Sony and Nintendo ignited an already volatile pre-holiday selling climate last week by launching their latest video game consoles in U.S. retail stores with limited supplies.
Consumers lined up at stores several days prior to the U.S. launch of Sony's Playstation 3 (PS3), on Nov. 17, and Nintendo's Wii, on Nov. 19.
Sony, which spiked a similar buying frenzy with the world PS3 introduction in Japan a week earlier, said it would ship 400,000 units in two versions for the U.S. market at launch, or approximately 25 percent more units than were available for the Xbox 360 last year. Retail market analysts Lehman Brothers estimates that 1 million PS3 units will be sold in U.S. stores by year end, which would be 65 percent more than the Xbox 360 units available at the same time last year.
Sony said it hopes to exceed unit sales projections and has forecasted a total of 2 million unit shipments in Japan and the U.S. by year's end.
The entry level unit ($499 suggested retail) offers an internal 20GB hard drive and will output 1,080i and 720p HD video over special component video cables but lacks an HDMI connector. The step-up unit ($599 suggested retail) adds a 60GB hard drive, built-in WiFi networking, SD and MemoryStick media slots and an HDMI output that is capable of delivering up to a full 1,080p high definition signal to compatible TV sets.
Both PS3 models also incorporate disc drives compatible with a wide array of formats, including high-definition Blu-ray Disc movies. Both players will be the lowest-priced Blu-ray Disc playback devices on the market this year, and are expected to spark significant cross-over demand from HD movie watchers as well as gamers.
The PS3 ships with a Blu-ray Disc version of the movie "Talladega Nights — The Legend of Ricky Bobby," one USB controller and cable, and a composite video connector. HDMI cables or special S-video and component video cables with special PS3 dongle connectors must be purchased separately.
Nintendo, meanwhile, said it will ship a total of 4 million of its $250 Wii consoles worldwide by year's end. Industry analysts estimate that the initial U.S. allotment will be between 600,000 and 800,000 units, building to about 1.5 million units by year's end.
Twenty video game titles will launch with the console, Nintendo said. These will include: Wii Sports, a collection of five sports games that come with the system. Some 33 titles are expected to be available before the end of the year, along with downloadable access to another 30 Virtual Console classics.
The highlight of the Wii system is its motion-sensitive controller called the Wii remote, which contains a speaker , and can be swung like a racket in a tennis game or like a sword in an adventure game.
The Wii console ships with the remote, a Nunchuk controller, an AC adapter, a sensor bar, a Wii AV (standard composite) cable and the Wii Sports action game collection.
Nintendo has said that the initial Wii units will not support playback of DVD videos, but an upgraded version with DVD playback support developed by Sonic Solutions will be shipping later at a price to be determined.
Nintendo's national advertising efforts, meanwhile, were kept deliberately low-key prior to launch, with TV spots planned for after the products became available.
Nintendo was to begin airing the first in a series of four 30-second TV ads on Nov. 21 during the performance finals of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
Meanwhile, Microsoft, which was responsible for last year's game console buying frenzy with the launch of the Xbox 360, will look to accelerate sales by introducing a $199 add-on drive for HD DVD movie discs. The company also announced plans to make video programming available for download through the Xbox Live! Service.
For more information on the launches, including a list of available game titles and details of the ad campaigns, please see TWICE.com.