Each PS3 to cost Sony $800?

Analysts seem to think so.

The same report from analysts at Merrill Lynch that predicted that the PS3 could be delayed by over six months has also suggested that the components used to build each console could cost Sony over $800.

Presenting a list of materials needed for each console, Merrill Lynch analyst Joe Osha pins the highest costs on the Blu-Ray drive used by the system, at $350, and the Cell processor, at $230.

Other components including the NVIDIA RSX chip ($70) and the system's memory ($50) stack up with smaller costs such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chips to bring the total to $800 (although Osha's report miscalculates this figure as $900).

Although Osha predicts that the bill of materials cost will fall to $320 within three years, his headline figure is stark - and the report describes the situation in harsh terms, stating bluntly that "it's now clear that the box is prohibitively expensive to make."

However, it should be borne in mind that Osha makes no particular claim to have insider knowledge of Sony's manufacturing or materials costs for the console - and while he explains his reasoning for some of the price tags he attaches to materials, others remain entirely inexplicable.

The incredibly high cost of the Blu-Ray drive, for example, is an anomaly that can perhaps be explained by the widespread confusion over the difference between a simple Blu-Ray data drive, a technology which is more complex than existing DVD drives but not enormously so, and a home Blu-Ray player or recorder, which must include a variety of expensive video and audio processing hardware which the PS3 already has on-board as part of its core functionality.

Although it remains a possibility that Blu-Ray drives will be expensive to manufacture, hard evidence of this has yet to emerge - and there is widespread scepticism over the incredibly high price points being attached to the technology by many analysts, especially since the PS3 is expected to have a Read-only Blu-Ray drive, and most other Blu-Ray devices for which even tentative price points have been mentioned are more expensive Read-Write devices.

The other component which Osha expects to be incredibly expensive is Cell, with the price for the chip placed at $230 - a factor, he says, of the fact that the die size of the chip is large, and mostly made up of logic circuits rather than the easier to repair memory circuits.

However, his assertion that the chip will be difficult and hence expensive to manufacture is thrown into doubt by comments made by IBM senior vice president William Zeittler earlier this month, when he said that the firm is succeeding in ramping up yields of Cell "faster than on any chip we've done."

In other words, while Merrill Lynch's report has not only impacted Sony's share price today, but has also kicked off a storm in the mainstream media about the status of PS3, some of its basic assumptions appear to be founded on shaky ground - and like all analyst reports dealing with the technical aspects of console manufacture or game development, it deserves to be viewed with a healthy dose of scepticism.

While Sony has made a habit of announcing key details of its strategy at press conferences in Tokyo, the next planned public discussion of the firm's plans will take place at the Game Developers' Conference in San Jose in late March, where the company's worldwide studios boss Phil Harrison will take the stage to deliver a keynote speech.

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