Hundreds of companies are pitching "convergence" products that combine different functions into a single device. Sony thinks it has...

Share story

LAS VEGAS — Hundreds of companies are pitching “convergence” products that combine different functions into a single device. Sony thinks it has hit the bull’s-eye with the PlayStation Portable, or PSP, its new handheld game player that doubles as a portable music and video player.

“It’s the first legitimate product to deliver on the convergence mantra,” said Kaz Hirai, chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment America.

Hirai demonstrated the product yesterday at a glitzy Consumer Electronics Show pre-show news conference featuring high-profile rap stars Xzibit and Russell Simmons.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Hirai said the PSP will be available in North America in late March, but he didn’t give any price information. It went on sale last month in Japan and Sony shipped 510,000 units by month’s end. Hirai said 3 million units should be sold worldwide in Sony’s current fiscal year.

Hirai discussed the product during an interview yesterday with The Seattle Times. Here’s an edited transcript:


Q.

Microsoft says it’s not doing a handheld game device like this. What is the PSP going to do to the competition between Microsoft’s (Xbox) game franchise and your game franchise?


A.

I think it just expands the universe of the PlayStation family of products. It also makes the PlayStation ubiquitous. It’s been dominant in the home entertainment space for 10 years. Now we have the ability to go outside the home to enjoy it.

The possibility of interoperability, between the USB and what you have at home with the PS2 (PlayStation 2 game console), it expands the PS2 gaming experience to a whole new dimension. I think that’s really important.


Q.

How does the PSP compare to Microsoft’s Portable Media Center? Do you see them as competitors?


A.

Different, I think, overall. What we bring to these products that really have entertainment at the core — that’s always going to be our mantra, whether it’s games, videos, photos, whatever — (is) doing it in a very affordable, sleek-looking, sexy package: That’s the Sony DNA.


Q.

What’s this going to do to Nintendo (and its handheld gaming franchise)?


A.

They’ve always had their market for the handheld gaming space. But we look at the PSP as not being a handheld game console, but really a multi-entertainment device, entertainment on the go. So I really don’t think that they’re really in competitive markets.


Q.

How about communications — will this get phone capabilities, perhaps with VoIP (voiceover Internet Protocol)?


A.

With the capability to go wireless, depending on what kind of verticals we come out with and what kind of software we come up with, the possibilities are really endless. Some people were saying that maybe we should come up with a GPS device, for example. There are various things you can do when you attach different verticals on to the hardware.



Q.



So you have plans to go beyond gaming with the PSP?


A.

It’s been beyond gaming from Day One. We think PSP will have a long lifespan, just like the original PlayStation now in its 10th year. So a lot of interesting (things) will definitely come out. I think it bodes really well for the platform.


Q.

Is the PSP going to push up sales of PS2 and PS3 as well?


A.

I don’t know about the PS3, but being able to take some of the PS2 experience outside, coming back and doing a lot of things outside and at home together, I think will enhance the people’s entertainment experience with the PS2. So I don’t see any reason why people wouldn’t want to pick up a PSP as well as a PS2. I have high hopes for basically the PSP uplifting all of our products.


Q.

CEA says game hardware sales may slow down a little bit, yet you are coming out with new stuff. Do you agree with that game hardware sales peaked a few years ago and are slowing down?


A.

It may have for other platforms but with the PS2, I don’t think that weve seen the peak of our hardware sales. We’ve always talked about a 10-year lifecyle on the PlayStation 2; we’re only in our fifth year. Already we’ve seen close to 30 million units just in North America.

But there’s a lot of talk about product wars. There’s a lot of demand for the product even this past holiday, so I don’t think it’s peaked. I think there’s a possibility we may have another peak.

With the original PlayStation we had a second peak of sales when we dropped the price to $99 — not to that say we’re going to $99 with the PS2; I don’t think we need to. But there’s a lot of room left in terms of the retail pricing, in terms of the content that’s going to be available in the next five years.


Q.

How is PS3 (PlayStation 3) going to do vs. Xbox 2?


A.

I have no idea — no information yet on PS3. I know that they’re (Microsoft) saying they want to come out first. I guess that’s their strategy. Not much more to say about that.


Q.

You mentioned that the graphical user interface on the PSP may go onto other products. Will it be used on Sony’s Vaio PCs as well?


A.

I might be mistaken because I don’t speak for other the Sony divisions, I think there’s some talk about incorporating it into things like televisions.”