Trying to steal some thunder away from Sega’s new Dreamcast vidgame console, Sony Corp., said it plans to ship its next-generation PlayStation 2 to retailers in March.

PlayStation 2, which will offer movie-quality computer animation, link to the Internet and play music and videos, will initially be available only in Japan, retailing for $360 each. The ‘Net service is slated to start in 2001.

The new machine will be available in the United States and Europe in the fall of 2000, just in time for the holiday shopping season. Sony said the price may come down by the time the console hits U.S. shores.

Sony dominates the global vidgame market, having sold more than 60 million PlayStations worldwide since its launch in 1994. The company also accounts for about 60% of the U.S. vidgame market, while Nintendo holds more than 30% and Sega stands at less than 5%.

PlayStation 2, to be housed in a sleek black box emblazoned with a blue “PS2,” will boast a 128-bit central processing unit by Toshiba Corp., up from a 32-bit processor in the original system, to allow for upgraded computer graphics.

DVD storage

The new machine will store data on DVD-ROM discs, a step up from the more common CD-ROM disc used for current PlayStation software.

A key feature is that all games sold for the old system will be compatible with the updated console, so the hundreds of software titles available for the PlayStation will not become obsolete.

Sony is developing more than 80 games for the new machine. Each game is expected to sell for about $50. The company also plans to distribute PlayStation software online by 2001.

Sony said it plans to ship 1 million units of PlayStation 2 for the first week of sales in Japan.

Battle engaged

PlayStation 2 launches more than a year after Sega Enterprises released its powerful Dreamcast console in Japan and the U.S.

Sega’s future is riding on the success of Dreamcast after its Sega Saturn console, replacing Sega Genesis, bombed.

The company has sold about 1.3 million units in Japan and has posted Dreamcast sales in the United States of about $100 million since the game was released about a week ago with a retail price of $199.

Until PlayStation 2 hits the market, Dreamcast is competition-free. To counter sales a bit, both Sony and Nintendo have slashed prices of their PlayStation and N64 gaming consoles to $99.

Nintendo will launch its new machine, the DVD-ROM-based Dolphin console, at the end of 2000. The system is expected to allow Nintendo to produce games faster and cheaper than it already does for its cartridge-based N64 system.