Sony to launch thinner PS3 ahead of holiday showdown with Nintendo

Sony also said it would also expand its PlayStation Mobile service, and add devices from Sharp and Fujitsu

Sony on Wednesday announced a slimmed-down, sleeker version of its PlayStation 3 game console with expanded storage, as well as red and blue editions of its handheld PlayStation Vita, as it gears up for a holiday battle with Nintendo's new Wii U console.

The new game console will feature a 500GB hard drive and is about 25 percent smaller than current PS 3 consoles. It will go on sale first in Europe for ¬299 (US$390) from Sept. 28, then in Japan from Oct. 4, and in the U.S. for $299 from Oct. 30. Sony is calling the new line its "CECH-4000" series. The new lineup will also include a version with a 250GB hard drive.

Andrew House, the CEO of Sony's game division, emphasized the network features of the PlayStation 3 and its role in Sony's ecosystem of devices as more than a game console. He told reporters the PlayStation Network, which allows users to buy content such as titles and in-game items, has totaled 201 billion yen (US$2.6 billion) in sales since its inception.

"You can download the games you like from the PlayStation Store, and pack as much music, pictures and video in as you like," he said, speaking in Japanese.

Sony Computer Entertainment, the company's game division, also said it would launch red and blue versions of its flagship handheld, the PlayStation Vita, from November in Japan. It will also expand its subscription service for its game devices, PlayStation Plus, to the Vita from November. A yearly subscription to the Vita service, which gives access to game content and 1GB of online storage for game save data, will cost US$49.99 in the U.S. and ¬49.99 in Europe.

The company is gearing up for fresh competition from Nintendo, which said last week it will launch its flagship Wii U console in November at similar prices. The Wii U features a host of new networked services, including a social network for gamers and access to online streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, as well as an advanced controller that is similar to a full-fledged handheld console in itself, with a touchscreen, motion detection, a camera and a stylus. Nintendo has also revived its own 3DS handheld line after a shaky start last year.

Sony said that for some games its Vita console will also function as a controller and allow cooperative game play, although that would require buying both devices.

The announcements came as Sony gears up for the Tokyo Game Show, which begins Thursday. The show was once a premier event in the gaming world, but many gaming companies have shifted their focus to E3, the giant gaming show that takes place in the U.S. in the summer. Nintendo shows its games at E3 but not at the Tokyo event.

Sony is also facing increased competition from the exploding game market on tablets and smartphones. The iPhone 5, with its expanded screen and upgraded processor, will launch Friday in Japan, also drawing attention away from the game show.

The electronics company has launched a new initiative called PlayStation Mobile to bring its PlayStation brand to the growing army of Android devices. The program guarantees that certain "PlayStation Certified" devices meet certain hardware and software specs for a strong gaming experience, and will launch in the fall in nine countries.

Sony said Wednesday that it has added Sharp and Fujitsu, dominant mobile phone makers in the Japanese market, to the program. It has already signed up others such as Asus and HTC to the program, which also includes its own phones and tablets.

The company also announced a bevy of upcoming games for Japanese and international markets, including Soul Sacrifice, an in-house title for the Vita.

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