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Buying Frenzy To Greet PS3, Wii Launches

New York — Sony and Nintendo are igniting an already volatile pre-Holiday selling climate by launching this week 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) this Friday and Nintendo’s Wii this Sunday.

Sony, which spiked a similar buying frenzy with the world PS3 introduction in Japan last week, 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’s end, which would be 65 percent more than the Xbox 360 units available last year.

Sony has 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 Wi-Fi 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/wireless 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.

Games available at launch will include the Sony titles: Resistance: Fall of Man, NBA 07 (1,080p), and Genji: Days of the Blade, each priced at $59.95 suggested retails. Sony Online Entertainment will also offer Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom.

Third-party launch titles will include: Call of Duty 3, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and Tony Hawk’s Project 8 (Activision); The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Bethesda); Fight Night Round 3, Madden NFL 07, Need For Speed Carbon, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 (EA); Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire and Ridge Racer 7 (Namco Bandai); Full Auto 2, and Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega); NBA 2K7 and NHL 2K7 (2K Sports); Blazing Angels and Rainbow Six Vegas (Ubisoft) and F.E.A.R. (Vivendi).

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 that can be swung like a racket in a tennis game or like a sword in an adventure game.

The Excite Truck game, available at launch, will use the remote like a steering wheel to control onscreen action.

The Wii console ships with the remote, a Nunchuk controller, an AC adapter, a sensor bar, a Wii AV (standard composite) cable and Wii Sports action game collection.

Another key game from Nintendo available at launch is The Legend of Zelda — Twilight Princess. In addition,17 third-party games will be available day one, including Call of Duty 3, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam and Marvel Ultimate Alliance from Activision; Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 from Atari; Trauma Center: Second Opinion from Atlus; Madden NFL ’07 from Electronic Arts; Rampage: Total Destruction, Happy Feet and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy from Midway; Avatar: The Last Airbender, Cars and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Creature from the Krusty Krab from THQ; Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz from Sega; and GT Pro Series, Monster 4X4 World Circuit, Rayman Raving Rabbids and Red Steel from Ubisoft.

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 announced later.

Nintendo’s national advertising efforts, meanwhile, were kept deliberately low-key prior to launch, with TV spots planned to after the products become available.

Nintendo was to begin airing the first in a series of four 30-second TV ads Nov. 21 during the performance finals of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

The ads demonstrate the motion-sensitive abilities of the Wii remote controller.

The ads will run on ABC, NBC, Comedy Central,BET, USA, TBS, Discovery, Animal Planet, ABC Family, Nick at Nite, Sci-Fi, TLC, Fox, The CW, MTV 10 Spot, MTV, MTV2, MTVU, Adult Swim, Fuse, Si TV, The N, VH-1 and Black Family Channel.

Nintendo is also offering a Fusion Tour and viral sampling events in cities across the country to showcase the product.

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 the HD DVD movie discs. The company also announced plans to make video programming available for download through the Xbox Live! Service.