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Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2006, 16:32 GMT
Sony's rough ride through 2006
BBC Click's Dan Simmons
By Dan Simmons
Reporter, BBC Click Online

When the first PlayStation 3s went on sale in Japan there were not enough for everyone who wanted one, and within hours the shops were empty.

A woman with her PS3
People queued for days to buy the first PS3s

The same thing happened with the PlayStation 2, but there are only about half as many units available this time round as last.

It is not that Sony has not learnt its lesson, it is just that things have not quite gone to plan.

It was a very ambitious project from the start. The new Cell processor at the heart of the machine was to be 40 times more powerful than its predecessor, simultaneously working out the physics and lighting of in-game movement and huge amounts of detailed real-time rendering.

That slowed production, but there was also another problem.

"Blu Ray is the other massive challenge. In order to get so much data on a disc you have to make the pits that the laser reads immensely small," said Nick Gillett, video games journalist from The Guardian.

"You also need a very fine laser to pick up those pits and they've been having enormous trouble with the blue laser diode which make the laser."

Battery recall

Rumours also spread that four out of five of the diode chips do not work, and Sony has not published a failure rate.

Dell laptop battery, AP
The recall and PS3 delay helped Sony's profits to dive by 94%.

The PS3 worldwide launch was delayed from spring to November 2006. And while the chips were down, Sony had more bad news.

"It started small with some stories about Dell laptop batteries starting to spark, and maybe even catching fire," said John Houlihan, Editor of Computerandvideogames.com.

"It went on to become the biggest product recall in history, affecting not just Dell but a lot of other laptop computers and a major number of Sony's key partners as well. It came at the wrong time for Sony during what was already a difficult period."

Around 10 million notebook batteries made by Sony were recalled. The recall and PS3 delay helped Sony's profits to dive by 94% (Q3, 2006).

Catch-up

With the delay in the PS3, Microsoft's next-generation console - the Xbox 360 - had a free 12 month head start.

It now boasts second generation titles for the Xbox 360 which do not look that different from the first generation PS3 versions.

I don't think their strategy is as clearly defined as Microsoft's has been, and I think that could be a bit of a mistake
John Houlihan

Game producers have had time to understand and squeeze more from the Xbox 360. It will take around a year before developers can really start to push the PS3's capabilities.

And, as John Houlihan went on to explain, Microsoft is also in the driving seat as far as online gaming is concerned.

"I think Sony have got a lot of catching up to do with their planned online gaming service.

"They don't plan to have anything centralised, like Microsoft, by and large they are going to let people who want to play games online find each other.

"I don't think their strategy is as clearly defined as Microsoft's has been, and I think that could be a bit of a mistake," he said.

In September, Sony decided it only had enough PS3s to launch in Japan and the US - Europe would have to want until March.

With Nintendo's Wii launch and Microsoft offering a new HD-DVD drive this Christmas, Nick Gillett thinks some Sony fans will not want to wait.

"There will be kids out there - and actually quite a few adults too - absolutely clamouring for something new to do this Christmas. I think those who have waited so long for Sony may finally decide it's time to stop."

The shortage of PS3s could last well into next year. While importing units into Europe is banned, PS3s exchanged on EBay in the UK for more than three times their retail price on launch day in Japan.

And the irony is that Sony is thought to be making a loss on each sale.

It will only be when the games themselves start flying out of the shops that the electronics giant will finally be able to cash in.



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