HONOLULU – Crammed in the corner of a hotel's banquet hall, they stood and stared silently, mesmerized by what they were seeing. They were watching a soldier gunning down a giant monster on one TV and Miami Heat's Dwayne Wade taking over an NBA game on the other screen.
What they were really experiencing was the new Sony PlayStation 3.
The much-awaited video-game console comes out Nov. 17 in the U.S., although getting one will be as challenging as finding parking at the mall after Thanksgiving.
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Thousands of lucky gamers tested the PS3 over the weekend at the 2007 Sony Expo in Honolulu, two weeks before the debut.
Almost all were males — from boys with braces and baggy jeans to gray-haired baby boomers. They crowded around two gaming booths with the sleek, lean, black machine behind a plastic case.
"The graphics are crazy, way better than the second one," said Doug Morrison, a 20-year-old University of Hawaii student. "It's more realistic. It's smoother. It doesn't have any glitches.
"I'm going to get one no matter what."
Forget Elmo — the third-generation PlayStation will top many wish lists to Santa this holiday season. And hopefully Santa saved, because the PS3 isn't cheap.
The system starts at $500 for a 20 GB version. The price tag on the 60 GB model is $600.
People looking to cash in on the high demand and limited supply are already selling their pre-reserved PS3 consoles on eBay (EBAY) for well over $2,000.
Rights to one PS3 recently sold for $3,250, plus $50 for shipping. It received 48 bids.
Some stores began taking pre-orders on Oct. 10. At some GameStop (GME) and EB Game locations, the orders were snapped up within minutes.
Kazuo Hirai, chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment America, said about 400,000 units will be available in the U.S. in the initial launch and an additional 600,000 by the end of this year.
Sony (SNE) hopes to have a total of 2 million consoles in the U.S. market by the end of the company's fiscal year, which ends in March.
"Unfortunately, there are going to be some shortages," Hirai said in an interview. "I ask for everybody's patience. We are pedal to the metal in terms of trying to get as many units as possible into both the Japanese and American market."
Hirai said he doesn't even have a PS3 at home yet, even though his 12-year-old son has been begging for one.
"He talks a good game about PlayStation 3 when he's at school, but he hasn't touched one and he hasn't seen one," Hirai said. "That's only fair for everybody."
With his back turned to Sony's new $7,000 TV, Robert McDuffie and his buddies were glued to a much smaller screen, watching someone play the first-person shooting game "Resistance: Fall of Man."
The 25-year-old Army sergeant from Daytona Beach, Fla. said he didn't attend the expo to check out Sony's new line of high-definition TVs, tiny digital cameras or ultrathin laptops.
"I came for the PS3," he said, anxiously waiting for a moment with the machine.
After playing for a few minutes, McDuffie said he was impressed.
"I'm just trying to figure out how to get one," he said. "I didn't pre-order, so I'm going to have to stand in line overnight."
The PS3 is driven by a high-powered Cell processor, making game play super smooth and graphics amazingly detailed. A gigabit-Ethernet network connection for online gaming and a Blu-ray Disc player comes standard on the console, as does a wireless controller.
The PS3 can play games and movies at 1080p — 1080 consecutively refreshed screen lines — which is the highest definition resolution currently available.
But Sony has already experienced problems in developing the PS3.
Sony reported a $366 million operating loss in its gaming division in the third quarter because of development charges. The launch in Europe was delayed until March 2007 because of mass production problems in the Blu-ray drive.
Tim Mah, 13, of Honolulu had one word for the new machine: "Wow."
Dyron Mack, a 35-year-old computer analyst, said he plans to buy a PS3 without consulting his wife or disclosing the cost.
"I'm not going to tell her. You just show up with it and let her be mad," he said. "You just say, 'I'm sorry. I lost the receipt.'"