Sony used to have game. Its hold on the console market anything but inscrutable, being down to a long standing dedication to technical innovation, game play and pricing. But could that all be due to change following the debut of the PlayStation 3, dubbed PayStation, at E3 last week? Not only does Sony appear to have lost the pricing plot, but technical specs leave much to be desired as well.

Let’s start at the bottom, bottom line that is. At $599 the PS3 will be far and away the most expensive games console money can’t buy. The industry insider talk is that there will be a shortage of hardware for the launch in November, no more than a million units to be available worldwide. Of course, we’ve all seen this short supply marketing tactic before, especially in a bid to drive up the hype before Christmas in order to mop up the resulting New Year demand. But this time, I am informed, things are different because there really is a hardware shortage and it’s even possible that the launch will be delayed until 2007 as a result. Even if you are fortunate enough to get hold of a console, you may well feel a little cheated on the tech spec front. Your $599 won’t get you the double whammy of 2 HDMI ports for HDTV output that featured on the much vaunted prototype machines. Nor will it get you the prototype 3 Ethernet ports, just the one (which is probably enough, but what the heck), and only 4 USB ports not the expected 6.

Things could be worse though, a lot worse. Especially if you opt to save $100 and go for the ‘Basic’ model which has cruelly, but rather aptly, already found itself being referred to as the ‘Tard Park.’ Technically retarded that is, because beyond the obvious reduction in hard drive storage from 60 GB to 20 GB there is a host of cutbacks. While the lack of a HDMI port for HDTV output is just about acceptable on a budget (if you’re skimping to save a hundred bucks you probably won’t have the money for a HDTV set) what isn’t is the lack of a memory slot or WiFi on a 3rd generation games console.

There’s much still to be excited about, but are the Cell processor, Blu-ray optical drive and HDD storage worth the additional manufacturing cost? Certainly those who experienced the PS3 in action at E3 suggest that the playability gap isn’t as wide as it was between PS2 and the Xbox. Which is worrying for Sony, not least because by the time the PS3 comes to market the Xbox 360 will already have a tight grip. And this time Microsoft will also have the tech specs and games to compete on a level playing field. Albeit at a much lower cost, possibly half as much as the Sony PayStation.