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Next Gen Face-Off

11 Nov, 2005 By: John Latchem

Microsoft and Sony showed off their next-generation video game systems to investors at the Harris Nesbitt Media & Entertainment Conference in New York last week, promising technologically innovative machines that take advantage of the latest trends in home-entertainment convergence.

“This really will be the best device out in the world,” said Bryan Lee, Microsoft's CFO and corporate VP of the home and entertainment division, highlighting Xbox 360's advanced graphics processor.

Lee also focused on the online capabilities of the Xbox 360 through Xbox Live, saying he hoped at least 50 percent of Xbox 360 gamers would sign up for the online service. It allows remote head-to-head play and online messaging, and gives game makers a chance to keep their games fresh with updates.

The console will have ports to connect to an iPod or other MP3 player, as well as Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP), and can download music from CDs, Lee said. Xbox 360 will allow parents to control content viewed by their children, he added.

Xbox 360 hits stores Nov. 22 in America, Dec. 2 in Europe and Dec. 10 in Japan. Lee said Microsoft expects to ship 3 million consoles in the first 90 days, and up to 5.5 million units in fiscal year 2006.

He estimated the first 90 days would see consumer sales of more than $1.5 billion from the platform, including the console, games, peripherals and online subscriptions.

Sony Computer Entertainment America EVP and co-COO Jack Tretton said no specific date has been announced for the release of Sony's new PlayStation 3 (PS3) console, although the target is spring 2006.

When it does make it to market, PS3 will sport a variety of technologies, most notably a Blu-ray high-definition disc player.

“PlayStation 3 will have the biggest impact in ushering in Blu-ray technology,” Tretton said.

Ironically, Toshiba, which is spearheading development of the rival HD DVD optical-disc format, is teaming with Sony and IBM to develop the PS3's advanced cell processor.

Tretton, who wouldn't elaborate on the partnership with Toshiba, promised advanced graphics capabilities with realistic, lifelike rendering of human characters. He said more than 220 games already are in development in North America and Japan.In addition, PS3 will be backward compatible with more than 13,000 titles previously developed for the first two PlayStation consoles.

Tretton also praised the PSP, calling it one of the most successful platform debuts in history with nearly 20 million units shipped worldwide.

He said the PSP's functionality as a true multimedia device would improve with the latest Firmware upgrade this fall, which would add a Wi-Fi Internet browser, music players and the ability to transfer images between PSPs. Also, a LocationFree player will allow consumers to purchase a $349 device that connects to a digital recording device, cable system, camcorder, DVD or CD player at home and beam the content to be played on the PSP from any Wi-Fi hotspot around the world.

“I think you can envision people in Starbucks, instead of reading The Wall Street Journal, maybe watching CNN on their PSP, streamed to them live from their home via the Internet,” Tretton said.

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