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Sony PlayStation certificate sparks talk China may lift console ban

By Tim Kelly and Melanie Lee

TOKYO/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Sony Corp's PlayStation 3 has received a certification of quality from a Chinese safety standards body, sparking speculation that China will end a decade-old ban on home game consoles.

China has banned video game consoles since 2000, citing a need to protect the well-being of its young people. Some analysts cautioned against reading too much into Sony's new certificate, noting the organization that gave it has no regulatory authority.

"The Ministry of Culture has the regulatory authority over the console segment and is the sole organization that can revoke the ban," said Lisa Cosmas Hanson, managing partner of U.S.-based video games consultancy Niko Partners.

The China Quality Certification Centre website showed two models of the PlayStation 3, labeled "computer entertainment system" received approval this July. All products must pass the safety standard before they can be sold to Chinese consumers.

Sony confirmed that it had received certification but remained tightlipped about whether this heralded an imminent entry for the PlayStation into the world's second-largest economy or whether the company needed further certificates.

"This does not mean that we have officially decided to enter Chinese market," Sony spokeswoman Mai Hora said.

"We recognize that China is a promising market so we will continuously study the possibility."

Representatives for China's Ministry of Culture could not be reached for comment.

But there has also been some precedent that China authorities are taking a less hard-line attitude towards game consoles.

This year Lenovo Group launched Eedoo CT510, a motion sensing device that plays games similar in concept to Microsoft's Kinect extension for the Xbox game console, by touting by Eedoo as an "exercise and entertainment machine".

Although video game consoles are banned in China, online gaming and games on mobile devices are deeply entrenched -- limiting the potential upside for Sony and rival game machine makers like Microsoft Corp and Nintendo Co Ltd.

"It obviously has a huge population, but gamers in China have different consumption habits," said Piers Harding-Rolls, senior games analyst at IHS Screen Digest in London.

"A lot of established gamers will use non-dedicated devices they have used over many years."

Game machine makers would also have to find ways to ensure that piracy did not cut into their income from games software and other content, Harding-Rolls added.

(Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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