.

Such details, of course, will likely prove crucial to the PSPs success or failure. Sony initially pleased analysts by launching the device in Japan with a price equivalent to less than $200. But some analysts have noted that many users are finding the need to buy an extra battery pack and other accessories, which has pushed the price up closer to $250.

At that price point, the device may have trouble winning over a mass audience. Both Sony's PlayStation console and

Microsoft's

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Xbox are now selling for about $150 each. In terms of portable game machines,

Nintendo's

new DS is retailing at about $150, while its older GameBoy Advance is now priced at about $80.

While the PSP is more versatile at a potentially lower price than

Apple's

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iPod, it doesn't have the built-in storage capacity of the iPod, nor Apple's elegant user interface and organization system.

Meanwhile, there's reason to doubt when Sony will ship the PSP. The company struggled to fill store shelves with consoles this fall after it revamped its PlayStation 2 system, leading to a decline in console sales.

That said, Sony clearly expects the device to succeed. And true to form, the company has focused on finding support for the device. At the end of last month, there were already 18 games available for the PSP, Hirai said. Some 100 games are under development, he said, including hit titles such as

Activision's

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Spider-Man

series.

In addition to the PSP's multimedia capabilities, Hirai touted a number of the device's other features. The technology underneath the device is on par with that of present generation consoles, he said. That means that you can play PlayStation 2 quality games, and get PlayStation 2 quality 3-D graphics on the device, he said.

Further, the device has some nice networking features. It has a built-in WiFi radio, which will eventually allow users to play games over the Internet. In the meantime, the device will link up with up to 16 other nearby game machines for multi-player gaming.

Users can play movies and music on the device that are stored on either MemoryStick or Sony's new Universal Media Discs. The UMD is a mini-DVD that stores up to 1.8GB of data. In addition to Sony's own studios, Dreamworks SKG and a few others have agreed to release movies on UMDs.

Sony's shares closed regular trading off 5 cents, or less than 1%, to $37.95.