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Sony PS3: a 2006 holiday launch likely


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Howard Stringer, as you may know, is the CEO of Sony, and he decided to have a sit-down interview with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about Sony's entertainment ventures. It's not your standard tech fare; some of the answers are oblique, and the reporter's own comments in the article show a hint of technological naiveté (he calls a Memory Stick a "hard drive" in reference to the PSP). Nevertheless, there's some interesting stuff in here. First, a launch date for the Playstation 3. The article states it pretty matter-of-factly:

In a demonstration of the swift collaborative response to consumer-driven marketplace changes that a revitalized Sony can deliver, the company soon will unveil a line of compact, portable video devices to fill the time gap before PlayStation 3 launches in Japan in March and in the U.S. a year from now.

This suggests, obviously, a holiday 2006 launch for the PS3 in North America, several months after the Japanese debut. It also suggests that Sony is looking to bring more portable video units to market, although I wonder if they're not better off unbundling the PSP, and selling that as a media device. Whatever the case, it looks as though Sony will be relying on Memory Sticks in portable players, which leads me to believe that they won't compete well against the (video) iPod (the cost-per-Megabyte difference between the two is significant).

And what about price? While commenting on how the PS3 will bring Blu-ray support to the masses, Stringer indicated that Sony would be selling the PS3 at a loss partially  for this very reason.

"PS3 is a subsidized Blu-ray play that will sell 20 million units. The first HD player will be on the market for $1,000. PS3 could be at $300 or $400. Sony will be selling them at a loss the first six months to a year just to get Blu-ray players out in the market. So studios realize they need to have their content on it," he said.

According to Stringer, the PS3—not the increased DRM found in the BD spec—is what drove so many studios to support Blu-ray over HD DVD (obviously excluding Twentieth Century Fox). The implication is that had Microsoft backed HD DVD early on, there'd be more competition between the two standards right now. I'm not sure I buy that. While Stringer claims that the HD DVD market will be suppressed under the cost of HD DVD players, HD DVD looks like it will have at least 8 months of a head start on the PS3. The success of HD DVD will likely rise and fall with the number of compelling HD DVD titles out there.

But wait, there's more. The current thinking in the console world right now is that the PS3 will not ship with a hard drive by default, but one will be available as an add-on. Behind closed doors there has been no shortage of chatter about the possibility that, add-on status aside, the PS3 could possibly be "bundled" in the US to include a hard drive at launch, making it almost a de facto base configuration. This theory got a pinch more interesting with another comment in the article.

In keeping with the PlayStation business model, PS3 will roll out at a loss for the first six months, then rapidly turn profits on game-license fees. PS3 will be bundled with a selection of preloaded films, TV programs and games and sell for between $300-$400.

They key word there is "preloaded." The astute reader will ask, "preloaded onto what"? Assuming that the author isn't mistaking a few bundled Blu-ray discs as "preloads," I'd say we're talking about a hard drive.

Stringer also took some time to criticize Apple's video service designs, making some arguments that, in theory, sound quite good.

"Why would someone want to pay $1.99 per download of one TV series episode on a closed system like a video iPod when they can transfer all the content they want from their own devices like DVRs to our multimedia portable player at no extra cost? Consumers already can do this with the PlayStation Portable," Stringer said.

(You just have to appreciate rhetoric, don't you? The words "closed system" coming out of a Sony bosses' mouth? Classic.)

He does have a point, though. I already have my TiVo. I really don't care to pay $1.99 for a TV show that I can normally grab with my TiVo, provided my two tuners aren't already busy. But where is Sony going to swoop in on this? Leaving aside hacks, currently TiVoToGo is the only major option for those looking to take their TVs with them on specialized portably devices. So far, those devices are all based around Windows Mobile. Will Sony try to roll their own, or will they merely release another Windows Mobile device? Time will tell.

The interview is expansive and delves into a number of topics. Practically every paragraph or so there's something that could be analyzed and placed into context with what onlookers are expecting to see from Sony over the past year. With the above I've tried to touch on the most salient and interesting details, while avoiding going too far out on a limb.


Sony seems to change the release date for the PS3 as often as they change thier underwear!

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