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Sun 1 Oct 2006 04:00 AM

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Sony hit by Playstation 3 blues

Second Europe, Middle East and Africa regional launch delay attributed to Blu-ray production issues

Sony has confirmed plans to delay the launch of its next-generation Playstation 3 (PS3) console in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) until at least March 2007.

Sony cited issues relating to the supply of Blu-ray drives as the main cause for the delay.

It had previously stated that it would have more than two million consoles ready for shipment prior to the worldwide launch set down for November, but now expected to have access to just a quarter of that figure.

The company confirmed the console would still be launched in the US and Japan in November, an announcement which left many EMEA consumer electronics retailers reeling, given the expectation of huge sales of the console over the pre-Christmas trading period.

Meanwhile, archrival Microsoft last month revealed its HD DVD external drive manufactured specifically for the Xbox 360 gaming console. In a company statement, Microsoft said it expected to have “significant volumes” of the HD DVD drives shipped to retailers worldwide prior to the Christmas holiday season.

While Microsoft declined to reveal pricing details, it claimed the device would be one of the most inexpensive HD DVD drives on the market upon its release. If correct, it would provide a significant cost advantage over its Blu-ray-equipped PS3 rival, which is is expected to retail for more than US$1,000 when it hits EMEA markets.

While Sony has staked its fortunes on the success of the Blu-ray format, Microsoft has backed HD DVD technology, which is less costly and technically challenging than its rival.

Sony, which has seen its once-indomitable position as one of the most profitable consumer electronics vendors shaken in recent years, is banking on Blu-ray to restore its fortunes in the sector.

According to recent research from market analyst NPD Group, HD-DVD players outsold Blu-ray players by 33% in their respective first six weeks on the market.

Meanwhile, South Korean consumer electronics vendors LG Electronics and Samsung have shelved plans to introduce DVD players capable of supporting both next-generation formats.

Citing cost concerns, the companies said they would instead continue to develop Blu-ray disc players for the foreseeable future.

A US-based Samsung executive previously stated that the company would “welcome a unified standard, but if this doesn’t come, which looks likely, we’ll bring a unified solution to market”.

LG Electronics had previously abandoned plans to introduce its first Blu-ray player in the US last summer, and is still baulking at revealing a date for its release. What is certain is that the player will not be capable of supporting both HD DVD and Blu-ray formats.

Samsung’s BD-P1000 model, which was the first Blu-ray player released to market, has drawn strong criticism from reviewers in the US and Europe for its purportedly patchy image quality.

Samsung attributed the issue to a noise reduction circuit and said it would modify its production processes to provide a “slightly sharper picture”.

It would also provide owners of existing players with free software upgrade discs to fix the problem.

Toshiba’s HD DVD player – the first to market – has also been strongly criticised for its poor startup time, which in some instances has reportedly taken up to one minute from the moment power is switched on.

Another issue is the respective storage capacities of both formats. Blu-ray discs are currently restricted to 25GB, compared to 30GB for HD DVD, which means the latter provides capacity for expanded special features menus.

“Sony and its colleagues have done a masterful job in lining up support from the entire motion picture and the consumer electronics industry,” Warren Lieberfarb, a media and technology consultant and former president of Time Warner Home Video, told Reuters. “The big unknown is when will there will be a 50-gigabyte Blu-ray disc that can be mass-manufactured.”

A Sony Pictures representative claimed that plans were well on track for the release of a 50GB Bluray disc before the end of this year. Twentieth Century Fox will reportedly release feature film Kingdom of Heaven on a 50-gigabyte Blu-ray disc in November.

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