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M$ to unveil new Xbox

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Microsoft plans to steal a march on rival Sony by unveiling its next-generation games console on Thursday with an all-singing extravaganza fronted by Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood.

The public's first look at the new-look Xbox machine, on the MTV music network, will come at least six months before the console actually goes on sale.

But in the all-important war of hype, Microsoft will be the first on the block.

Sony is not due to present its new PlayStation3 until next week and will release it to the public next year.

Thursday's jump-start could be important for Bill Gates' software titan, which was a year behind the PlayStation2 when it launched the first-generation Xbox in 2001. It has struggled to catch up.

Analysts say Microsoft has learned the hard way games developers must be brought on board early for the console to succeed. The first Xbox, while on a technical par with the powerful PlayStation2, suffered from a comparative shortage of titles.

Although it managed to overtake Nintendo's GameCube to grab second place in the global console race, the Xbox remained streets behind the PlayStation2's sales and has never become a money-spinner for Microsoft.

"Microsoft were well behind Sony with their first console. This time it looks like they'll be ahead," said Yue-Shun Ho, an industry analyst at Wells Fargo Securities in Portland, Oregon.

"So in that respect they have a head start and probably could do better this time round. But then again we haven't heard yet from Sony.

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