Video game fans in Japan will brave the cold and stand in long lines today to buy Sony's PlayStation 3 (PS3) in what is certain to be a sellout launch of the much-awaited upgrade.
Supply is limited as Sony Corp -- plagued with production problems -- has managed to ready only 100,000 PS3 machines for the Japan launch date.
When it goes on sale in the US next Friday, some 400,000 PS3 consoles will be available. The sales date has been pushed back in Europe until March.
"I waited this long, and I'm not disappointed. I'm glad I waited," said Takayuki Yokozawa, a 27-year-old employee of a computer business who owns the original PlayStation, as well as PlayStation 2.
Despite such enthusiasm, Sony will be losing money for some time on each PS3 sold because of the high costs for research and production that went into the highly sophisticated machine.
Powered by the new "Cell" computer chip and supported by the next-generation video format Blu-ray, the console delivers nearly movie-like graphics and a sense of reality in gaming -- including details such as faces in a crowd, and subtle textures such as shining metal or pulsating human flesh.
The more expensive model with a 60-gigabyte hard drive costs about ?60,000 (US$510).
But Sony expects to lose ?200 billion in its gaming division in the fiscal year through March of next year.
Game makers like Sony must retrieve the returns for the exorbitant development costs for the machines by selling its game software.
But developing games for PS3 is a costly and time-consuming task because the machine is loaded with cutting-edge technology. Only five games will be on sale on the PS3 Japan launch date.
In recent years, Sony has fallen behind in sales on key products like flat-panel TVs and digital music players.
But the firm has been making progress by getting back to basics in its consumer electronics operations.
But a major fumble in its PS3 business could prove a huge blow to the already faltering Sony at a time that it is seeing its brand image badly tarnished by a massive global recall of lithium-ion batteries for laptops.
In an unprecedented move, Sony slashed the price for the cheaper PS3 model in Japan ahead of its launch by 20 percent to about ?50,000 in what some critics have scorned as a desperate effort to win market share.
Sony's product is in the thick of intense competition with Nintendo Co's Wii console and US software maker Microsoft Corp's Xbox 360.