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Europe braces for long-awaited PS3

A boat will ferry a special consignment of PlayStation 3s (PS3) to the foot of the Eiffel Tower as hard-core gamers queue in the cold at special midnight openings across Europe when Sony’s next-generation console hits stores on Friday.

“The launch of PS3 will be the biggest video-games console launch of all time,” said Jim Batchelor, entertainment head at Britain’s Woolworths department store.

“It will be bigger than the launch of the Nintendo Wii, the Xbox 360 and the previous PlayStations,” he added.

At least one man was shot in the chaotic United States launch of the PS3 four months back, and punch-ups were reported across the nation as gamers and profiteers scrambled for scarce stocks of the long-awaited machines.

As the state-of-the-art consoles made their way on to internet auction site eBay, prices rocketed into the thousands of dollars.

Of the million PS3 consoles that set off from China under high security three weeks ago for this week’s launch, about 300 000 are destined for Britain and 100 000 for France, 60 000 of them pre-ordered, said Sony Computer Entertainment France.

“Our initial stock of Nintendo Wiis sold out in just seven minutes but our initial allocation of PlayStation 3 has been considerably higher and we have seen very strong pre-order sales on this console,” said James Schall, videogames manager for amazon.co.uk.

In Paris, enthusiasts who failed to book ahead are being offered a tiny consignment of 1 000 on board a boat by the landmark Eiffel Tower, while specialist stores such as Virgin Megastore are to open at midnight on Thursday across the country.

In London the PS3, which was launched in Japan and the US in November and is equipped with a Cell microprocessor 40 times faster than PlayStation 2, will go on sale at midnight in Virgin Megastores.

But because of production costs, Sony is making available only its more expensive 60GB version for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Australasia. The price tag is high — â,¬599 ($780 dollars, £425).

That makes it the most expensive of the new-generation video consoles, against â,¬399 or â,¬299 for versions of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and â,¬249 for Nintendo’s Wii.

“More than 90% of demand in Japan and the US is for this [60GB] model,” said Georges Fornay, the European vice-president of Sony Computer Entertainment.

Fornay also told AFP that only 1 200 PlayStation 2 games would be compatible with the PS3, which comes with about 30 new games.

PlayStation 3 consoles feature internet browsers, wireless controllers with motion-sensing capabilities and a Blu-ray DVD reader.

Electronics giant Sony released it last year only in the key North American and Asian markets, where it was delayed about six months due to a glitch with the high-definition DVD player.

The roll-out in Europe was also pushed back until March due to production problems.

Sony hopes to sell six million by the end of March against 10,4-million Xbox 360s sold in a year and six million Wii consoles, which were launched last November.

PlayStations have long dominated the home video-game market, with the original version and PlayStation 2 selling more than 100-million each. — AFP

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