Analyst: 80 percent of launch PS3s to be high end

[UPDATE] Following a meeting with Sony management, Lazard Capital Markets' Colin Sebastian claims that the vast majority of PlayStation 3s will be $599.

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When the Xbox 360 launched last fall, many prospective buyers were faced with a dilemma. The $399 premium pack--which included a wireless controller, a 20-gigabyte hard drive, and high-definition video cables--was almost always the first model to sell out. That forced gamers to buy the $299 "core" Xbox 360, which had no hard drive and a wired controller, to the chagrin of many.

Last week, Sony announced it would have only 400,000 units available during the US PlayStation 3 launch--around 74,000 more than the approximately 326,000 Xbox 360s that were sold in the five days after that console went on sale. Following the news, many wondered how many of those PS3s would be the $599 premium model, which comes with a 60GB hard drive and HDMI high-definition video output, and how many would be the $499 model, which sports only a 20GB hard drive.

Today, gamers got the first clue as to how the initial PS3 shipment will break down. "The split between premium (60GB) and core (20GB) units at US retail stores should be roughly 80/20 [percent]," Lazard Capital Markets analyst Colin Sebastian asserted in a note sent out on Monday morning. [UPDATE] Late on Monday night, Sebastian sent out an e-mail saying that the estimates were based on Lazard estimates and did not come from an official announcement by Sony.

That said, Sebastian's report followed a recent meeting he had with unidentified members of "Sony PlayStation management." He also reports that Sony plans "to ship another 800,000 units via air freight through the end of the year (1.2 million units total in calendar year '06) and another 1.2 million units for Japan." Sony officials also reportedly asserted that the company "can ramp monthly PS3 production to 1.2 million units by January due to anticipated improvements in Blu-Ray laser supplies," referring to the console's problematic next-gen media format.

Sebastian's report also predicted that Sony would unveil the PS3's online service at the Tokyo Game Show in two weeks and that it would be online at the same time the console debuts. "We believe services available at the PS3 launch are likely to include basic community features such as video, audio, and text chat, gamer rankings, as well as limited content downloads such as casual games and game updates." He also reported that he believes that Sony will leverage its media divisions to "full music and video downloads" available on the service.

The Lazard Capital Markets report also said that the PS3 would support Internet browsing, which is in line with Sony executives' claims that the console would have many functions heretofore relegated to the PC. However, Sebastian also said that, "[Sony] management indicated that full downloads of [PS3] console games will not be practical in the near term due to storage and bandwidth constraints."

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