'21st century Walkman' drags feet on way to debut

Sony says its PlayStation Portable device, originally set for worldwide release by 2004's end, won't hit North American stores until the first quarter of 2005. Can Nintendo capitalize?

Sony announced on Wednesday that its new portable game machine won't arrive in North America until early 2005, missing the crucial holiday shopping season.

Sony executives told game publishers and retailers at an invitation-only event in Phoenix that the PlayStation Portable (PSP), originally set to go on sale worldwide by the end of this year, won't be in North American stores until the first quarter of 2005. The device is still set to launch in Japan by the end of this year.

Sony, whose PlayStation 2 leads the market for living room game consoles, announced the PSP last summer. Executives trumpeted the PSP as "the Walkman of the 21st century," positioning the device as a luxury alternative to Nintendo's Game Boy, the dominant handheld game machine for more than a decade. The PSP will have advanced 3D graphics, stereo sound and a new optical media format that uses small disks capable of holding 1.8GB of data.

Sony spokeswoman Teresa Weaver said the PSP launch was being pushed back to give game makers enough time to create strong titles for the new system. "In order to ensure that the launch time frame is well supported, we want to allow developers and publishers sufficient time to optimize content for our new portable-entertainment platform," she said.

Analysts said missing the U.S. holiday shopping season will make it harder for Sony to take on the Game Boy monopoly. Nintendo is set to release late this year a new portable game player, code-named Nintendo DS, that will feature an advanced dual screen.

"This could give Nintendo a nice window of opportunity to exploit in North America this holiday season," said P.J. McNealy, an analyst at American Technology Research.

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