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Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. said Wednesday it will release its PlayStation Portable game console in Japan on Dec. 12 at a price of 20,790 yen, surprising many who had expected it to cost far more.

The firm reiterated that it plans to launch the PSP by the end of March in the U.S. and Europe, but has not yet announced prices or release dates for overseas markets.

The PSP is Sony’s first foray into the hand-held game-console market, which has been dominated by Kyoto-based Nintendo Co.

Speculation has been rife among industry watchers over the price and release date of the console. Nintendo announced late last month that it will debut its Nintendo DS in Japan on Dec. 2 at a price of 15,000 yen.

Many expected the PSP to be priced between 25,000 yen and 30,000 yen, and there was even rumor of a delay in its release; the firm had promised the PSP would be out in Japan by the end of the year.

When the PlayStation was released 10 years ago, followed by the PlayStation 2 five years later, each carried a price tag of 39,800 yen, excluding consumption tax.

Ken Kutaragi, chief executive of SCE, said the PSP has a strategic price that is designed to appeal to a broader consumer base.

He said the firm can recover its investment at that price because the PSP depends less on outside suppliers for its components.

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