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Sony Press Conference

Introducing the PS3 Slim...

Given the disappointment of EA's opening GamesCom press conference, the weight of expectation soon fell on the shoulders of SCEE boss Andrew House as a converted Cologne nightclub full of sweaty and uncomfortable journalists waited for Sony to confirm two of the worst kept secrets in gaming.

After an initial delay of some 30 minutes, proceedings started to a roll of low groans as House jumped straight into a long list of market numbers showcasing just how well Sony is doing (thanks very much for asking).

Those figures - and I'll deliver them considerably quicker than he did - amount to global PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and PSP sales of 138.8 million, 23.7 million and 17 million respectively, while PlayStation Network registrations have now hit 27 million, which, according to House, equates to a 60 percent adoption rate.

"We pride ourselves on being a company that's always changing and always innovating," said House, before going on to say that PSN's performance is indicative of Sony's drive to keep "giving the consumer a reason to come back and re-engage with the Network community."

With the mundane number crunching out of the way, SCEE's head honcho promptly failed to elicit anything other than languid silence when attempted to blow the gathering cobwebs off PlayStation Home.

While Sony's virtual world has apparently benefited from significant improvements and service enhancements since it launched some eight months ago, House was quick to revert to the safety of numbers in order to highlight Home's worth. Specifically, 7.5 million users have embraced Home, with some 3.5 million of those based in SCEE territories.

In a move designed to add a little zest to Home, Sony is set to introduce new elements such as SingStar Music Quiz, Interactive Dance Floor and Audi TV, while also giving users the chance to vote on their favourite music.

With the E-Werk nightclub eerily quiet between successive stabs at whipping up emotion, it took House announcing three new colours for the PlayStation 3 to draw ironic cheers from the tired hacks.

However, it was a moment of brief reverie that quickly subsided as House revealed incoming animated themes for the PlayStation 3's XMB and the addition of regional catch-up TV services such as the BBC iPlayer in the UK, ABC in Australia and ZDF in Germany.

Finally helping PSN users to bypass the annoyance of credit card purchasing, Sony has finally relented on bringing PlayStation Network Cards to the European market - offering up store-activated vouchers to the tune of 20 Euro and 50 Euro.

And here's where polite applause began to filter through the darkness: media-starved PSN fans can also look forward to the November arrival of "hundreds" of SD and HD movies for direct download and streaming to PS3 and PSP thanks to content support deals with Universal, Disney, Paramount, MGM and Warner Bros.

Other PSN-related additions being shoehorned onto Sony's portable platform include: Digital Comics with notable support from Marvel and a handy AutoFlow panel-to-panel viewing system; and the arrival of "minis on PSP," which is set to give small and large developers the opportunity to create and deliver a host of bite-sized downloadable games (up to a limit of 100MB).

With applause now building, and sarcastic undertone subsiding, Sony revealed something of a doozie insofar as new PSP Go owners in the SCEE territories who register their console between October 01 and October 10 will be granted a free and full download copy of Gran Turismo. No joke, no demo version, no 'lite' work-in-progress taster. The full game.

In terms of wowing the crowd with new trailers for its biggest gaming properties, Sony only sprinkled pixie dust on Heavy Rain and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, with the former unveiling another central character in the game's narrative, while the latter offered a more sombre glimpse at the adventure awaiting Nathan Drake. Both were excellent and extremely well received... but no surprises there.

Choosing to quickly skate over the no-show of its emerging motion control system (held over until the Tokyo Game Show), Sony boss Kaz Hirai ended the night by directing attentions towards a seemingly innocuous plinth located at the corner of the stage. With little build up, Hirai marked his first appearance at a European games conference by whipping out the PlayStation 3 Slim.

Boom. Simple as that. All the bluster. All the denials. All the rumour. "Oh, we was lying, folks... here it is after all... and it is that crappy looking thing that was first spotted in the Philippines."

With the applause rightly ringing out, Hirai wrapped things up by announcing that Sony's hardware isn't the only thing set to shrink, with the price of both original PS3 and PS3 Slim reduced to 299 USD in the United States and 299 Euro across Europe (no mention of the UK price though). Regional retail release dates will vary, but the PS3 Slim and price cuts will roll out during the first week of September.

Much as with EA's conference before it, Sony's first ever GamesCom event was anything but. Yet, while its biggest moments lacked shock value - as did the PSP Go's unveiling at E3 - we can all finally stop blathering on about the bloody Slim and massively over-inflated price of Sony's powerhouse hardware. Amen to that.

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