Sony spooked investors and broke the hearts of millions of computer game fans yesterday when it announced it is postponing the launch of the long-awaited follow-up to the world's best-selling game console, PlayStation 2, until near the end of the year.
Sony Computer Entertainment's president, Ken Kutaragi, blamed problems with copy-protection technology on the postponement, which pushes the planned spring launch of the PlayStation 3 back to November.
The delay gives Microsoft a crucial six months to establish its Xbox 360 console, released late last year, and will hearten the rival Nintendo, which is racing to launch its console, tentatively titled Revolution, before Sony.
In the UK, shares in the video game retailer Game Group declined almost 5 per cent to 77.5p on news of the delay.
Despite Sony confirming the new console will be available in November, analysts expressed concern that the bulk of shipments will go to the key Japanese and US markets, meaning insufficient supply to match UK demand in the run-up to Christmas, Game's most important trading period. Shares in Game have lost 11 per cent since speculation about a delay first hit the markets about four weeks ago.
Sales of more than 200 million units of PlayStations 1 and 2 have been one of the few bright spots on the balance sheet of the once all-conquering consumer electronics giant, which recently announced factory closures and 10,000 redundancies worldwide. Sony stunned Japan's conservative business world last year when it appointed a foreigner, Sir Howard Stringer, as its boss.
PlayStation 3 is expected to push forward the boundaries of the $25bn (£14bn) computer game industry, further blurring the boundaries between PCs, televisions and game consoles.
Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo aim to put their increasingly sophisticated consoles at the centre of the digital home by adding internet downloads of films and other features. Mr Kutaragi said recently: "The PS3 truly is the system to be placed in the centre of living rooms in homes around the world."
But the development of the machine has run into technical problems as Sony struggles to work out the details of copyright protection with film companies and other potential software providers. It hopes to help set a new industry standard with blu-ray disc technology, a high-definition format with five times the storage capacity of DVDs.
Mr Kutaragi said the company will have six million consoles in homes across the world by March 2007, after a simultaneous launch in Europe, Japan and North America before Christmas.
Launch date: November 2006
Supporters say: Twice as powerful as the Xbox 360, 35 times more powerful than PlayStation 2.
Critics say: The latest launch delay is a bad sign - there may be more system glitches to come.
UK Launch: December 2005
Worldwide sales by end of 2005: 1.35 million
Supporters say: Sleek design; fantastic graphics, sound and online experience.
Critics say: Prone to occasional system crashes; can sometimes scratch discs.
UK Launch: March 2005
Worldwide sales by end of 2005: 14 million
Supporters say: Hand-held console with high-resolution graphics.
Critics say: Screens are too small, console too bulky.Reuse content