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H’w’d greets the geeks

Biz game for what's next in consoles

The battle of the videogame titans is on, and Hollywood is coming along for the ride.

In huge press conferences Monday night and Tuesday morning, Sony and Nintendo revealed details of their in-the-works next-gen consoles, while Microsoft revealed expanded deals to distribute media via the Internet connection of its already launched Xbox 360.

Events were held on the two days leading up to the annual E3 videogame confab, which opens today at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

All three companies are counting on their consoles to succeed in order to drive their businesses for the next few years. Struggling Sony, in particular, has a lot riding on the costly launch of the PS3.

Game publishers like Electronic Arts and Activision, meanwhile, hope the consoles will turn around recent business slowdowns that have sharply reduced profits.

In a move sure to sting many in the homevid biz, Sony revealed that the PlayStation 3 will cost $599 for a complete version, with a discounted version at $499. The PS3 will play Blu-ray high-definition DVDs, and many homevideo execs are counting on it to fuel the success of Blu-ray over the competing HD DVD format.

However, the high price could prove a damper on the initial rollout of the PS3, and thus Blu-ray DVDs. Most in the biz had been hoping for a price more competitive with that of the Xbox 360, which costs $399 for the full version, $299 for a stripped-down console.

Sony is apparently hampered by the costs of the Blu-ray drives, however. Despite the high price, electronics giant is still expected to take a significant loss on each unit.

The 360 only plays regular DVDs, though Microsoft will start selling an add-on that plays HD DVDs in the fall.

The PS3 will be the most powerful gaming system on the market when it launches in November, though Sony showed off only a few early stage demonstrations of its capability at the Monday evening event on the Sony Pictures lot.

Company also offered an early look at the PS3’s online interface, which will be used not only for gaming but to download other media, including movies and music, onto the PS3’s hard drive.

Sony didn’t provide any details, but it will likely sell digital songs, films and TV episodes via an online store similar to iTunes, taking advantage of the direct connection to gamers’ TVs.

PS3 reps an effort to compete with Microsoft’s Xbox Live, which currently dominates the online gaming space. Service was a primary focus of Microsoft’s E3 event Tuesday, where the tech giant unveiled a partnership with Warner Music to promote the label’s artists through songs and videos on Xbox Live.

Microsoft will also debut the first-ever TV series for Xbox Live, the LivePlanet-produced docu “Gears of War: The Race to E3,” about the making of the next “Gears of War” game, which debuts online this week. Three-minute episodes will be available online for the next two weeks, and the series will conclude on MTV2 next Friday.

Company’s vidgame topper, Peter Moore, has made clear that he hopes to transform Xbox Live into a complete media distribution outlet.

“We have a direct pipeline to get digitally distributed content to the coveted 18-35 male demographic,” he boasted at Microsoft’s E3 event.

Company also gave attendees a brief look at the hugely anticipated “Halo 3,” currently skedded to arrive in 2007, possibly along with Universal and Fox’s film adaptation. In addition, Moore revealed that the next “Grand Theft Auto” entry will be released on Xbox 360 simultaneous with its PlayStation 3 bow. Previous “GTA” games came out exclusively for PlayStation 2 first, giving Sony a big competitive advantage in selling its consoles.

Multimedia capabilities weren’t on the agenda for Nintendo in its E3 event, held at the Kodak Theater, which focused on the Japanese vidgame giant’s efforts to build less-powerful, lower-cost, more accessible gaming devices. New console Wii, set to launch in the fourth quarter, will have an easy-to-use infrared controller and will likely be priced significantly lower than the 360 and PS3.

Sales will likely be driven initially by the simultaneous launch of the next “Legend of Zelda” game, “Twilight Princess.”

With gamers converging in downtown L.A. this week, others in Hollywood are hopping on the bandwagon as well. Videogame blogs were abuzz Tuesday about the news that Legendary Pictures is developing a film based on the hugely popular “World of Warcraft” games (Daily Variety, May 9).

VH1 launched a new service on its Web site called VH1 arcade that features games as retro as the cable net’s music, including ’80s favorites like “Joust” and “Spy Hunter.”

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