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PlayStation Vita on sale in Japan

The PlayStation Vita has hit the shops in Japan, eagerly awaited by thousands of gaming enthusiasts who had lined up early in the morning to be among the first to buy it.

Sony is predicting brisk sales of the portable games console, even though the launch may have come too late for some Christmas shoppers.

A successful debut would help the company offset the rest of its struggling business. Sony projects a loss of more than £640 million for the fiscal year through March 2012, which would be its fourth annual loss in a row.

The Vita is a touch-interface and motion-sensitive hand-held seen as a successor to the PlayStation Portable. Gamers can connect over mobile phone networks and wi-fi hotspots, and use GPS location-tracking technology.

The console will go on sale in the UK, the rest of Europe and north America on February 22.

In Tokyo's Ikebukuro shopping district, 300 people queued outside a major electronics chain that opened a few hours earlier than usual on Saturday for the launch. Many of the buyers had made advance orders on the internet so they could start playing immediately.

For Tokyo-based electronics and entertainment giant Sony, the Vita is the biggest product launch since the PlayStation 3 console five years ago. It is also accompanied by two dozen software products - the largest number of launch titles in PlayStation history.

The Vita has front and back cameras, a touch-screen in front, a touch pad on the back and two knob-like joysticks. It will enable gamers to play against each other using PlayStation 3 consoles over the internet-based PlayStation Network, a system that was hit with a massive hacking attack earlier this year.

Vita's launch will heat up competition with rival Nintendo's 3DS. Nintendo's 3DS had a disappointing start despite the company's efforts to market its 3D technology, with critics complaining about a lack of interesting games, and the company ended up slashing prices within six months.

Both Sony and Nintendo are being challenged by the rise of smartphones and tablets, through which casual gamers can play inexpensive and simple games like the mega-hit Angry Birds.

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