Sony Corp. said Thursday it will release the PlayStation Portable in North America on March 24 and have 1 million units ready for sale in the first week.
The PSP machine, a challenger to Nintendo Co.'s long-standing grip on the handheld video gaming market, will be sold as a "value pack" for $250 in the United States and for $300 Canadian dollars. It will include numerous accessories and — for the first million sold — a copy of the "Spider-Man 2" movie on the new Universal Media Disc format that Sony designed for the PSP.
Sony said it has already shipped 800,000 PSPs in Japan, where it went on sale on Dec. 12 for about $190.
By comparison, Nintendo's newest product, the Nintendo DS sells for $150. It was among the must-have Christmas gadgets, with more than 2.8 million sold worldwide since its release in late November.
The PSP is designed, however, with more multimedia features. It can play digital music, movies and display photos on its 4.3-inch color screen, using Sony's proprietary 1.8-gigabyte UMD discs or a Memory Stick.
With the PSP, the Tokyo-based electronics giant is targeting a wider consumer base and not just young gamers.
"It has gaming at its core, but it's not a gaming device. It's an entertainment device," Kaz Hirai, the president of Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. said in an interview.
In addition to working with its own Sony Pictures film division, Sony is in discussions with other movie studios to support the new UMD format for future releases of movies, Hirai said.
Sony said 24 game titles will be available around the time of the launch with prices starting at $40 each.
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.
Hard-core gamers will propel the initial sales of the PSP, analysts say. Its unique combination of gaming and multimedia features in a 7-inch by 3-inch device that also has Wi-Fi wireless connectivity, could spur a new market for Sony, however.
"When it comes to entertainment, Sony has advantages over other players in the market," said P.J. McNealy, analyst at American Technology Research. "But success drives imitation, and if this thing is a wildly successful platform, you'll see knockoffs by the holidays in 2006."
By May Wong