Sony's PlayStation 3 sells out

This article was updated on Nov. 17, 2006.

Hi-def drama shifted into high gear Friday, when gamers quickly snapped up the first PlayStation 3 consoles Stateside, dramatically increasing the number of devices able to play movies on Blu-ray discs.

Sony set off a frenzy among gamers eager to get their hands on the first 400,000 allotment of the next-generation console, some of which are Blu-ray enabled. Microsoft began selling an add-on device for its Xbox 360 that enable users to play discs on the rival HD DVD format a few days earlier, but it did not set off a frenzy the way the PS3 did.

The PS3 is considered a game changer for next-generation movie formats. For months, the rival Blu-ray and HD DVD camps have been gearing up for its debut.

To whet gamers appetite for watching movies on the device, Sony bundled copies of “Talladega Nights: The Tale of Ricky Bobby” with PS3 consoles.

Even if a fraction of PS3 players use their console for watching movies, it could tip the balance in that format’s favor. There are less than 40,000 HD DVD players sold Stateside, with even fewer Blu-ray players.

Hi-def players have been in short supply for both formats, and especially so on the Blu-ray side. Several key manufacturers delayed the launch of their players due to technical issues.

Rival HD DVD backers argue that the Xbox 360 add-on, priced at $199 versus the $599 for Blu-ray enabled PS3 consoles, will tip the balance further in their camp. HD DVD players are generally cheaper than Blu-ray players, which are priced around $1000.

Blu-ray backers used the PS3 connection to lure studios into supporting it. However, some of that support was tested when Sony pushed back the launch, then reduced the number of consoles that would be initially sold.

Sony made even fewer consoles — 100,000 — available for the PS3 Japanese launch a week earlier, then got hammered by reports some 200 games designed for earlier generation PlayStation devices would not play on it.

Best Buy and Circuit City opened at midnight Nov. 17 to sell PS3 at a select number of its stores, and gamers have also queued up at Wal-Mart stores. Tensions flared at certain locations, with scattered reports of fights and rowdiness.

Meanwhile, HD DVD backers staged their own counteroffensive, inviting media to a demo at the Universal lot Thursday and Friday. Universal is the lone studio only backing HD DVD. Other studios like Paramount and Warner are backing both, with Fox, Sony and Disney solely committed to the Blu-ray format.

In any case, it’s not clear how many gamers will use their consoles for movie watching. When the PlayStation 2 bowed, studios made grand claims about its effect on DVD that didn’t appear to pan out. However, that time there were plenty of players in the market and only one format vying for attention, not two.

Ralph Cleary, who began waiting at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday outside a West Hollywood, Calif., Best Buy, was poised to become the first to score a PS3 at that location.

The avid gamer waited 20 hours for PlayStation 2. “I love it — it’s like camping to me,” he said.

At a Glendale, Calif. Circuit City, first-in-line Ivan Ruiz started his PS3 vigil Monday at 9 p.m. He is among the early birds that are eagerly anticipating PS3′s multiple uses.

“It’s the cheapest Blu-ray player on the market, and then there’s the gaming,” Ruiz said. “It’s, like, so many things.”

(Jennifer Netherby contributed to this report.)

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