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Nintendo: New console won't debut until 2001

The company confirms that the release of its next-generation "Dolphin" game console will be delayed until 2001, which will likely coincide with the release of Microsoft's X-Box.

In a case of bad timing, Nintendo has confirmed that the release of its next-generation game console will be delayed until 2001, which likely will coincide with the release of Microsoft's first console.

Nintendo announced the release of the console, code-named Dolphin, will be pushed back until the first half of 2001. Nintendo had previously said it would release the product sometime this year.

The delay comes as Nintendo competitors Sega, Sony and now Microsoft increasingly are stealing the gaming pioneer's thunder. Sega and Sony both have beaten Nintendo to the punch with the release of the Dreamcast and the PlayStation2, respectively. Intended as home-entertainment hubs rather than mere game players, these consoles include features such as Internet connectivity and DVD players, as well as high-speed graphics and processing power.

Microsoft announced a similarly robust console, the X-Box, at an industry event last week.

Because of the vigorous hardware and connectivity options associated with these products--such as the 600-MHz Intel Pentium III included in Microsoft's X-Box plans--many analysts believe that game consoles will be an important part of the wave of limited-function Net appliances.

But the vision of the home entertainment network powered by a gaming console is just that, some analysts say, a vision that may never be embraced by consumers.

"People say that the living room will be the battleground of the future for home entertainment. That's not true--the living room has always been the battleground for home entertainment," said Billy Pidgeon, an analyst with Jupiter Communications, referring to Microsoft and Sony's grand plans for their game consoles.

"It's a bit of posturing by both Sony and Microsoft. It's certainly something that could happen through the game console, but it's three to five years off, and a lot could happen in that time," he said.

Overall, the market for devices, including TV set-top boxes, handheld computers and gaming consoles, is set to grow from 11 million units shipped in 1999 to 89 million units in 2004. The market will grow from revenues of $2.4 billion last year to $17.8 billion in 2004, according to market research firm International Data Corp.

Nintendo has disclosed that the Dolphin will run on a 400-MHz processor from IBM and a graphics chip from ArtX, and will include a DVD drive. Although more extensive information is not yet available, Nintendo executives have indicated the company will buck the current trend and focus the product's capabilities primarily on gaming.

"We're building a machine with only one purpose--to play video games," said Minoru Arakawa, president of Nintendo of America in a statement confirming the shipping delay of Dolphin. Nintendo is known for games featuring characters such as Pokemon, Zelda and the Mario Brothers.

Nintendo may have a lot of ground to make up by the time Dolphin is released. By 2001, Sony's PlayStation2 and Sega's Dreamcast will have been shipping for well over a year and will have built up libraries of game titles. At the same time, Microsoft, a company known for high-profile product launches, will be gearing up for the release of the X-Box, its first major hardware product.

For its part, Nintendo asserts the delay is nothing but a boon to consumers, who will be able to play and buy new titles for their existing machines without upgrading their hardware.

"A 2001 launch for Project Dolphin is not only in keeping with the normal product life span for our home consoles," said Peter Main, executive vice president of sales and marketing. "It allows the millions of current Nintendo 64 owners to devote their video game dollars to the best lineup of new games in our history without having to buy a new system."