Sony announces nameless ‘next generation portable’

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TOKYO (AP) — Sony said the successor to its PlayStation Portable machine will go on sale late this year, offering the quality of a home console in an on-the-go machine boasting a screen double the size of smart phones.

The announcement Thursday of the “next generation portable” underlines efforts at the Japanese electronics and entertainment company to ward off the formidable threat from Apple Inc., which is delivering one hit product after another, while also trying to get an edge over Nintendo Co., maker of the DS handheld game machine.

The popularity of smart phones including the iPhone is a potential threat to game machine makers as more people play games, watch video, send e-mail and chat on cell phones. People are also using other portable devices such as Apple’s iPod and iPad to play games.

Sony’s new machine, known for now by its code-name NGP, comes packed with motion sensor and GPS location technology so that gamers can tilt and sway the machine to play golf games, kill monsters and experience other “virtual realities,” said Kazuo Hirai, who heads Sony Corp.’s gaming section.

It has a touch panel in the front and touch pads in the back to allow players to tap on the machine to move images, in addition to the usual buttons and switches.

Also provided is a third-generation wireless connection plus the already available WiFi, allowing for more social networking and downloads. Its five-inch screen is OLED — a different technology from liquid-crystal display — for good color and image quality about four times better than the current PSP.

Sony said gamers will be able to experience games they had been playing on the PlayStation 3 home console without any drop in quality.

Hirai proudly held the shiny black machine up for the cameras, declaring: “This is the NGP.”

He told reporters that the NGP’s price will hit “a sweet spot,” that reflects its quality while ensuring consumer appeal. He also said the machine will get a “more creative” name than NGP later.

Sony was studying release timing and has not decided whether it will be simultaneous or different for each region as that would depend on software availability and other factors, he said.

“We will pursue the ultimate in entertainment,” said Hirai. “We want to create a revolution in your hands.”

Ricardo Torres, editor-in-chief of online GameSpot, an online gaming review site, was impressed.

“The graphic fidelity of the games shown was impressive and made all the more eye-popping by that OLED screen, which is gorgeous,” he said after attending Hirai’s presentation.

Hirai said Sony was also working on what he called PlayStation Suite, for enjoying some PlayStation Portable games on smart phones and tablet PCs. Sony will start providing support and starting a licensing program for devices running Google’s Android software systems starting this year, he said.

Sony is facing off in portables against Japanese rival Nintendo Co., which is introducing a new DS with glasses-free 3-D features next month. The NGP won’t include 3-D.

U.S. software maker Microsoft Corp. is another major player with its Xbox 360 home console, but it does not make a portable. Microsoft has a cell phone business with its Windows Phone 7 software for games and other entertainment on smart phones.

PlayStation Portable sales have been dropping — by as much as 37 percent last year to about 2.7 million for April-September from 4.3 million the same period the previous year.

By contrast, Apple sold 16.2 million iPhones during the October-December quarter alone.

Sony has not yet disclosed its PSP sales numbers for October-December.

More than 64 million PlayStation Portable machines have been sold cumulatively around the world since it went on sale in December 2004.

Yuji Fujimori, an analyst with Barclays Capital in Tokyo, says it’s too early to assess what Sony has in the works.

In the long run, game consoles may disappear altogether as games and social networking have arrived on smart phones and other devices, he said.

“Sony’s message is more about keeping rival Nintendo in check,” said Fujimori.

Hirai brought on stage several game software developers such as Sega and Capcom who showed footage of PlayStation 3 games adapted for NGP to demonstrate great graphics quality. Sony has signed dozens of developers around the world to work on NGP games.

“We believe NGP will change the way people play games on the go,” said Philip Earl of U.S. game maker Activision Inc.

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