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It’s a whole new game for H’wood

Biz keeping tabs on fate of PS3, Wii bows

It’s one of the biggest weeks in the history of consumer electronics.

Which may make it one of the biggest weeks for the future of Hollywood.

Weekend of Nov. 17-19 saw the release of two competing game systems, Sony’s slick and pricey PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii, a system that shuns the traditional joystick and is aimed at a more casual gamer.

While vidgame execs all say the machines are about the games, plenty of Hollywood ambitions ride on them.

Sony is trying to shoot the moon with an all-in-one console that amounts to a home-entertainment system: You can surf the Web, listen to CDs and watch DVDs on the PS3. If the device flies, the next generation of TV viewers could be downloading the “Heroes” spinoff and popping in “Borat: The Sequel” without ever leaving their game consoles.

PS3 plays Blu-ray DVDs, and the success of the machine may well determine the fate of the format. Simply put, if the 400,00 units Sony is shipping to North America don’t convert enough people to Blu-ray, it may prompt a lot of studios to shift their allegiances to Toshiba’s rival HD-DVD.

For its part, Nintendo’s Wii has a Hollywood connection, too: Some of the console’s early releases are based on hits like “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Barnyard” and a specially tailored version of “Cars” that makes use of Nintendo’s new motion sensor. But Nintendo’s is a more modest Hollywood gamble: The Wii doesn’t play DVDs of any kind, hi- or lo-def.

But a more attractive price ($250, vs. $499 for the PS3’s base model) and its focus on classic games could make it the sleeper hit of the holiday season. Already critics have heaped praise on its motion sensor, which allows gamers to replicate real-life movements.

If the Wii beats PS3, that could nixSony’s vision of a one-box-fits-all future, and puts one more check in the column for television staying on set-top boxes — for now. (Microsoft has already planted a huge flag in Hollywood with plans to begin offering movies and TV shows on demand via its Xbox Live Internet service later this week.)

Both the PS3 and Wii releases follow by less than a week the debut of Microsoft’s iPod challenger, Zune, which bowed to mixed reviews Nov. 14. In a MySpace-ish turn, company offers wireless music-sharing, but its requirement that all music be bought from its proprietary store is an Achilles heel.

Microsoft is almost deliberately modest in its ambitions for the device: “Our goal is to be a clear No. 2 to Apple,” director of marketing Chris Stephenson tells Variety.

But No. 2 could turn into No. 1 for Hollywood. Unlike Apple, which has taken a hard line on pricing and revenue-sharing with nets and studios, Microsoft has shown a tendency for generosity.

Company has already cut a deal with Universal Music that shares revenue with the music firm from hardware sales — a deal Apple would never offer.

And it’s not nearly as fixed on fixed-pricing, a Steve Jobs pet peeve.

There’s a long way to go before Redmond becomes the go-to place for studios — in fact, besides podcasts, firm isn’t offering any video content on Zune at the time of release — but the brains behind Zune is Microsoft hipster J. Allard, a thirtysomething who’s viewed as being deeply in touch with the youth culture Hollywood so wants to reach.

And reviews note that the Zune’s video display is in many ways superior to the latest video iPod. That could make Microsoft aggressive about going after TV shows and movies. That’s a form of Microsoft aggression entertainment execs would love.

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