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Last updated: June 7, 2011 11:15 pm

Sony unveils low-price Vita gaming console

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A video screen shows off Sony Corporation's next generation portable gaming machine, PlayStation Vita, as it displays a forthcoming game called "ModNation Racers," during a news conference the E3 Gaming Convention in Los Angeles

Sony’s PS Vita has traditional gaming controls as well as a touchpad designed to give it much wider appeal

Sony has announced a lower than expected price for its next-generation portable console as makers of gaming devices face growing competition from smartphones and tablets.

At a news conference at the E3 video game trade show in Los Angeles, Sony revealed that the device, previously known as NGP, would be called the PS Vita. It said a basic version would cost $250 in the US, €250 ($367) in Europe and Y25,000 ($312) in Japan when it goes on sale later this year.

The announcement came ahead of Nintendo on Tuesday revealing Wii U, a companion controller for the Wii that can switch gaming from a television onto its 6.2in touchscreen, which will go on sale in 2012.

Analysts questioned whether console makers could continue to sell portable gaming machines in the tens of millions, with smartphones and tablets featuring touch screens, fast processors and motion sensors all proving equally adept at rendering games.

Sony has sold 70m units of its first portable device – the PSP – since it debuted at $250 in 2004.

A price in the $300-$400 range, while perhaps justified by higher specifications, could have inhibited initial sales of the PS Vita. Sony’s pricing of $250 matches that of Nintendo’s new 3DS, and gives it mass-market appeal.

Michael Pachter, video game analyst at Wedbush Securities, tweeted from the conference: “PS Vita has a chance at $249/299. [I am] surprised the price is so low.”

Sony began the news conference on Monday by apologising to gamers for the PlayStation Network’s lengthy downtime after attacks by hackers, but it said gamer activity was back to 90 per cent of the level before the network was forced offline in April.

However, the company’s problems continued on Tuesday, with the suspension of a Brazilian music service due to a possible security breach. Sony said it was investigating a hacker group’s claim that it had stolen data related to its video game operations.

Nintendo has not been immune to the problem either, admitting on Sunday that its network was vulnerable, after hackers breached a server in the US.

The Sony Vita has a 5-inch touchscreen that uses organic light-emitting diodes for a vivid picture. There is a touchpad at the rear, plus analogue sticks and buttons. There are dual cameras for augmented-reality gaming.

The touch controls could appeal to non-hardcore gamers. Kaz Hirai, president of Sony Computer Entertainment, predicted these consumers would be tempted to buy a Vita after trying games on PlayStation-certified Android-run smartphones and tablets. The new Sony Ericsson Xperia Play is the first such device and has a slide-out controller pad.

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