All systems go for PSP launch, says Sony exec

Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCEI) is ready for the long-awaited launch of its PSP (PlayStation Portable) device on Sunday in Japan, its chief technical officer (CTO) said Friday.

"I think everything is ready," Masa Chatani, CTO and corporate executive of SCEI, said in an interview. "Since we made the announcement of the price and launch date, we've gotten very positive and strong feedback from retailers and customers. Even Sony employees have provided very positive feedback and told us they are going to buy it. That's a very positive sign."

SCEI aims to have 200,000 PSPs available in Japan for its launch, which also marks Sony's entry into the handheld gaming sector. After the initial launch, it is planning to supply 100,000 units for each of the last three weeks of the year. The company's aim is to ship half a million units to Japanese retailers by the end of 2004.

Chatani wouldn't comment on whether the company will meet its shipment target for Sunday, but said it is unlikely to ship substantially fewer units than anticipated.

"We're still not launched yet," he said. "We are still manufacturing day-by-day. I haven't counted all the units."

All signs point towards strong demand. Many retailers are planning to open their doors several hours earlier than normal and long lines are expected. Queues have already been seen at retailers taking advance orders for the device.

"So far, (the feedback) we've got is very positive from retailers. It's a good sign of it selling well but I won't know until the first day comes," Chatani said. "Overall, everyone has asked us to give them more."

The PSP has a 4.3-inch, wide-screen TFT (thin-film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) that dominates the front of the unit. To the right of the display are four control buttons for game play, while a direction pad sits to its left.

A close-to-final production version shown by the company on Friday had a bright, sharp picture. The device appeared well made, with a satisfying, solid feel. The game pads were easy to use and firm and there were no visible glitches or problems, either in the game play or the construction of the unit itself.

The PSP also features built-in support for IEEE802.11b wireless LAN, allowing them to connect to the Internet through an access point for online gaming and to download new games. Users can also use the LAN support to create an ad-hoc network of up to 16 PSP terminals, SCEI said. Other networking support includes a USB 2.0 port, MemoryStick Pro Duo slot and IrDA port.

Sony plans to launch the PSP in the U.S. and Europe during the first quarter of 2005. Chatani offered no update on that schedule.

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