Sony PSP set to hit U.S. stores in March

Two Sony workers show off how to play a racing game on the new PlayStation Portable. Koji Sasahara / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sony Corp. unveiled its new PlayStation Portable in the United States for the first time Wednesday, signaling an intensifying battle with Nintendo Co. to rule the burgeoning handheld video game market.

The PSP debut was held in Las Vegas on the eve of the International Consumer Electronics Show, an annual showcase of new products and technologies.

Sony did not announce U.S. pricing or availability for the PSP, but company executives said it will be in North American stores sometime in March. Sony has already sold about a half million PSPs in Japan, where it went on sale last month for about $190.

The rectangular, black plastic PSP weighs about 10 ounces and boasts wireless functions for multiplayer games. It also can play digital music and movies on its 4.3-inch color display, using a proprietary 1.8 gigabyte format called Universal Media Disc.

The PSP faces a firmly entrenched rival in Nintendo Co. Nintendo currently controls about 98 percent of the handheld video game market thanks to its successful line of Game Boy portables, NPD Group analyst Richard Ow said.

Its newest product, the $150 Nintendo DS, features dual color screens, one of them touch-sensitive, as well as built-in wireless.

The DS was among the must-have Christmas gadgets, with 1.5 million sold worldwide since its release in late November. Nintendo said the DS represents an entirely new product line and isn’t a replacement for the aging Game Boy Advance SP.

Different toys for different gamers?
According to market research firm DFC Intelligence, the DS and PSP are expected to drive the global portable games market from $3.9 billion in 2003 to $11.1 billion in 2007. The overall global video game industry saw sales of about $23 billion in 2003.

Ow, the analyst, said Nintendo and Sony’s offerings should appeal to different audiences. While the Game Boy Advance and the DS have been more attractive to people 18 and younger, Ow said the PSP could lure older gamers.

“I don’t think Nintendo’s market is going to be as threatened as much as the PSP will make the overall market grow,” Ow said. “I see the PSP as a convergence product that addresses some of the key growth areas in entertainment. It’s poised for success.”