PlayStation console goes on sale, in Japan

Tomorrow the first PlayStation3 console will be bought, in Japan.

The 11 November launch for the next-gen machine has been highly anticipated, and delayed. The US gets its hands on the coveted console 17 November, while the rest of us in the old world are destined to brave the winter months without such entertainment. The PS3 doesn’t go on sale here until March of next year.

Microsoft has stolen a march on Sony. Its Xbox 360 is already available. But the Japanese electronics giant retains a loyal following, which have grown up with each generation of the PlayStation, as witnessed by the growing queues of eager gamers lining up outside stores in Japan to secure a sale.

Hopefully they now have proper jobs and deeper pockets. The PS3 will cost more than any other console before it. There are two configurations: a 60GB version with WiFi, and a 20GB version without. They cost 60,000 yen (£270) and 49,980 yen (£222) respectively.

US pricing is expected to come in at $600 and $500 a piece. But it seems more likely that there will be no direct price conversion for Europe, and that in Britain, they will cost considerably more.

There’s no question, though, of Sony being unable to shift its first shipments. Production issues have hampered the launch and been the deciding factor behind the delays. Barely 100,000 of the powerful games machines will be available in Japan tomorrow, and with just five games to play on them.

The US in turn will still see only 400,000 units available next week. But Sony’s confidence remains high, publicly announcing it expects to have shipped some 6 million by March next year, after the European launch.

In comparison, Microsoft, which launched the Xbox 360 last year, is equally bullish on its prediction of shipping 10 million by the year’s end.

Nintendo’s Wii takes a different tack. Launching in the US alongside the PS3, Wii is far cheaper and is hoping to appeal to a broader range of gamers with unique gaming controls.

One of the PS3’s key charms is its Blu-ray drive. Although Microsoft is making available an HD DVD drive – the rival optical storage format to Sony’s Blu-ray – in time for Christmas, it too is taking a gamble. It is asking its customers to spend another £90 or so on adding a feature that comes as standard with the Sony kit.

So while Sony is intent on maintaining the PS3 as the king of consoles, whatever the cost to its schedule, Microsoft has decided to launch first and upgrade as necessary.

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