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“I think the dedicated handheld game market is very challenging,” he said. “The odds over the long term are stacked against the Vita.”

Another handheld system, the Nintendo 3DS, has been a disappointment. The gadget, which lets players see 3-D images without special glasses, hasn’t sold as well as expected and was one of the reasons Nintendo reported a net loss in the last nine months of 2011. Though the machine is starting to see sales pick up following a price cut, Nintendo last month lowered its forecast for 3DS sales.

Challenges aside, Sony hyped the launch of the Vita with a lavish party at Siren Studios in Hollywood last week. The likes of “Transformers” co-star Josh Duhamel and “The Hunger Games” actor Liam Hemsworth were in attendance. The gadget was passed around for all to try at the event, while Vita-related tweets were projected on a mammoth wall.

Elsewhere in the U.S., stores were planning midnight launch events, and the most dedicated PlayStation fans were expected to line up in anticipation. Though it may not amount to iPhone proportions, the Vita could become a hit with gamers who want to play shooters and other intense, high-end games that go beyond lunging cartoon birds at annoying green pigs. It may even give rival Nintendo a serious challenge.

Fynn Marselli, an 11-year-old who tried out the Vita at Sony’s lounge, said he’s now mulling the Vita after saving up to buy the Nintendo 3DS. He already has an older DS and an iPod Touch for games. With its touch screen and physical controllers, he said, the Vita is “pretty cool, a little bit of both.”

“It’s a little strange, using both the touch screen and controls,” he said. “I have been playing with it for half an hour and I’m still figuring some things out.”

Because that doesn’t usually happen, he said, “it’s kind of fun. Finally something I don’t pick up and know everything about.”

As of December, Nintendo has sold more than 165 million of its handheld DS devices worldwide, including more than 15 million of the 3DS. Sony, meanwhile, has sold 75.5 million PlayStation Portable devices, the first version of which went on sale in 2005 in the U.S. and the year before in Japan. Sony plans to continue selling the Portable machine.

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AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang contributed to this story from Los Angeles.