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Sony sets price, date for PlayStation Portable

In Japan, that is. The game player's surprising pricing there may indicate what the U.S. market can expect.

Sony upped the ante Wednesday in the looming handheld-game war, giving its PlayStation Portable device a price and an on-sale date likely to inspire fierce competition with Nintendo's DS.

The PSP will go on sale in Japan on Dec. 12 for about $185 (19,800 yen), Sony Computer Entertainment said in a statement. The release comes sooner and cheaper than many analysts had expected. The company has not yet set a U.S. date or price for the PSP. Sony has said the PSP will arrive in the United States at the end of March. U.S. pricing for game hardware is usually similar to or slightly below the cost in Japan.

Sony announced the PSP last year in a high-profile bid to expand on its PlayStation 2 console, which dominates sales of home game systems. The PSP will sport an advanced display, a new optical media format Sony expects to also use for movies and music, and a processor only slightly less powerful than the one that powers the PlayStation 2.

While the PSP is expected to have a large ready-made audience of PlayStation enthusiasts, the device has been bedeviled by reports of delays and lackluster support by game developers. Several analysts have speculated that Sony would not be able to meet its target to ship the device this year. They've also forecast a steep price tag, with estimates ranging as high as $300 due to the advanced technology behind the PSP.

The $185 price sets up the PSP for a head-to-head tussle with the DS, the advanced handheld game player Nintendo will introduce in the United States in mid-November. Nintendo has long ruled the handheld game player market with its Game Boy franchise. The DS will sell for $150, also far lower than initial expectations.

Schelley Olhava, an analyst at research company IDC, said the $185 price tag shows that Sony is serious about competing with Nintendo. "It looks like they've decided to accept some really heavy (financial) losses on the hardware to establish the brand," she said.

Sony's announcement also offered more technical details, including an answer to ongoing questions about power consumption. The company said the device's built-in rechargeable battery will allow four to six hours of game playing or four to five hours of video playback.

Battery life could be an issue for Sony, Olhava said, since the DS is expected to have battery life similar to current Game Boy devices--about 10 hours. "The comparison there is going to be huge," Olhava said. "But we know that a good chunk of handheld gaming is done in the home, so it might not be such a major issue."

Sony also said there would be 21 games available for the PSP at launch, including high-profile third-party titles such as portable versions of Electronic Arts' "Need for Speed Underground" racing games and Konami's "Metal Gear" action game.