In an important early look at the pivotal holiday sales season, Sony Corp. (SNE) said it met its goal of shipping 1 million PlayStation 3 consoles to North America in 2006 despite ongoing production problems with the still hard-to-find video game system.
The figure is about half of Sony's stated goal of 2 million PS3s globally by the end of 2006. The company did not disclose a global tally in the announcement, made at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Sony has dominated previous rounds of the console wars with the PlayStation 1 and 2, but it is still undecided who will grab the lead this time around — the PS3, or its two chief rivals: Nintendo Co.'s Wii and the Xbox 360 from Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)
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The PS3's launch had been delayed in the United States from the spring to November, yet supply problems were still evident when it went for sale on Nov. 17.
The company ended up selling 197,000 PS3s on launch day, less than half of the 400,000 it had initially forecast. The market research company NPD Group estimated that U.S. consumers bought 476,000 Wiis in the two weeks following its Nov. 19 launch.
Sony officials have attributed the limited supply to manufacturing glitches with blue laser diodes, the technological heart of the system's high-capacity, high-definition Blu-ray Disc drive.
Sony spokesman Dave Karraker said the company has been airlifting additional PS3s each week and will continue to do so through spring, if necessary.
Though updated figures were not available, a Nintendo spokeswoman said the company's earlier prediction to ship 4 million units by the end of the year was still on target.
Microsoft said Sunday it had sold 10.4 million Xbox 360s through the end of 2006. That narrowly beat the company's earlier stated goal of 10 million.
The company expects to sell 13-15 million Xbox 360s by the end of its fiscal year in June, Microsoft spokesman David Hufford said.
Both Sony and Nintendo are projecting selling 6 million consoles by the end of March. Sony expects to start shipping the PS3 to Europe sometime that month as well.
Selling machines in large numbers is crucial in the gaming business because it encourages software companies to make more games, which in turn boosts console sales.
Sony controlled the previous generation with 70 percent of the global market, including 35 million PlayStation 2 consoles in the United States.
The original Xbox was second with nearly 15 million sold, followed by 11 million Nintendo GameCubes.
At this early stage with the next-generation consoles, Sony isn't concerned if rivals Microsoft or Nintendo end up selling more units because the overall industry is benefiting from very strong demand, Karraker said.
"Are we worried about strong sales of the Wii or Xbox 360? Not really," he said. "It was a great year for the industry overall. With the tide all ships rise."