Sony slashes launch PS3 shipments, big shortages likely

Sony has drastically revised down the number of PlayStation 3 consoles it expects to ship this year as it wrestles with shortages of key components.

In what could result in a Christmas disappointment for hundreds of thousands of children, Sony Computer Entertainment has drastically decreased the number of PlayStation 3 consoles it expects to ship this year as it wrestles with shortages of key components.

The company had been planning to have 2 million consoles ready for the system's almost simultaneous launch in Japan, North America, Europe and Australasia in November and a further 2 million available by year-end. But revised figures that were announced on Wednesday now call for only 2 million consoles being available in all of this year.

The 2006 launch of the console has been scrubbed in a number of territories including Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa and Australasia and isn't expected to happen until March 2007 at the earliest.

In Japan, where the Nov. 11 launch remains unchanged, Sony now expects to have just 100,000 consoles available on launch day. In North America, where the console is scheduled to go on sale on Nov. 17, the company said it forecasts just 400,000 units will be available for sale on that day.

The figures mean that big shortages are likely.

Six and a half years ago when Sony launched the PlayStation 2 it shipped 720,000 consoles in Japan over its first weekend on sale. This time the hype surrounding the PlayStation 3 is even greater but it appears Sony will be fortunate to satisfy similar demand over at least the first seven weeks on sale.

Sony is blaming the problems on a delay in mass production of blue laser diodes. The laser diodes are used in the optical disc drive inside the machine. Current consoles use red laser diodes, of which supply is plentiful, but the PlayStation 3 will have a Blu-ray Disc drive that requires the use of the new component.

Inclusion of Blu-ray Disc in the PlayStation 3 was seen by some analysts as a gamble from the start. Sony is keen to make the format the de facto choice for high-definition video and its use in the new console would ensure Blu-ray Disc a place in millions of homes. But its use comes with other problems. Commercial Blu-ray Disc players are only just coming onto the market so prices are still high and, as Sony said Wednesday, some components are still in short supply.

Using Blu-ray Disc already tripped up Sony once. Until March this year the company had been promising the PlayStation 3 in the "spring" of 2006 but as it became evident that a launch wasn't to take place the company revised the launch date to November. A key factor was the incomplete Blu-ray Disc format because consumer-electronics makers failed to agree on the disc's copy protection.

It's not the first time Sony has misstepped on a console's launch.

The company planned to have 1 million consoles in U.S. stores in November 2000 when it launched the PlayStation 2 but component shortages hit those plans and Sony ended up shipping 500,000 units.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service

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