What's Holding Up PlayStation 3?

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The worldwide launch of Sony's PlayStation 3 has been delayed until early November, the company said yesterday at a press conference in Tokyo. Sony attributed the revised launch, pushed back from this spring, to a delay in the release of copy-protection software required for the PS3's game and high-definition movie discs.

While few doubt that the PlayStation 3 will be a hot seller when it hits the streets, the delay gives Microsoft's Xbox 360 a major head start—a full year in which it will compete mainly with two older consoles, the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo's GameCube. Xbox game developers will also be busy. Microsoft says it expects that nearly 50 Xbox 360 game titles will be on sale by June, twice the number of games currently available.

The delay also gives Microsoft time to work out manufacturing difficulties it experienced with its global rollout of the Xbox 360 last year. Traditionally, game consoles launched in stages, starting with a Japan release, followed by U.S. and European introductions. Microsoft had difficulties meeting demand for Xbox, and in February announced it had added a third manufacturing partner to increase production. More news on Microsoft's manufacturing capacity is expected at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose next week.

Microsoft's pinched supply line could foreshadow troubles for Sony. In anticipation of the PlayStation 3's worldwide release, Sony promises a manufacturing schedule of one million PlayStations 3's per month. But reports suggest that the cause of the delay is the Blu-Ray disc drive at the heart of the console. Blu-Ray was designed by Sony—along with Philips, Panasonic, Samsung, Pioneer and others—as a high-definition successor to the DVD, but the first Blu-Ray player has yet to hit the market, and is rumored to be difficult to manufacture.

Still, most companies planning to launch Blu-Ray players and PC drives say they are on target for a mid-2006 launch. Today, Sony's U.S. consumer-electronics division announced that its first Blu-Ray player, the BDP-S1, should ship in July, priced at $1,000. Blu-Ray drives for its VAIO PCs should also be available around that same time.

The new launch date of the PlayStation 3, whose price has not been announced, coincides with the anticipated introduction of Nintendo's newest home console, code-named Revolution.