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Wireless Video-Game Console Could Challenge Xbox, Wii

Zeebo's built-in 3G wireless connection lets the controller download games at a price point that's less expensive than competing consoles.

Zeebo Wireless Video-Game Console

Zeebo wireless video-game console
(click for larger image)

Startup Zeebo has launched a video-game console that uses a built-in 3G wireless connection to download games.

The console, unveiled Monday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, will be available first Brazil, starting next month. The console will be rolled out to other markets this year and next.

Zeebo is aiming its namesake device at emerging global markets, the so-called BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The San Diego startup sees these countries as underserved by makers of the three major consoles, which are too expensive and offer content that isn't culturally or locally relevant. The three consoles are Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony's PlayStation 3, and Nintendo's Wii.

Zeebo is selling its device for $199 in Brazil. In other markets, the console will sell for less than $179 this year and "well below" $149 next year. Besides the lower prices, Zeebo's business strategy includes providing a 3G broadband wireless connection at no additional cost for downloading games.

The console will ship with four preloaded games and the option of downloading a fifth one at no charge before players start paying for downloads. Game publishers and developers that are porting existing titles to the Zeebo include Capcom, Com2uS, Digital Chocolate, EA Mobile, Gameloft, Glu, Id Software, MachineWorks Northwest, Namco Networks, and THQ, the San Diego-based company said.

Besides providing the ability to add games, the wireless connection also is used by Zeebo to send system updates. In the future, Zeebo plans to enable customers to use the device to access the Internet with their PCs.

The Zeebo system is based on Qualcomm's Adreno 130 graphics core and ARM 11 processor. Qualcomm is an investor in the company. "We've had a vision for a wireless video-game console targeted at the special economic and culturally relevant content needs in emerging markets for several years, and we're excited to see Zeebo embark on this ambitious new venture," Mike Yuen, senior director of games and services at Qualcomm, said in a statement.

In addition, the console comes with 1 GB of flash memory for storing games and three USB ports. The device displays games at a maximum 640-by-480 resolution. The Zeebo will be focused on less-graphics-intensive games than the high-end content available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Among the games that will be available for the Zeebo are EA Mobile's "Need For Speed Carbon" and "FIFA 09" and Namco's "Pac-Mania," "Ridge Racer," and "Alpine Racer."

The global video-game industry is growing. Communications market researcher TMNG expects the industry to post a 24.6% compound annual growth rate through 2012, when the industry will reach $40 billion in annual revenue.

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