Sony has announced that the PlayStation Network will be offline for several hours today. According to Sony Network Entertainment vice president Eric Lempel (via the PlayStation Blog), the downtime is a necessary step to the "full restoration" of the online service, including bringing the PlayStation Store back online.
"During this maintenance period, users will be unable to sign in to PSN, though those that are already logged in should be able to remain online," said Lempel.
The announcement comes one day after Sony granted itself an extension to bring the PlayStation Store back online. Originally set for the end of May, the relaunch has since been pushed until the end of this week in the Americas, Europe, PAL territories, and most of Asia. The company has yet to announce a relaunch date for the store in Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea.
With the return of the PS Store, gamers will have full access to Sony's online platform, allowing them to once again purchase and download games and movies, as well as buy in-game items and redeem vouchers and codes. This aspect of the store had been particularly problematic after the relaunch of online multiplayer, as some Online Pass games such as Codemasters' Dirt 3 could not be activated.
With the relaunch of the PS Store, Sony will also have restored full functionality to Qriocity's Music Unlimited on the PS3, PSP, and PC. However, Sony does not plan to fully restore Qriocity's Video on Demand service or Music Unlimited on Sony's other network-enabled devices. The company plans to provide a follow-up update for these services at a later time.
So far, the PlayStation Store has been offline for six weeks, following a cyberattack that resulted in the exposure of some 77 million PSN accounts and an additional 24.6 million Sony Online Entertainment accounts. This week, Sony Network Entertainment president Tim Schaff is expected to testify before Congress to explain the security breach.
Following the restoration of service to the PS Store, Sony expects to roll out a Welcome Back program, in which PS3 and PSP users will be offered a selection of free games and other perks. Sign-ups have also begun for 12 free months of coverage in Debix's identity-theft protection program.