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Welcome to the Thunderdome 2004: two handhelds enter! One handheld leaves! Nintendo announced a new portable video game system today code-named the Nintendo DS (what’s up with code names, by the way?). Due later this year, the DS will feature not one but two screens – so gamers can, say, splatter zombies from a first person point of view on one screen, while groking an overhead map on another. The DS will compete with, but not replace, Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance; and, more interestingly, it will go head-to-head with Sony’s upcoming handheld, the PSP. Look for an all out DS PSP PR war at the upcoming Electronic Entertainment Expo in May, when the video game industry convenes for its annual circus/soiree. I predict the Nintendo/Sony handheld showdown steals the show.

Based on the scant details available now, Sony seems to have an edge. While Nintendo is pushing the two-screen novelty, I think it comes down to pretty much that – something novel. Sony, on other hand, will have a bigger single screen, measuring 4.5 inches, and an advanced sound engine and 3D graphics engine that will make it more of what the company has called “a 21st Century Walkman.” Sony also has better brand identity now, with both the leading gaming console in the country - the Playstation 2 - and the coolest games. Yeah, Nintendo has been in the handheld game longer than anyone else, but its days as the king of this hill may be numbered.

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