Sony Ships 1 Million PlayStation 3s in Japan

Shipments in Japan of the new PlayStation 3 video game machines reached 1 million Tuesday, Sony said, hitting the company's target about two weeks behind schedule.

Sony had planned to ship 2 million PlayStation 3 machines around the world by the end of last year. Last week, Tokyo-based Sony Corp. (SNE) said it met its shipping target of 1 million PS3 consoles in the United States in 2006.

It projected shipping another million domestically during the same period. But speculation had been growing that PS3 sales may be faltering in Japan.

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Sony Computer Entertainment brushed off such worries, noting in Tuesday's press release that a global shipment of 2 million reached within about two months after a machine's launch is the fastest pace for any game console ever put out by the company.

Masayuki Otani, deputy chief of research at Maruwa Securities, said PS3 sales were struggling in Japan with excess stock languishing at retailers. And the number of units shipped from Sony doesn't equal the total units sold at retailers, he said.

"The launch has a lot of problems, but things could pick up with time," Otani said.

Sony Computer Entertainment spokeswoman Nanako Kato acknowledged shipments had slipped behind schedule. But she said the company was on schedule to meet plans for global shipment of 6 million PS3 machines by March 31.

It was more important to have enough machines by year-end in the U.S. because of the critical importance of Christmas shopping there, Kato said. Japan sales continue to be strong during the New Year because children receive holiday allowances.

PlayStation 3 sales were expected to be strong in coming months because of the expected release of new game software in the works, according to Sony's game unit.

PlayStation 3, which has been delayed twice, went on sale in Japan and the U.S. late last year. It is set to go on sale in Europe in March.

The relative lack of games to play on PS3 so far has added to concerns about the machine's prospects at a time when the Wii console from Japanese rival Nintendo Co., which makes "Pokemon" and "Super Mario" games, has been a surprise hit.

The Wii, which comes with a wandlike remote controller, competed against PlayStation 3 during the critical Christmas shopping season.

Nintendo is also targeting shipment of 6 million for its Wii machines by the end of the fiscal year through March. A major appeal of Wii is its cheaper price at about $250, while PS3 costs $500 and $600.

The success of the PlayStation 3 is critical for Sony as it tackles a turnaround after suffering a big slump in its core electronics sector in recent years.

The PS3 supports Blu-ray Disc next-generation video, whose arrival is expected to encourage sales of new gadgets.

Otani, the analyst, said most consumers still don't have the latest TV models that will allow players to fully appreciate the spectacular image quality offered on the PS3.

"Nintendo should be declaring victory," he said.

But Hirokaza Hamamura, president of Japanese game publisher Enterbrain Inc., said PS3 was doing OK, and it only looked bad because of the sellout popularity of the Wii. PS3 sales are running at about 85 percent of the inventory, in contrast to 100 percent for Wii, hse said.

"Any product selling at about 85 percent can be considered a hit," said Hamamura.

Sales of PS3 could pick up in coming months, but it's uncertain whether Sony will be able to meet the 6 million global shipment target for fiscal 2006, as sales are lagging behind the initial company plan, Hamamura said.

Sony shares ended 0.2 percent lower in Tokyo at 5,690 yen ($47; euro36)