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Sony admits PS3 could be delayed

Blu-ray copy protection system set-backs the cause?

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Sony said today it is still aiming to ship PlayStation 3 this Spring, but it warned the next-generation console's release could slip if unnamed industry-set specifications - possibly a reference to the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) copy-protection technology adopted by Blu-ray Disc - are not completed in time.

Today's announcement follows a claim made by investment house Merrill Lynch that the console's debut in markets outside Japan could slip by up to a year. Indeed, Sony today re-iterated that it has made no announcement as to which regions of the world it will get the PS3 first.

ML told its clients late last week that the PS3 could be delayed by 6-12 months, with the Japanese launch pushed back to the Autumn, and the US debut to late 2006 or early 2007.

The company's report was issued in the week it was alleged that delays to the finalisation of the AACS specification could hinder the introduction of the Blu-ray Disc (BD) and HD DVD next-generation optical disc formats. PS3 is based on BD - indeed, it's the format's strongest weapon in the battle with HD DVD - so if the one gets put back so does the other.

AACS development is being overseen by the AACS Licensing Administrator, founded by Sony, Disney, IBM, Intel, Toshiba and Panasonic. It's exactly the kind of industry consortium Sony today said it was waiting on to get its specifications sorted so the consumer electronics giant can ship PS3. Another is Sony's other alliance with IBM and Toshiba, the Cell processor development effort, but of the two hold-ups at AACS not only seem more likely but also a more probably cause of delay so close to the launch window originally selected for PS3.

ML analysts also said last week they believe each PS3 will cost Sony $900 to make. Sony itself has indicated the next-generation console will cost more than the PS2, but that still leaves a hefty subsidy it will have to stomach if it's to offer the machine at a price consumers will pay. Such subsidies are common to all games consoles - software sales will hopefully cover the shortfall on hardware sales - but the higher to build cost, the more successful the console will have to be to spur sufficient software shipments. ®

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