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Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Electronics Entertainment Expo

Sony sets Nov. 17 launch for PlayStation 3 in U.S.

Seattle Times technology reporter

LOS ANGELES — Sony said Monday it will debut its PlayStation 3 console in North America on Nov. 17, about a week after it begins selling the system in Japan.

The company will sell two versions of the console based on the storage capacity of included hard drives: a 20-gigabyte hard-drive system will cost $499, and a 60-gigabyte version will cost $100 more.

Executives also announced Sony would ship 4 million systems by the end of the year and 6 million by the end of March. That production schedule, if met, would beat what Microsoft has been able to ship with its competing Xbox 360 system, which debuted in November.

Microsoft says it's on track to sell between 4.5 million and 5.5 million consoles worldwide by the end of June.

Sony also plans to start selling the PS3 on Nov. 17 in Europe and Australia.

A near-simultaneous global launch is unprecedented in the industry. Previous launches have been done over several months.

"PlayStation 3 is the most ambitious project we at Sony Computer Entertainment have ever undertaken," said Chief Executive Kaz Hirai, speaking at a news conference two days before the start of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the video-game industry's largest annual conference.

Competitors Nintendo and Microsoft plan similar news conferences today.

Sony has placed an enormous bet on the PS3, successor to the dominant PlayStation 2 console. The system is more expensive than the Xbox 360, in part because Sony is including a Blu-Ray video player as a standard feature in every system. The player is designed to handle the large-capacity discs that are the successor to DVD technology.

Adding the player made the PS3 harder to produce and likely contributed to the release date being pushed back from this spring to November. But Sony hopes the PS3 becomes the entertainment hub of the home, bringing video games, movies, music and even online shopping to one central device.

Microsoft is endorsing a rival high-definition video player, HD-DVD, but did not include it in its Xbox 360 system. The company is expected to give more details today about the HD-DVD player accessory it will soon sell for the Xbox 360.

Microsoft sells two versions of the Xbox 360, priced at $299 and $399. The higher-priced version has a 20-gigabyte detachable hard drive, which can be used to store digital songs and photos and saved-game components.

The PlayStation 2 leads the current generation of video gaming. Since the console's launch in March 2000, Sony has shipped about 104 million units: 23 million in Asia, 42 million in North America and 39 million in Europe.

By comparison, Microsoft has shipped 24 million Xbox systems worldwide since Xbox's debut in November 2001.

Sony hopes it will maintain its lead with the PlayStation 3, even though Microsoft's Xbox 360 will have had a full year on store shelves before PS3's debut.

Sony executives described a vast network being built into the PS3, one that includes connectivity with the handheld PlayStation Portable player released last year. A person playing a car-racing game on the PS3, for example, can power up a PSP at the same time to watch the race from different angles.

The PS3 will have built-in online capability, with an e-commerce element that allows players to buy new levels and other features. Players can buy prepaid cards at stores to purchase items.

"Online and network will become like air conditioning in a car," Hirai said. "Once upon a time it was an after-market option, but today it's a standard feature."

Sony unveiled a number of games being created for the PS3, including several first-person shooter titles — a staple of the video-game business.

In an unexpected twist, Sony said the PS3 will come standard with a motion-sensitive controller. Players can rotate the controller during a flying game, for example, and a plane would correspond in midair.

"We're really starting to push what this machine is capable of, but we still have along way to go," said Phil Harrison, president of worldwide studios for Sony Computer Entertainment.

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360; kpeterson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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