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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 November 2006, 16:54 GMT
Japan prepares to greet the PS3
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

Japanese gamers, AP
Sony hopes the PS3 proves popular with Japanese gamers
Yodobashi Camera in the Akihabara district of Tokyo is the kind of store the tourists flock to in Tokyo.

This part of the city is known as "electric town"'. It's where you find the gadgets for which Japan is famous.

The store is huge with almost every kind of consumer electronic brand you could think of on display. The products are stacked all the way along the long aisles spread over several floors.

But for a couple of weeks now a certain sleek black box has been attracting much of the attention.

Good game

Ahead of the official launch of the PlayStation 3, Sony's new games console is encased in a clear plastic box. A large high definition flat screen TV above it is showing a selection of the games you can play on it.

I'm no expert but the graphics are remarkable. In one scene wild animals race across the Serengeti.

A hippo yawns and then wiggles its ear in a way that looks truly lifelike.

The problem for Sony though is pretty obvious here. It's playing catch up.

Customers can only look at the Sony machine but a few feet away they can grab Microsoft's Xbox 360 for themselves and try it out.

The Xbox 360's been on sale for a year already. It's cheaper than the PS3 and some of those having a go in the store think it has better games.

Xbox 360, AP
Microsoft's Xbox 360 has struggled to win fans in Japan
"You can have a really good console," said Dan who was visiting from Australia, "but if the games don't look any good no-one's going to be that interested."

"That's the big thing about Xbox 360. My friends really like the games on it. Especially like Halo and stuff like that - they're really into it so I think that's probably the most important thing when you're deciding which one to buy."

His friend Andrew was taking a close interest in the Nintendo display on the other side of the store.

Again the console was sitting inside a plastic box. The new Wii console doesn't go on sale here until the end of the year.

The promotional video makes clear what the company regards as their device's unique selling point though.

You can swing it through the air to mimic the movement of a swordsman for instance, or a batsman, or even throwing a frisbee.

"I think Nintendo is behind its competitors at the moment," Andrew told me, "but Wii is going to put them back in front I think. It's just so different to everything else."

Sony spokesmen tell me that it and its competitors are trying to turn their focus from games to "entertainment".

Expensive hobby

What that means is trying to encourage not just the hard-core gamers to buy their consoles but older people, younger kids, and more women too.

There are prominent displays in this store for the kind of software you wouldn't traditionally expect to use your games console for.

Toy robots, AP
The Akiharbara district is Tokyo's electronics and computer hub
There's "brain training" and several virtual pets. Another application turns your portable console into a talking phrase book you can take to a restaurant to help you order dinner or complain.

Browsing the shelves are all sorts of customers, women with young children and schoolgirls as well as the teenage boys and young men you'd expect to see in this part of the store.

This weekend there probably won't be enough Playstation 3s on sale to meet demand.

Stores here say they won't be opening their doors at midnight, but they might open a couple of hours early on Saturday morning to get the queues out of the way before the rest of the shoppers arrive.

A couple of outlets are planning to hold a draw to try to ensure a fair distribution of the stock they've got. Some are only accepting reservations.

But price is an issue. Sony promise that the PS3 will have the power of a supercomputer, but even after a last minute price cut it's more expensive than the Xbox 360.

That's an issue for Miki who was shopping with her friends at Yodobashi Camera.

"PlayStation 3 is very expensive," she told me. "I prefer to go to a games centre or an arcade and play there she said. I don't play video games at home. I just can't afford it".

The competition facing PlayStation 3

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