So now we have launch prices, but still no launch date.

Wednesday at the German Games Convention, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced the price for its next-generation Xbox 360 video game console, with one surprise: the Xbox 360 will launch with an entry-level base package along with a more expensive premium package.

As expected, the premium edition Xbox 360 will sell at $399.99 and include a wireless controller, a 20-gigabyte detachable hard drive, an Xbox Live Silver membership and headset, a universal remote, and a component HD-AV cable. In contrast, the more affordable Xbox 360 Core System will sell for $299.99, but will only include the console, a wired controller, and standard AV cable. Both packages will come Xbox Live-ready, but even the "premium edition" owners will have to upgrade to Xbox Live Gold membership to play multiplayer games such as a next-generation Halo (the Silver membership includes online chat, voice and text messaging, and various downloads).

Microsoft still hasn't set a launch date, but has confirmed that there will be a simultaneous release in the U.S., Europe, and Japan in time for the holiday season. One rumor floating around the Internet has it that a Microsoft partner site accidentally slipped that Nov. 4 would be the launch date. Another rumor also says Nov. 4, with a couple of Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) employees cited as sources.

At any rate, we can probably expect the launch to be sometime in November.

But for Microsoft, play time is over. With the original Xbox, Microsoft has piled up losses but has also firmly established itself as the top rival to No. 1 Sony (NYSE:SNE) in the video game console market. This time, Microsoft is going for the top spot, but it will clearly be a dogfight if not an uphill climb when Sony launches its next-generation PlayStation 3 sometime next year.

As of June 2, Sony had shipped more than 90 million PlayStation 2 units since they were released in March 2000 in Japan and in October of that year in the U.S.; Microsoft has shipped only about 22 million units since Xbox's release in November 2001.

While Sony had a head start of more than a year and an established consumer base when it released the PlayStation 2, it also had a stable of console-exclusive blockbuster titles including its own Gran Turismo series, as well as games released first for the platform such as Take-Two Interactive Software's (NASDAQ:TTWO) Grand Theft Auto and Konami's (NYSE:KNM) Metal Gear Solid.

This time around, Microsoft will have the head start, and a willing online partner in Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS): EA announced yesterday a $100,000 tournament based on its best-selling football game, Madden NFL 2006, using the Xbox version of the game. Microsoft may also have a price advantage in its core $299.99 system, because Sony's PlayStation 3 may launch in the $400 to $500 range.

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Fool contributor Jeff Hwang owns shares of Electronic Arts. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.