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No Sony PS3 in UK until 2007, says analyst

But Xbox 360 hard drives on the way

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It's been a fairly tough start to the year for both Sony's PS3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360, but it looks like Sony's woe may be a touch worse.

Industry speculation that Sony's projected release date for its PlayStation 3 console of "Spring 2006" was looking unlikely turned into open ridicule when a Sony source told a journalist that the PS3s shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month were empty cases. Now, US analyst Evan Wilson says the PS3 will be released in Summer 2006 in Japan, November 2006 in the US and March 2007 in Europe, with a million units allocated to each territory.

Sony had promised a surprise in the way the PS3 would be rolled-out. If Wilson is right, the surprise is not the pleasant one some had anticipated - that of a global roll-out, or even Europe coming first, but the normal slap-in-the-face Sony last delivered with the PSP launch. European gamers come last, by a long way.

Microsoft would no doubt be laughing its socks off right now, having predicted a European PS3 launch of 2007, if it didn't have enough problems of its own. Analysts believe the company sold around 1.3m Xbox 360s before the end of 2005, with some putting a figure of 600,000 in the US. Microsoft has now publicly ditched its target of 3m Xbox 360s within three months of launch, and replaced it with a target of between 4m and 5.5m sold by June. However, ongoing production problems that have left shelves bereft of Xbox 360s worldwide will need to be solved quickly to meet that target. And Microsoft really needs those sales, as it only has a few months before the PS3 arrives. It needs to sell the Xbox 360 fast in order to build the momentum to face Sony. We will have to wait and see if it can achieve that.

Bigger Xbox 360 hard drives on the way?

US games site IGN.com has made a series of predictions about the Xbox 360 in 2006. Perhaps one of its least surprising is that Halo 3 won't be the key first-person shooter to come out in 2006. IGN.com believes it will be pushed back to 2007, which chimes with Bill Gates' recent comments that "it's up to the team when they want to ship that, and they're going to take their time to make a super great product. So even we don't know when that will come out". Gates had previously suggested that Halo 3 was Microsoft's key weapon against the PS3 launch.

So, what will be the key first-person shooter Xbox 360 game of 2006? Prey, apparently, rather than the more-hyped Gears of War. Also in the tea leaves at IGN, the next Grand Theft Auto appearing simultaneously on the PS3 and Xbox 360; higher-price and better downloadable Xbox Live games; and bigger, 40GB - perhaps even 80GB - hard drive add-ons. Only 13GB of the 20GB hard drive that's currently available is actually free for downloads and saved games. But Microsoft has already made much of the idea that Xbox Live will eventually be a route to download the latest games and movies. To do that, you'll need a lot more than 13GB.

By the UK's leading games blog - Games Digest, from the makers of Tech Digest and Shiny Shiny.

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