US software titan Microsoft takes the computer game wars to the Japanese enemy with the North American launch of its next-generation Xbox 360 console.
Unlike with its first foray into the competitive world of games hardware, Microsoft is stealing a march on arch-foes Sony and Nintendo by releasing the most powerful console yet well in time for the Christmas rush.
Neither Sony's new PlayStation3 nor the Nintendo Revolution is due to go on sale until next year, giving Microsoft the head-start that it failed to achieve with its first Xbox, which came out in 2001 a full year after the PlayStation2.
Microsoft has struggled ever since to catch up, but looks to have learned a trick or two to ensure that the sleek, silver Xbox 360 has already become the must-have gadget for this year's holiday season.
This week's launch, two days before the United States celebrates Thanksgiving on Thursday, is going to be "very, very successful", said Michael Gartenberg, a technology analyst at Jupiter Research.
"It is the first shot across the bows and Microsoft wants it to be heard around the world," he said. "This is going to be a war that's going to last several years."
The Xbox 360 is scheduled to come out in Europe on December 2 and Japan on December 10, before being released in the rest of the world next year.
It will come equipped with a DVD player capable also of handling CDs and digital photographs through a built-in Windows Media Center -- the same bundle of applications found in Microsoft's Windows XP operating system for PCs.
It has an Ethernet port to enable high-speed Internet connections for the popular "Xbox Live" subscription service, and other ports to hook up digital cameras or MP3 players.
And with support for startling image quality on high-definition televisions, Microsoft is confident that its new-look console has what it takes to challenge Sony, the runaway industry leader.
One big lesson that Microsoft learned with the first Xbox is that however powerful a console, it is unlikely to wow the public unless it comes with a solid stable of game titles at launch.
Partly because it was late to the game, and partly because it never mustered enough games, the Xbox division has lost Microsoft more than one billion dollars a year since 2001.
But this time round, the software giant has partnered up with all the industry's leading games developers -- including Electronic Arts, Activision and Ubisoft -- and plans to launch the Xbox 360 with 18 titles.
They will include several sports franchises and the game version of "King Kong", based on the forthcoming movie remake by Oscar-winning "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson.
From launch to the end of February, Microsoft hopes to shift three million units of the console and 5.5 million by the end of July.
Even before Tuesday's official release, Xbox 360s are changing hands for jaw-dropping sums well beyond the retail price, which stands at 299 or 399 dollars depending on the configuration.
Fears of shortages are driving a boom on eBay driven by fans who fret they will miss out on Tuesday to purchasers who have placed pre-release orders. Late Friday, one person paid 900 dollars to secure an Xbox 360 on the auction site.
"This is a very good deal! Don't pass it up," said another eBay user asking 850 dollars for his pre-reserved console, which he will receive at midnight Tuesday from his local retailer GameCrazy.
"I just got off the phone with the manager at GameCrazy and he said all GameCrazy stores are only getting about 20 units and Microsoft will not be reissuing any until January," the enterprising seller claimed.