Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Elite, left, and Sony’s PlayStation 3
By Cho Jin-seo
The main round of next-generation video game rivalry is to start this weekend when Sony releases its PlayStation3 console in Seoul to compete against Microsoft's Xbox 360 - a battle that may benefit both.
Sony is planning a lavish launching ceremony Saturday morning at I'Park Mall in Yongsan, Seoul, hoping that the event will draw media attention as anxious gamers are expected to queue from Friday night.
The company had been a bit cautious in setting the sales goal in Korea, as it was conscious of the machine's relatively high price (518,000 won) and the Korean market's preference for PC-based games. But the consumers' anticipation was beyond Sony's expectation.
On Tuesday night, the company put 200 units on advance sale on a cable TV shopping channel. They were sold out in less than three minutes, leaving officials of Sony Entertainment Korea excited and baffled at the same time.
``It was an amazing pace that nobody had expected,'' said Kang Hee-won, marketing manager of Sony Computer Entertainment Korea. ``It also meant that there wasn't enough time to show off the PS3's various functions to viewers, since they were sold out before we could explain them.''
Microsoft is trying to take advantage of the media frenzy on the so-called next-generation video game machines by unveiling an upgraded, more luxurious version of its Xbox 360 console on Tuesday, which will be released within a few months.
Xbox 360 has been on the Korean market since February 2006 and rumors are that Microsoft has sold around 100,000 since then, though the company refused to confirm the figure. The new all-black Xbox 360 Elite comes with a 120-gigabyte hard disk drive, which is enough to store dozens of high-quality movies and games.
``We have a positive view (on the launching of the PS3). We welcome it,'' said Lim Dae-hwan, marketing coordinator of Microsoft Korea. ``We have walked alone, but the competition will make us grow together (with Sony).''
Both PS3 and Xbox 360 are capable of displaying high-definition video games and can be plugged directly into a network. But what makes them more appealing is that they can play either Blu-ray or HD-DVD movie titles (Xbox needs an additional 198,000-won video adapter). Blu-ray and HD-DVD have superior picture and sound quality than ordinary DVDs, and so far, PS3 and Xbox 360 are the most affordable players available on the market.
Sony and Microsoft had little fun in selling video game machines in South Korea until last year with the older versions of their respective machines _ PlayStation2 and the Xbox original. Overshadowed by the popularity of PC-based online games and plagued by rampant software piracy, they could only sell a diminishing number of game titles, the main source of their income. Sony Computer Entertainment Korea even cut its workforce by 20 percent late last year and replaced its CEO.
Microsoft's Lim said that the piracy issue has noticeably improved this year, as the new console's network connectivity can detect whether a console is modified for unscrupulous uses and gives warnings to users online. One remaining threat to them is the Nintendo Wii, which is due in the second half of the year in Korea.