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Photos: PlayStation 3 finally hits the UK

Sony's brand-spanking-new super console has launched in Britain at last -- and the hardiest fanboys at the midnight launch got a very pleasant surprise...

The lucky first man in the queue to buy a PlayStation 3 at Game in London's Oxford Street this morning met the Virtua girls, who were there to promote Sega's Virtua Tennis 3 (left) and Virtua Fighter 5 (right). Yes, those are Virtua Tennis pants she's wearing so proudly.

Sony's brand-new console launched without a huge amount of fanfare, having been delayed in Europe for four months from its original global release in November. A relatively high price of £425 and plenty of units available has also dampened the traditional chaotic console-launch madness. But Sony had one last trick up its sleeve...

In an extraordinary piece of public relations, every one of the 125 or so people who attended the midnight launch event at Virgin Megastore last night were given a 46-inch Sony Bravia LCD television. Most of those present were too stunned to say anything -- some, perhaps wary due to past promises from Sony, even thought it was a joke.

"I'm speechless, I still don't believe it. I think it's a hoax," said Jason Sarris, from Wood Green in London. The TVs should be delivered in the next week or so, according to Sony Computer Entertainment UK's managing director, Ray Maguire.

Some of the queuers arrived long before the midnight launch to savour the atmosphere in the Virgin Megastore's basement and play some PS3.

Shanie Chatfield, centre, turned up on Wednesday and slept in the store overnight. Shanie, 19, from Guildford, was pretty pumped even before she found out about the free telly. "I'm really excited. I've been excited all week. I can't wait!" she told CNET.co.uk's sister site GameSpot UK on Wednesday.

With the PS3 retailing at £425, plus games and extra controllers, many people splashed out upwards of £500 on the night. Realising this, and mindful of last November's US launch, which saw gamers mugged and even shot for their PS3s or cash while they queued, the Metropolitan police advised Oxford Street retailers not to have queues outside on the street.

Midnight launches at Game and HMV were moved to 7am this morning and Virgin turned its basement into an impromptu camp site for Wednesday night. As well as the free TV and a copy of top game Resistance: Fall of Man, queuers at Virgin were also given a cab ride home, as there was very little public transport at that time of night.

Unlike the plentiful PS3, Nintendo's Wii, which launched in the UK in December, is still short of stock. Shipments periodically arrive in the UK, and most retailers offer a pre-order service for the innovative-but-less-powerful white console.

Having had to delay the launch, Sony clearly wanted to get its supply lines right this time and avoid the eBay profiteering that accompanied the US release. While this means that anyone who can afford the £425 RRP can almost certainly get their hands on one, it has dampened the carnival atmosphere somewhat. Clearly, this is more of a problem for journalists trying to cover the launch than gamers eager for a new console -- which is why the free TV stunt was so powerful.