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Sony to release handheld game player

The living-room games leader turns its gaze to the portables market with the planned launch of the PSP, a handheld game player capable of 3D images.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
covers games and gadgets.
David Becker
3 min read
LOS ANGELES--After winning the battle for the living room, Sony now wants your pockets.

The electronics giant, whose PlayStation 2 games console has outsold rivals from Microsoft and Nintendo 3-to-1, announced plans Tuesday for a handheld game player.

The PSP, introduced during a press conference in advance of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show here, would compete to some extent with Nintendo's Game Boy, which has all but owned the portable game market for more than a decade.

But Sony apparently has grander plans than a nice game of Tetris. The PSP will have a screen capable of showing 3D images, stereo sound, USB 2.0 connectivity and a custom processor built on cutting-edge 90-nanometer chipmaking technology.

The device will also use a new media format. The UMD disc is an optical disc about half the size of a DVD or CD and capable of holding 1.8GB of data.

Sony did not offer a projected price for the PSP, but said it plans to release the device late next year, with Ken Kutaragi, president of Sony Computer Entertainment, promising it would be "the Walkman of the 21st century."

Sony also introduced a new accessory for the PlayStation 2, the Eye Toy. The USB camera will initially be used as a custom game controller, but Sony also expects it to support videoconferencing, live special effects and a host of other uses.

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Kaz Hirai, president of Sony Computer Entertainment America, said it is part of Sony's quest to expand the utility of the PlayStation 2. "Don't look to Sony just for leadership in the games space," he said. "Look for us to find the right path to digital entertainment convergence."

Hirai also announced a new PlayStation 2 package. The $199 PlayStation 2 Online Pack will bundle a console with a free Sony network adapter for online play, which sells separately for $40. The package, available in June, will also use the new version of the PlayStation 2 recently introduced in Japan, with support for rewritable DVDs and a quieter fan.

Hirai also took the opportunity to talk about Sony's growing lead over Microsoft and Nintendo in living room consoles, insisting that the only contest left is for second place. "There is a place where you can find the video game consoles, and that happens to be in the rear-view mirror."

Game Boy unfazed?
Nintendo executives acknowledged Sony's planned incursion onto Game Boy's turf but didn't seem too concerned about it during the company's press conference. "We don't feel there's anything we need to be concerned about now," said Nintendo President Saturo Iwata, suggesting the PSP would be priced too high to duplicate the mass-market penetration of the Game Boy.

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Sony debuts Eye Toy for PlayStation 2
Kaz Hirai, president, Sony Computer Entertainment America
Iwata also confessed to disappointment in lower-than-expected sales last year for Nintendo's GameCube console, but he said the company was hard at work on reversing the slide. Steps include boosting production of self-published games, enhancing relations with third-party developers and creating many more games that link the GameCube and the Game Boy Advance. That includes an upcoming Game Boy Advance version of the smash PC game "The Sims," which will allow players to swap characters between the handheld and GameCube versions of the game.

George Harrison, a vice president at Nintendo of America, noted that much of the competition's success has been built on socially questionable games such as the street-crime romp "Grand Theft Auto 3." He promised Nintendo wouldn't go down that alley. "Mario will never start shooting hookers," he vowed.

Nokia is also betting on the market for luxury handheld game players. The Finnish cell phone giant revealed final details of its N-Gage combination game player/mobile phone/MP3 player, which will go on sale worldwide Oct. 7, priced at $299.

Among those touting the need for a pricey handheld device that can wirelessly connect game players for multiplayer action was game developer John Romero, co-creator of the influential shooter "Doom." He said N-Gage will let gamers have a PC-type experience wherever they are and will jumpstart the nascent market for games on wireless devices.

"We really believe the future of gaming is mobile," said Romero, who helped create one of the initial releases for N-Gage. "Up until now, cell phones have just looked like cell phones, not really cool gaming devices."