Today is launch day for Sony Corp.'s PlayStation Portable, the new mobile video-game-playing device from the consumer electronics giant behind the popular consoles PlayStation and PlayStation 2.
Although the handheld-game market is practically synonymous with Nintendo Co.'s Game Boy and Game Boy successors, Sony is taking on more than Nintendo with its flashy $250 gadget.
Advertisements promote Sony's PlayStation Portable, a handheld game-playing device.
(Daniel Acker -- Bloomberg News)
A Real-Life Pause Button: Electronics stores across the nation opened at midnight so jonesing hordes of gamers could score Sony Corp.'s latest mind parasite, prompting the question: Are we being played?
Video: The Washington Post's Jose Antonio Vargas reviews the new PlayStation Portable handheld video game device.
With a versatile device that can also play music and movies, the consumer electronics giant is hoping for a hit that attracts an older and more affluent audience while stealing attention away from portable entertainment gadgets such as iPods and mini-DVD players. With the PSP, packed in a shiny black case, Sony is hoping that it has figured out a Walkman for this generation.
Kazuo Hirai, Sony Computer Entertainment America's chief executive, said the first million PSPs, which go on sale in North America today, are "naturally weighted" toward people who bought Sony's PlayStation 2, but that the company is shooting for an even broader audience.
"The PSP market is going to be just as big, if not bigger," Hirai said. "We hope to quickly branch out and bring in users who see the PSP for all the other attributes it has, in addition to the gaming features," he said.
The company has sold about 33 million PlayStation 2s in North America since the product's launch in 2000, but Sony's game business has been weaker recently. Sales by Sony's game division were down 23 percent in its most recent quarter from the comparable quarter a year earlier. Sales by Sony's electronics and music divisions were also down.
The handheld-game market makes up about a fifth of the video-game industry, according to David Cole, president of DFC Intelligence in San Diego. Sales of handheld games totaled $4.5 billion last year, and Cole said that figure may double this year because of a new product from Nintendo and the introduction of the PSP.
Sony's new device hits retail shelves with two dozen PSP-compatible games. Because earlier versions of many of the games were hits, Sony already has captured the interest of many hard-core gamers. Some specialty game shops were to open at midnight to sell the PSP. In the Washington region, Best Buy stores will open two hours early, at 8 a.m.
Sony is trying with the PSP to blaze a trail into the mostly hitless world of "convergence." That buzzword has obsessed the tech world for more than a decade, and Sony hopes that the PSP will successfully pull off some gadget lovers' dream of having nearly every type of digital diversion in one case.
But the PSP is not the first device from Sony that has been pitched as the "next Walkman." Sony's MiniDisc products, for example, mostly fizzled because they used a Sony proprietary audio technology that competitors did not enthusiastically embrace. Likewise, the Memory Stick Walkman, an early digital music player, was mauled by critics for its clunky interface, which made getting music on and off the gadget a chore.