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The new Sony PS3 will not be launched in Australia till at least March 2007. When the PlayStation 3 reaches Australian shelves it will be horribly late and very expensive. It is expected to retail at up to $900 – you can buy a Microsoft Xbox starter kit for around half that price.

The setback, caused by problems in mass manufacturing the PS3’s next generation Blu-ray DVD component, means the games machine will miss the crucial Christmas period in Australia, Europe, Russia, and the Middle East.

The PS3 project has already been delayed once this year, allowing Microsoft’s rival Xbox 360 to steal a march in the $30 billion console market.

The console will be released in the United States and Japan in November as planned – though manufacturing problems mean there will be half as many machines available on launch dates than previously thought.

Sony announced the news by way of a press release and was refusing to comment any further on the matter at this time.

Gamers eager to get their hands on a PS3 could, in theory, buy one through the so-called “grey market” by travelling to the US. However, games and DVDs for the system will be “region encoded” – which means that US machines wil not play titles released in the UK. Imported machines will also not be covered by warrantees.

“I am very sorry. I think there are many people who are looking forward to PS3, so I really regret the delay,” Ken Kutaragi, chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment, said.

Sony’s Blu-ray format will also be pitted by a rival system, HD DVD, which has been developed by Toshiba, in a re-run of the video-cassette wars of the late 1970’s. Sony’s Betamax product lost to rival VHS in that showdown.

The latest blow comes just weeks after Sony said it would contribute hundreds of millions of dollars in recall costs after nearly 6 million computer batteries made by the Japanese electronics giant were recalled by Dell and Apple on safety fears. Sony said in a brief statement today that the manufacturing problems had occurred within the group, “thus affecting the timely procurement of key components”.

Last month the company revealed that it had not started production of the long-awaited console, leading industry analysts to question whether Sony would be able to keep to its timetables. In April, Sony posted a 68 per cent rise in full-year operating profits but hopes that the Japanese electronics-to-media group could finally be staging a concerted recovery were overshadowed by concerns over larger than expected costs for the launch of the PS3.

At that time it said it expected its games division to rack up an operating loss of  $1.1 billion this financial year amid spiralling PS3 costs. That hit is expected to cut operating profits in half from last year.

But Sony also stands to lose in terms of reputation with bloggers expressing anger at today’s setback.

“So not content with overpricing the system, delaying for a year and ensuring it’s underpowered compared to its direct competitors [Sony is] now going to ensure the traditional Christmas market is utterly overlooked,” said Kuriyama’s Hovel on MySpace.com.

“Of course by this time next year they’ll be decrying pirates as the reason they’ve failed to establish a substatial [sic] foothold in the next-gen market … After the genius of releasing the Playstation originally, they really have done their best to run themselves into the ground,”

Digitalgopher commenting on digg.com said “So what was going to be their “Claim to Fame” (blu-ray) is actually their Achilles Heel. LOL! I’ll just enjoy my XBOX 360…”

Techsmessage.com said: “Sony Europe said when they first announced the simultaneous world wide launch ‘This is an exciting first for Europe, and is a huge endorsement and vote of confidence in the strength of the European market and its importance globally’, so with them now going back on this promise we can assume that they assume Europe to be 3rd rate, behind Japan & USA, if you want my advise get a Wii.”

Blogger Chris Doidge said: “Sony have got a lot to lose from having the PS3 delayed: not just poor figures for 2006, but also a loss in market share as parents buy their kids XBoxes [sic] for Christmas.”

Helen Stuckey, games lab curator at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), agrees that this latest delay leaves the door wide open for the Xbox 360.

“People entering the games market for the first time will go for the Xbox,”  she says. “Loyal Playstation gamers will probably wait for the PS3 however because it still has people’s hearts and minds.”

Major Australian Playstation fan site’s (www.futuregamez.net) Dave Warner was a bit more optimistic. 

“The delay of the Playstation 3 is a bitter blow for European and Australian fans. Yet again we have to feel left out, but when you also realise that Japan and America are getting only a fraction of the units initially intented (total of 500,000 units) it’s understandable. You can bet your bottom dollar that if Sony could provide the units to all territories they would.

“The PS3 has so many spectacular games coming out on the system that the additional wait will be unbearable, and knowing that Japanese and American gamers will be playing them over the Christmas break makes it even harder.

“Having said that this is cutting edge technology. The Blu-Ray drives are an integral part of the system, and one which will ensure a lengthy lifespan. I would much rather wait a few months then for Sony to throw in the towel and revert back to DVD format – something which they could have done months ago. It’s a disappointing announcement, but one which sadly had to happen.

“Sony couldn’t launch with a couple of thousand units in Australia, and the additional time I can guarantee will be put to good use to polish off the online services and games further and ensure there are large enough quantities to go around,” he said.

The Korea Times today reported that Sony Pictures has claimed the debut of Blu-ray in Korea was hit because Samsung Electronics failed to provide the only Blu-ray player to the market on time.

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