LOS ANGELES -- Another big platform transition is on its way for the video-game category, with the industry hoping that it will be smoother than the last one.
Prior to the Electronic Entertainment Expo here, May 13 to 15, Nintendo of America, Redmond, Wash., announced plans for an advanced generation system it has code-named "Dolphin." This follows announcements by Sony Computer Entertainment, Foster City, Calif., that it will debut PlayStation 2 in March of next year, and by Sega of America, San Francisco, that it will introduce its new Dreamcast platform Sept. 9 of this year.
In a break with its tradition of bringing out cartridge-based games, the new Nintendo system will play DVDs and have a 400-megahertz processor made by IBM, Armonk, N.Y. Nintendo also has entered into an alliance with Japan's Matsushita, which will develop, manufacture and supply the DVD drive for "Dolphin." The Nintendo machine will play DVD movies, and set-top DVD players from the Matsushita Panasonic line will run the Nintendo game software.
"While Dolphin hardware will be extremely powerful, it will not be expensive," said Howard Lincoln, chairman of Nintendo of America. "It will retail at a mass-market price for home video-game systems. Dolphin software also will be competitively priced at retail."
Sega had previously said that the Dreamcast platform will retail in the United States for $199, including a 56K modem for on-line gaming. Industry observers expect Sony and Nintendo to match this price and feature.
All three of the coming generation of video-game consoles will be based on disc technology, with Sony and Nintendo using DVD and Sega a proprietary GD-ROM format that has twice the storage capacity of CD-ROM. Only the Sony system will be backward-compatible, with the ability to play older PlayStation titles.
The IBM-Nintendo processor is called "Gekko." "It will be the most powerful processor of any current or planned video-game system," said Lincoln.
The 200-megahertz graphics card will be designed by ArtX, Palo Alto, Calif. "We are absolutely confident that Dolphin's graphics will equal or exceed anything that our friends at Sony can come up with for their PlayStation 2," Lincoln added.
While Sega and Sony are bringing out their new systems this year, Nintendo continues to emphasize its Nintendo 64 hardware and software. Peter Main, executive vice president for sales and marketing at Nintendo of America, said total industry sales -- hardware, software and accessories -- were up 18% in the first quarter of this year, with Nintendo up 31%. "Yes, that means we have started to grow share," he said.
The current Nintendo and Sony platforms are only two-thirds of the way through their life cycle, Main said. "We believe there are another 15 million hardware systems to be sold in America, and another 150 million games, totaling another $7.5 billion.