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Sony PlayStation 4 to Cost … $430?

The Exchange

For the gaming sector, the week's gotten even more interesting. A day after a new set of rumors surrounding Microsoft's (MSFT) next Xbox made the rounds, a report originating in Japan was speculating about Sony (SNE) and the PlayStation 4, specifically how much it's going to cost.

According to The Asahi Shimbun, the starting price of the PS4 game console "has yet to be set, but it is expected to exceed 40,000 yen." The report didn't quote the Tokyo-based electronics seller or sources for that estimate, but at current exchange rates, 40,000 yen would translate to right at $430. Considering where the last iteration began, that would be quite a step down.

PlayStation 3: Credit Reuters

When the current version of the console, the PlayStation 3, reached gamers in November 2006, two versions were available, starting at $499 for the base model in the U.S. and rising to $599 for the more powerful version. [Initial yen pricing was about 59,800 for the PS3, and with the yen around 118 to the dollar then, that would have been $507. At today's yen level, that would convert to $640.] The good news here is that the presumably improved PS4 could be even cheaper than the last one was at its debut. The bad news is that first, the price in fact may be much higher, and that second, the PS3 came out at a very different time. That was before the housing bubble burst, before the financial crisis and before the recession.

The "to exceed" part of the report is key. It could exceed the figure by a substantial amount. Still, even if it doesn't, who's ready to part with $400 to $500 for a brand new console? There's no question the die-hard fans of the PS are saving up to get the new gear early, but considering the machine Sony has now is still a capable console with a wide range of titles and genres, the general public might be willing to wait and see if a price cut follows a few months after the debut. With the Xbox, again assuming an updated version is near and depending on its price, the same situation could arise. Sony is well aware of what's happened to the U.S. and global economies in the last few years -- if around $430 turns out to be accurate, it might argue that this price is a consumer-friendly move.

A new PS and Xbox would be entering a market their manufacturers have helped make gigantic, and they'll need to impress casual players who may be hesitant to trade up if the console cost is high. GameStop (GME), citing NPD Group data, believes more than 275 million game systems, covering handhelds and consoles, were owned in the U.S. as of December 2011. In Europe it was another 173 million platforms, based on IDG data. This past November, Sony said PS3 sales had reached 70 million units.

The PS4 is believed to be planned for shipping later this year. Sony has a conference set for Feb. 20, and the expectation is that it will be unveiling the console that day. If it does, it would come a few months after Nintendo (NTDOY) put its latest system, the Wii U, on the market. Many industry observers believe Microsoft will start selling a new Xbox later in 2013. As for the chatter around that machine, on Wednesday a report circulated that the next Microsoft console might not allow for used-game play and at the same time would require an always-on Internet connection.

Asked about the PlayStation 4's possible pricing, a spokesman for Sony Computer Entertainment America said the company doesn't comment on speculation and rumors. For comparison, the Wii U 8GB basic set is being advertised for $299.99 on the websites of GameStop, Target (TGT) and Best Buy (BBY).

Sony can use a boost, having shown annual losses from 2008 through 2011. For the last three months of 2012, the fiscal third quarter, it reported a loss of more than $100 million. Its shares trading in the U.S. were down 4.4% to $15.13 Thursday.