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The insider's guide to the PlayStation 3

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(CNN) -- As U.S. video gamers prepare to stampede into electronics retailers across the country, here's all you need to know about Sony's PlayStation 3.

PlayStation 3? No marks for originality there. Can't they do something new?

The all-conquering games console has proved so lucrative over the last decade that Sony can't really afford to give the brand up. The PlayStation transformed video gaming when it launched in 1994, taking the industry beyond the 16-bit age of the Sega Megadrive and the Nintendo SNES. The PS2 followed in 2000 (along with the PS Portable in 2004) and now the PS3 is Sony's latest bid for full spectrum dominance of the gaming market.

How has it been received so far?

The PlayStation has become such an icon that it markets itself. Gamers queued overnight in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan for one of the first batch of 100,000 consoles released there last weekend -- and many were turned away even before stores opened, with the machines completely selling out in a matter of hours. Sony has 400,000 PS3s ready for launch in the U.S. on Friday but expect similar scenes.

I've managed without a PlayStation this long. Why should I bother with the PS3?

Sony is styling the PS3 not as a humble games machine but as "next-generation entertainment" -- it will be compatible with the Blu-Ray next generation DVD format and promises near movie-quality graphics and the most realistic gaming experience ever. Users will be able to browse the Web, chat online and download films, music and games. For those who already have a well-stocked collection of PS2 games, the PS3 is also supposed to be "backwards compatible."

Supposed to be?

Well, the PS3 has been plagued by development problems and is already late onto the market, having originally been scheduled to launch earlier this year -- the latest being that developers on Tuesday admitted the machine may not be quite as "backwards compatible" as they'd claimed. Some older PS2 games suffer sound and graphical glitches, or just don't play at all.

Any other drawbacks before I rush out and buy one?

There were only five PS3 titles available for last weekend's launch and it's not the cheapest console on the market, selling for $420 on its Japanese debut (and from $500 in the U.S.). Oh, and if you live in Europe you'll have to buy a plane ticket as well because it's not being released there until March at the earliest. But consoles usually take about a year or so to settle in as developers get to grips with their capabilities and reviewers so far have been generous rather than critical.

Technology site CNET concluded: Though not without a few minor drawbacks the PS3 is a versatile and impressive piece of home entertainment equipment that lives up to the hype... Whether you buy the PS3 today or whenever it becomes available in quantity, you can be sure you'll feel that you got your money's worth -- from a gaming and a multimedia perspective."

Still, it sounds like it's not quite the all-conquering machine that Sony was hoping for.

With three rival machines on the market, industry analysts are salivating about a new round of console wars to rival Sega vs. Nintendo in the early 1990s. Going head-to-head with the PS3 are Microsoft's own next-generation Xbox 360, which took the initiative last year and has the advantage of a solid set of titles and a sizeable fanbase, and the quirky Nintendo Wii, also released in the U.S. this week. Many experts doubt whether the PS3 has the firepower to maintain Sony's 70 percent share of the gaming market, and having once ousted Nintendo from a similarly dominant position, Sony knows it has a battle on its hands. The Japanese company is expecting to lose $1.7 billion in its gaming division in the fiscal year through March 2007 as it seeks to push the PS3 ahead of its rivals.

Don't mention:

Sega's Saturn, Game Gear and Dreamcast (where did it all go wrong Sega?); the NeoGeo; Nintendo GameCube; anything by Atari since 1983...

Japanese gaming fans queued overnight to get their hands on the PS3.

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