Plugged In

Sony wins! Sony wins! … Well, sorta

The January sales figures have been released by the NPD Group. Can you name the top-selling console in the U.S. during the first month of 2008?

If you said the PlayStation 3, you’d be wrong.

But after months and months of looking up at the Xbox 360 — and, often, the PS2, Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable — the PS3 made major gains during January and checked in at No. 2 on the hardware charts, trailing only the juggernaut known as the Wii.

The first month of the year saw U.S. consumers purchase nearly as many PS3s (269,000) as Wiis (275,000), so call it a moral victory for the Sony camp. The DS was third with 251,000 sold, followed by the PSP and Xbox 360 with 230,000 sold each.

Why the sudden interest in Sony’s next-gen console? That’s a good question.

January is a notoriously slow month for game releases, so there wasn’t a rush to pick up a new killer app — unless you actually considered “NFL Tour” a killer app, in which case there’s no hope for you. In fact, according to the NPD figures, only one PS3 title cracked the Top 10 software sales list — “Call of Duty 4” at No. 9. It moved 140,000 copies — less than half the number of Xbox 360 copies sold during the month. “COD 4” for the 360 was the top-selling game of the month with 331,000 units.

Blu-ray’s impending victory over HD-DVD in the next-gen disc format war likely helped move some PS3s, as well. Wal-Mart’s decision to stock Blu-ray exclusively could drive the demand for PS3s even higher. But that affect won’t be seen for another month or two.

Which takes us back to January’s numbers. Why were people rushing out to buy PlayStation 3s? According to Microsoft, it was because they couldn’t find an Xbox 360 at their local retailer.

“Our retailers are telling us that Xbox 360 is selling as fast as they can restock, but due to this high demand, Xbox 360 is experiencing temporary shortages,” Microsoft said in a statement released in response to the NPD figures.

NPD analyst Anita Frazier seemed back up Microsoft’s sentiment.

“Given the huge number of hardware systems sold in December, inventory shortages could be the biggest contributor to the softer-than-expected sales,” Frazier said.

Can the PlayStation 3 continue to outsell the Xbox 360? Will Microsoft be able to rebound from The Great 360 Shortage of ’08? Can either system catch the Wii?

Looks like the console wars are heating up again.