Sony's next-generation console system will be unveiled before the end of this year, it has emerged, with the first generation of development kits for the platform set to ship to developers at the start of 2005.
The news emerged at the PlayStation Meeting 2004 event in Tokyo, where Sony revealed a graphic showing the planned timeline for the future of its four console platforms - PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PSP and the ambiguously labelled "Next System".
According to the timeline, the premiere of the next-generation system will come before the end of 2004, around the fifth anniversary of the launch of the PlayStation 2, with version one of the TOOL development kit for next-generation being ready for the start of 2005.
As was reported yesterday, the system will be present at E3 2005 in Los Angeles next May, although it's expected that playable titles will not be available until the Tokyo Games Show in September 2005 - at which point a second version of the TOOL will also become available to developers.
This schedule is remarkably similar to the one being followed by the PlayStation Portable - and while the graph did not give any notion of a release date for the system, if it follows the PSP model then PlayStation 3 could be in the hands of Japanese consumers in time for Christmas 2005, with a launch in the USA and Europe in early 2006.
However, it still remains probable, given the complexity of the technology in the PS3 and the amount of time it will take developers to get to grips with the hardware, that the system will not launch in the Far East until 2006, with a worldwide launch window that extends through to the second half of 2006.
This will give Microsoft, which plans to launch its next generation hardware in 2005, a Christmas to itself and around six months to build a lead before Sony's next system appears on the scene - although with information about the PS3 likely to build up steadily after the unveiling late this year, the next-generation Xbox will, as expected, have to provide a compelling proposition to consumers to prevent them from deciding to wait for the new Sony system to arrive.