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Nintendo handhelds getting music, video

Nintendo Co. will begin selling an adaptor for its DS and Game Boy Advance handheld game players to allow them to play music and video, the company said, matching a popular feature on Sony’s portable game machine.

Nintendo is in a heated battle to defend its dominant position in the lucrative handheld market against new competitor Sony Corp., which launched the PlayStation Portable (PSP), its first ever mobile game device, on Dec. 12 in Japan.

Nintendo’s DS, launched in the United States on Nov. 21 and in Japan on Dec. 2, has been flying off the shelves but the PSP has generated an equal level of buzz among game fans, in large part because it can also play back music and movie files.

The DS, which by itself is strictly a game device, will be able to play video in the MPEG-4 format and songs in the MP3 format by inserting a memory card into the adaptor, which is plugged into a slot in the machine.

The adaptor will also work with the DS predecessor, the Game Boy Advance SP.

About 58 million Game Boy Advances have been sold worldwide. The DS is off to a strong start, with shipments expected to reach 2.8 million units by the end of the year.

“Someone could record a TV programme on a memory card and then watch it the next day on their way to work on the train,” said Nintendo spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa, adding that it would allow for playback of CD-quality sound, depending on the transfer rate.

The company will start selling the adaptor in February in Japan for about 5,000 yen ($47.47), Minagawa said. That is roughly the difference between the price of the DS by itself, at 15,000 yen, and the PSP, which sells for 19,800 yen before tax.

The device will be displayed at the Panasonic Center, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.’s showroom in Tokyo for current and future products, on Thursday. Nintendo has a game corner on the first floor of the facility.

Minagawa said Nintendo had no immediate plans to sell the adaptor overseas. The company quietly put a notice about the device on its Web site on Wednesday without notifying media or issuing an official news release.

Hirokazu Hamamura, president of game magazine publisher Enterbrain, said Nintendo was not likely to stray far from its basic strategy of targeting game fans while Sony tried to create a new market with a more feature-rich device.

“I don’t see Nintendo getting too aggressive with this,” Hamamura said, noting that Sony was planning to launch prepackaged movie and music content for use in the PSP. He said Nintendo was unlikely to make such a move.

The DS is the size of a paperback book with a wireless connection and two screens, one of which is touch-sensitive and works with a pen-like device. The PSP is a sleek black device with one long, large liquid crystal display screen.

Industry analysts say that both will sell well this holiday season, creating the biggest buzz in the sector since Sony launched its PlayStation 2 game console in 2000. Sony will launch the PSP in Europe and North America early next year.