updated 9/20/2006 7:45:40 AM ET 2006-09-20T11:45:40

Microsoft Co. announced on Wednesday the launch of its Xbox 360 console in India and Africa and introduced an external high-definition DVD player designed to match the Blu-ray disc functions of Sony Corp.'s upcoming PlayStation 3.

Microsoft's basic Xbox 360 doesn't come with a next-generation DVD player.  The new high-definition player can be added on separately and is seen as keeping pace with Sony's PlayStation 3, which will feature that company's new Blu-ray high definition DVD player.

Microsoft's HD-DVD will be released in Japan in Nov. 22, testing a market that is one of the world's biggest but has deep allegiance to homegrown Sony.  Microsoft has plans to release the HD-DVD elsewhere, but spokesman Yasuyuki Saito could not give specifics about what other markets are targeted or what the release schedule would be.

The HD-DVD add-on will cost 19,800 yen (US$170) in Japan, bringing the combined cost of the basic Xbox 360 and the HD-DVD player to nearly the same price as that anticipated for the PlayStation 3 in Japan.

U.S.-based Microsoft is looking for ways to boost sluggish sales in Japan, and Saito described the addition of the HD-DVD as "important to the market."  (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Earlier this month, Microsoft's Japanese unit said it was set to release a cheaper, bare-bones version of the Xbox 360 in Japan to boost flagging sales ahead of the launch of the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's next-generation Wii.

The low-end version, which is already sold as the Xbox 360 Core System in the United States and Europe, will be released Nov. 2 and priced at 29,800 yen (US$256.00) — about 10,000 yen (US$86.00) less than its standard version.

Xbox 360 has only sold 158,000 units in Japan as of earlier this month, since its release late last year, according to Enterbrain Inc., a market researcher. About 5 million units have been sold worldwide in the same time period.

Microsoft also said there will be 110 game titles available for the Xbox 360 in Japan by year's end, addressing a common complaint by video fans who said PlayStation offered more choices.

Microsoft's announcement of more global launches comes as Sony and Nintendo ready next-generation rivals.

Sony's PlayStation 3, initially planned for earlier this year, has been postponed twice. The decision to delay PlayStation 3 in Europe for four months until March was announced earlier this month.

The PlayStation 3 will hit stores in Japan on Nov. 11 and in the United States on Nov. 17. Sony now expects to ship only 2 million units of the much-awaited update by year's end instead of 4 million as originally planned.

Nintendo said last week that its new Wii game console will arrive on schedule in the final quarter of the year, priced below both rivals, the XBox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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