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Nintendo: More Wiis available for holidays

Game company also shows U.S. press its new DS-i handheld player, which it acknowledges won't be available in North America any time soon.

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime holds up the new DS-i handheld device. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

Updated at 10:42 a.m. PDT with new information from the rest of the Nintendo press event.

SAN FRANCISCO--Nintendo on Thursday said it expects to ship a much higher number of Wii video game consoles to retailers this holiday season than it did last year.

At its annual fall media event here, the Japanese company's North American president, Reggie Fils-Aime, told the gathered media that the company intends to try to address the well-documented shortages of the Wii that occurred during the 2007 holiday season.

He didn't say exactly how many Wiis had been available last year, nor how many more would be making their way into consumers' hands this time around. And he didn't even commit to being able to satisfy all demand this year.

"Will there be enough (Wiis) to meet demand?" Fils-Aime said. "Talk to me in January."

Still, it's important for the company to at least try to address the shortages that resulted in long lines at retailers that happened to have a few Wiis available.

But Fils-Aime added that the company is in uncharted territory with the Wii, and he suggested that the company doesn't have the ability to judge exactly how many units would be required to satisfy all consumers this holiday season.

He did say, however, that Nintendo expects to increase supplies of the Wii by about 50 percent in the fourth quarter of this year.

Asked how much more demand there had been for the Wii during last year's holiday season than available units, he said there was no way to quantify that.

"All we know," Fils-Aime told me, "is that as soon as units were available at retailers, they were gone in seconds."

Fils-Aime opened his remarks by unveiling Nintendo's new DS-i handheld console. However, because Nintendo also had a media event in Japan last night, that news had already made its way around the world.

A publicity photograph of the new Nintendo DS-i. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

He said the DS-i will not be available in North America until well into 2009 because there is still strong demand here for the existing DS Lite. He explained that the DS Lite is still selling better here than any device ever has and that there is still a large amount of penetration to be had.

In fact, he said that while one in every two Japanese households already has a DS or DS Lite, that number is just one in five in North America. Nintendo said it won't release the DS-i, which is expected to cost the equivalent of $180 in Japan, in North America until that penetration rate is higher.

Whether there are warehouses full of DS Lites that still need to be sold is not clear, and Nintendo isn't saying what its specific game plan is regarding the North American transition from DS Lite to DS-i.

It's pretty likely, however, that there will be substantial demand for the DS-i wherever and whenever it is available, as it features dual cameras, one that faces outward, and another that faces the user. This means that images from the two cameras can be combined. Photos taken with the DS-i can be sent to friends and family via the device's built-in wireless capability.

The DS-i will also have built-in MP3 playback capabilities, as well as the ability to move music from a computer to the DS-i via SD cards. In an attempt to make the new device a little slimmer than the existing DS Lite, it will lose its Game Boy Advance-compatible slot, though it will still play any existing DS games.

After Fils-Aime finished his remarks, Nintendo of America's executive vice president of sales and marketing took the microphone to introduce a slew of new games for the Wii and DS platforms.

Most notable, perhaps, for the Wii were Punch Out, a return of a classic game that will now take advantage of the motion-sensitive Wii controller. Other titles in the works for Wii include Call of Duty: World at War, Sega's Mad World, Capcom's Deadrising: Chop till you Drop, and others.

Among the new games for the Wii is 'Punch Out,' a return of a classic game, which will take advantage of the Wii's motion-sensitive controller. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

Most interesting was a new demo for Wii Music, during which the audience was able to see the many ways that players will be able to layer tunes from different instruments over each other in the pursuit of complex, rich music.

Finally, Nintendo Executive Vice President Cammie Dunaway briefly introduced what will be called the Wii Speak Channel, a system that will utilize a Wii microphone to allow up to four players to communicate with each other across wireless networks. That is expected to be available November 16, 2008.

She also said Club Nintendo, a program popular in Japan and Europe that allows players to accumulate points by buying various products and taking Nintendo-related surveys, and then trade points garnered for new gear, will be coming to North America.

But none of the Nintendo executives addressed the rumors that made their way across the Internet yesterday that the company was planning on bringing out a new, HD-capable Wii by 2011.