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Sony's PlayStation Vita on sale in Japan this year

Sony's new handheld game will launch in Japan late this year and in the US and Europe early next, a company executive said.

Sony's new portable PlayStation Vita game system will go on sale in Japan by the end of this year, then launch in the U.S. and Europe in early 2012, a company executive said Thursday.

The device, which boasts advanced features like motion controls and touchpads on both its screen and rear side, will stick to its launch price of US$250, despite recent, drastic price cuts by Nintendo to its 3DS handheld released earlier this year.

"We've packed so much into the device and made it affordable," said Kaz Hirai who is in charge of Sony's gaming operations as well as consumer electronics. "There's no need to lower the price, just because someone else that happens to be in the video game business decided that they were going to."

Nintendo launched the latest version of its smash-hit DS portable earlier this year, but that device had a rocky start, selling 3.6 million units during its first five weeks on sale, but then just 710,000 during the next three months. Nintendo said last week it would slash the price of the device by 40 percent in Japan and 32 percent in the U.S., a rare move less than six months after launch.

Hirai declined to provide any shipment targets for the Vita, saying only he wanted to make sure there were a variety of quality games available for the Vita at launch. A lack of quality titles was one issue that hurt the 3DS.

Hirai, who spoke to reporters at the company's headquarters in Tokyo, said the two devices were targeted at different markets in the gaming world, and he doesn't consider Nintendo's handheld to be a direct competitor. Sony's devices have typically aimed for more devoted gamers rather than the casual market.

He said that 90 percent of customers were "back doing things" on Sony's gaming networks after outages caused by hackers in April.

The executive also addressed Sony's struggling TV business, calling it his top priority. Like other major manufacturers, Sony has struggled to make a profit in TVs, as consumers opt for cheaper models over established brands with more features. The company recently slashed its 12-month TV sales forecast from 27 million units to 22 million units, and is aiming to sell higher-profit models rather than focus on market share.

Sony was third in global flat panel TV sales during the first quarter of this year with an 11.4 percent share, behind Samsung and LG Electronics, according to market research firm DisplaySearch. Despite a recent trend toward outsourcing, Hirai said Sony would continue to mass produce TVs, and would not consider pulling out of the business. "The TV business is a very important and fundamental platform," he said.

Hitachi, for example, is considering outsourcing all of its TV production, spokesman Atsushi Kondo said.

Hirai added that the company remained strongly committed to 3D, despite a lackluster reception from consumers so far. He said games were much more suited to the format, as designers could control all aspects, in contrast to broadcasts like live sporting events.

"Just like the adaption of things like color TVs or high definition didn't happen in a year and a half, it's going to take a little bit of time for these new technologies to get adopted," he said.

Sony reported a net loss for the three month period from April to June as the company dealt with unfavorable exchange rates, cut-throat competition in the consumer electronics business, and the hacking attack.

Previously the head of Sony's networked services unit, Hirai is credited with turning the PlayStation business into a money-maker. He was promoted to his current position from April 1, and is seen as a leading candidate to replace current chairman Howard Stringer after he retires.


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