One of the hottest Christmas list items will be released Friday, but you'll be lucky to get your hands on a PlayStation 4 during its launch.
The PS4 will create an early shopping frenzy and lines of dedicated gamers (and dedicated parents) wanting to get their hands on a gaming console before they run out. The lines of customers waiting at midnight openings for a game console will return Nov. 22 when the PS4's rival Xbox One is launched.
The PS4 retails for $399.99 and comes with one DualShock 4 controller featuring a touchpad, a mono headset and a 500GB hard drive, still plays Blu-ray movies, streams online content and has a bunch of other fancy features best described by Sony's official blog. (The Xbox costs $100 more, but comes with the Kinect motion gaming system.)
All stores will sell the system for the same price under pricing agreements with the manufacturer, but where the deals come into play during the holidays are the bundles offered starting Black Friday.
Buyers should be prepared for a couple of key changes with the PS4 before shelling out $460 for a console and game. PS4 will connect to a TV only with an HDMI cable, so if you have the composite or RCA outlets, the situation may be more difficult to remedy than seeing "batteries not included." Also, if you want to play online, which is critical for titles like Call of Duty, a PS Plus subscription is required at $49.99 a year. Gamers also get 1GB of cloud storage for online game saves with the price.
Unless you paid in-full during a pre-order for the PS4, or Xbox One for that matter, it's best to skip opening day or try for another store. The chances of finding one at popular electronics stores and retailers are slim.
GameStop stores, with locations on Cortez Road and DeSoto Square Mall, pre-sold PS4 units, so while stores will participate in a launch event starting at 6 p.m. Friday, only customers who pre-ordered a PS4 will receive one starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday, according to GameStop corporate announcements. The same will be done for the Xbox One launch. For pre-orders that were only partially paid for, those systems will be returned to store shelves after 48 hours. So visit a GameStop Sunday for your first second-chance at getting your hands on a PS4.
Best Buy will also have a midnight opening Friday, including at its location on the corner of Cortez and 14th Street West. Depending on the location, Best Buy might have a few extra consoles for people who didn't pre-order and will create a separate line for those customers. Pre-orders are held for eight days after launch at Best Buy, so circle back Nov. 23 at a Best Buy to see if any PS4s have been returned to shelves.
Kmart, with locations on Manatee Avenue in Bradenton and on U.S. 301 in Ellenton, is offering the PS4 on Friday to Shop Your Way members only. The rewards program is free and anyone 13 years or older with an e-mail address is eligible. It is a low-risk proposition -- no need to spend money on the MAX version of the program for this promotion. If you're lucky enough to get a PS4 at Kmart you can always put it on layaway to hide it from the kids while you pay it off.
Walmart is also keen on layaway this holiday season, especially for the PS4.
"Usually our layaway closes at 9 p.m., but we're opening it back up at midnight if people wanted to grab a PS4 and didn't want to pay for it today," said Sarah McKinney, a spokeswoman for Walmart.
Walmart also accepted pre-orders for PS4, and will have two lines at the store for customers who pre-purchased and others who want a chance to buy one at midnight Friday, McKinney said.
"If we by chance run out during launch day, we are going to be constantly restocking them as fast as we can," she said. Walmart recently launched Facebook and Twitter accounts for individual stores and will try to alert customers through social media that the PS4 and Xbox One are back in stock, she added.
A courtesy call to the store to check doesn't hurt to see if any are in stock, and a back-up would be checking online to use site-to-store options to pick up online purchases at the store if you're worried about the delivery man leaving Christmas gifts on the porch.
Other options that might be worth the risk Friday include Target and Toys R Us. They will open at normal hours, 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., respectively, as well as Sears.
For those who don't have the cash for a PS4 or Xbox One, Walmart will sell the Xbox 360 for $99 and PS3 for $149 starting 6 p.m., Thanksgiving, according to its Black Friday ad released Tuesday.
What buyers will find more available later this holiday season are bundles starting on Black Friday. In these packages, which haven't been announced yet for most stores, you'll typically find bonus games, or an extra controller and accessories. Make sure to do the math to see if you're getting the best deal on a bundle. Keep in mind that each game and controller retails for about $60 individually.
Sony would be wise to bundle the PS4 with the PS Vita, which is the handheld device Sony launched during the 2012 holiday season. The Vita, which allows for crossplay on some PS4 titles, can be used as a controller for PS4 games and will allow PS4 games to be played on the Vita screen so someone else can watch TV.
Before you buy too many games and accessories, I'd suggest buying a warranty or replacement plan for the PS4 while you're at it to protect your investment. Game consoles are computers nowadays that receive a lot of use, and should be cared for like one. I haven't owned a game console that didn't experience a glitch or defect, so it's the one warranty worth purchasing. My PS3 protection plan came in handy, replacing a broken controller and getting a refurbished unit after my hard drive crashed within a year.
If you don't pick up a PS4 or Xbox One immediately, don't worry about being empty handed because the ones who managed to grab one will be met with an empty wallet.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.