Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Sony debuts new 'crossover' game

By Yuri Kageyama
The Associated Press

CHIBA, Japan - Sony Corp. offered a preview Tuesday of its next-generation PlayStation, a hybrid gaming machine with digital-media-hub features: a TV tuner, DVD and hard-drive recording and photo album and music player functions.

The muscled-up, network-ready console, called the PSX, testifies to the intensifying competition among consumer electronics companies to make the living room the locus of home digital entertainment.

About the size of the PlayStation2, the PSX is to go on sale in Japan late this year, beginning at $720 for a 160-gigabyte hard disk version that can record 200 hours of digital video.

Sony said the PSX will reach U.S. and European markets next year but did not provide prices.

The machine took center stage at the Sony booth at CEATEC Japan, an annual electronics show near Tokyo that runs through Saturday where Sony's rivals also showed off their wares.

The PSX will ship with Ethernet and USB ports, enabling networking, online gaming and connections with such peripherals as digital cameras and game controllers. It includes a memory stick slot and plays both PlayStation and PlayStation2 games.

After decades of setting global trends with hits such as the Walkman, Sony has lost a bit of its shine lately, falling behind Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., the company behind the Panasonic brand, in DVD recorders and Sharp Corp. in flat-panel TVs in global market share.

Sony Chief Executive Nobuyuki Idei was cautious about the prospects for the PSX and refused to give a sales target, although he called the PSX one of Sony's main new offerings.

"We want to sell as much as possible," he said. "We want to create a new genre."

The PSX faces competition from souped-up "home entertainment" computers made by various manufacturers that are powered by Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP Media Center software, which includes similar functions.

Sony is banking on the popularity of the PlayStation2 - which has sold 60 million worldwide, beating Nintendo Co.'s GameCube and Microsoft's Xbox - to give itself an edge in the DVD recorder market over rivals in the electronics sector that don't have a game unit.

The idea of a single machine that has a bit of everything seems logical and attractive to consumers.

But analysts say the game machine and audio-visual equipment don't necessarily go together because the life cycles of audio-visual machinery are so much shorter, requiring constant upgrades.

"The markets don't match," said Kazumasa Kubota, analyst with Okasan Securities Co. in Tokyo. "The PSX may sell in numbers when it first goes on sale, but it'd be tough to keep the sales going."

Kubota said Sony lacks a clear strategy and has fumbled in other new products such as the CoCoon, sold only in Japan so far, which links to the Internet and records TV shows. Sony has not released sales figures for CoCoon.

Sony's profits tumbled 98 percent in the first fiscal quarter through June from the previous year, falling to 1.1 billion yen ($10 million) as sales dipped 7 percent.

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