Sony Unveils Plans for PlayStation 3

The electronics giant hopes upgraded features keeps consumers from blanching at the price.
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CULVER CITY, Calif. --

Sony's

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PlayStation 3 will hit store shelves a year after the competing Xbox 360 game device and will cost up to $300 more in the U.S., but the staying power of

Microsoft's

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early lead in new video-.game hardware is anything but certain.

At a media event here, Sony finally released some of the crucial details on its upcoming game machine -- the latest iteration of its market-dominating PlayStation line. Among the revelations: the PlayStation 3 will come in two versions, one costing $499, the other a whopping $599, and the company plans to ship 4 million of the machines by the end of the year.

The price point is likely to be an eye-opener for many gamers who have been waiting for the machine's debut, since it's the highest retail price yet for a PlayStation system and far higher than previous and competing consoles. The company's PlayStation 2 debuted in 2000 with a launch price of $299, for instance. And last year, Microsoft's Xbox 360 was released in two versions, one priced at $299 and the other at $399.

How consumers react will likely reflect how they feel about what they're getting for that price. The cost is hefty for a game system, acknowledged Van Baker, an analyst with media research firm Gartner who attended the event.

But one of the key features of the PlayStation 3 is its ability to play Blu-ray DVDs -- a disc that can store high-definition movies and video. Other Blu-ray DVD players are just starting to come to market at prices north of $1,000, Baker noted.

Compared with those, "It's cheap," he said.

Meanwhile, unlike one of the Xbox 360 models, both iterations of the PlayStation 3 will come with a built-in hard drive, the cheaper one with a 20GB version, the more expensive featuring 60GB of capacity. Like the hard drive on the Xbox 360, the one on the PlayStation 3 will be used to store downloaded content. Sony also plans to use the hard drive to speed loading times on games.

Sony attempted to soften the pricing blow by forecasting an aggressive launch schedule. The company plans to release the PlayStation 3 in Japan on Nov. 11; the device will hit store shelves in North America, Europe, Australia and parts of Asia outside of Japan on Nov. 17.

The company plans to ship 2 million of the devices worldwide at launch and immediately thereafter. By the end of March 2007, the company expects to have shipped 6 million devices worldwide.

That's far more than the number of Xbox 360s Microsoft has shipped over comparable periods. The Redmond, Wash., software giant said recently that it

had shipped about 3.2 million of the game consoles by the end of March after

launching the device last November.

Indeed, Microsoft battled supply problems for months after launching the Xbox 360 and shipped far fewer numbers of the console that expected, particularly during the holiday season.

That's not unusual. Sony also had to deal with supply problems when it launched the PlayStation 2 six years ago. Whether Sony will avoid similar problems and live up to its forecasts is anyone's guess. "I'll believe it when I see it," said Baker.

Another surprise at the conference was a new controller that Sony has developed for the PlayStation 3. The device apparently has a gyroscope inside it -- it responds to movement. Lowering the controller with your hands, for instance, can lower an object you are controlling in a game. Turn the controller in your hands and you can turn a plane or presumably a car on the screen.

The controller appears to be Sony's response to another rival,

Nintendo

, which has tried to differentiate its own upcoming system, the Wii, by including a controller that resembles more a remote control than a traditional game controller. Like the PlayStation 3, the Wii's controller will respond to movement of the controller itself.

Sony also used the conference to show off games for the new console. However, most of the games displayed were either still in production or not even playable yet. Few elicited much excitement from the gathered crowd of reporters, analysts and game enthusiasts.