I didn't fall for the Sony (NYSE:SNE) pre-ordering hype, but I still landed a PlayStation Portable on Thursday. No, I didn't get tricked into ordering the $250 handheld gaming system from Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), which only offered it as a bundle with five games at a price of $450. Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) had set up a special Web page for its Reward Zone members to pre-order the PSP earlier in the month, but it sold out before I got around to squaring one away.

So on Thursday, I went with my usual "hot new release" strategy of driving over to a dilapidated Kmart (NASDAQ:KMRT) store -- those are never in short supply -- and trying my luck. Sure enough, the store had well over a dozen PSPs available. I then called my wife, who was heading out to Toys "R" Us (NYSE:TOY) in the afternoon. Since I knew I couldn't hog the system for myself, I asked her to pick up a game for the kids while she was there.

To my surprise, she called back from the store to say that there were still plenty of PSPs ripe for the picking. Figuring that the eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) reselling speculators were toast, I checked out the world's leading auction site to see that few systems sold for beyond retail.

Sony had shipped a million units in its launch, but they sure weren't all spoken for, as I had once feared. Then again, launching a new system in March isn't easy, considering how far away the 2005 Christmas season is and how many folks are still recovering from the credit card statements from last December's holiday season.

The limited number of games currently available for the new disc format probably hasn't helped matters, but it's always that way with a new rollout. The PSP plays movies, too. It comes bundled with Marvel's (NYSE:MVL) Spider-Man 2 -- Sony's theatrical handiwork -- but the first handful of movies won't be out until next month. In a sign that the system is clearly being marketed to an older audience, despite the fact that theatrical animation provides the top-selling DVDs, the slate of PSP movie releases are all action flicks.

Going up against Nintendo in the handheld market is a risky yet necessary move for Sony. Unlike Nintendo, which managed to ship only a few hundred thousand Nintendo DS systems when it launched back in November, the ready availability of the PSP for most shoppers on Thursday was a good thing. Sony dominates on the console front, and if it is able to translate that leadership into the portable market, it may leave Nintendo with little alternative but to follow other former platform makers like Atari (NASDAQ:ATAR), 3DO, and Sega into abandoning the hardware and focusing on their prolific software lines. And even this risky springtime launch, when disposable income is hard to come by for most gamers, may prove to be brilliant if by the holiday season the shelves are fully stocked with hot software titles because the publishers can anticipate an established base of users. It's why I had written favorably about Sony last week in my Three Stocks to Buy in 2006 article. It's why buying a year earlier may not be such a bad idea, either.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz also has a Nintendo DS lying around the house -- though his kids rarely give him the chance to check it out. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.