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The launch of the Nintendo 3DS may be the last best hope for the massively over-hyped 3-D home entertainment market

Nintendo announced the Wii's rumoured successor without pomp or pageant in an open letter to the company's investors Monday. The announcement came alongside an earnings release describing yet another decrease in the Japanese game giant's annual profit.

A brief note on Nintendo's investor relations site titled simply "Wii's successor system" states that "Nintendo Co., Ltd. has decided to launch in 2012 a system to succeed Wii, which the company has sold 86.01 million units on a consolidated shipment basis between its launch in 2006 and the end of March 2011."

The brief, three-sentence missive goes on to say that the system will be shown in playable form and that its specifications will be revealed at the industry's E3 conference in Los Angeles, June 7th through the 9th.

The announcement comes nearly two weeks after multiple gaming websites quoted anonymous sources discussing a possible new Nintendo system, describing it as more powerful than Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3, backwards compatible with the Wii, and featuring an innovative controller with both standard gamepad controls and a nearly tablet-sized high resolution touch screen.

However, Monday's revelation was likely less a response to rampant Internet speculation than a means of offsetting news that Wii and DS sales continue to swiftly decline, which has resulted in another year of lower than expected operating profits for Nintendo.

The communiqué announcing Wii's successor notes that "sales of this new system have not been included in the financial forecasts announced today for the fiscal term ending March 2012," suggesting that the new system will ship after the current fiscal year, likely closer to the 2012 holiday shopping season.

While the announcement signals the imminent arrival of the next generation of Nintendo gaming, rivals Microsoft and Sony have yet to reveal future living room hardware of their own. Both companies released add-ons last fall in the form of the Xbox 360 Kinect and PlayStation Move that were meant at least in part to help extend the life of their current systems, which many analysts expect not to be replaced until 2014.

Assuming this speculation to be accurate, the industry is poised to break from an established cycle that has seen competing hardware manufacturers launching new machines every five or six years, often within days or weeks of each other, creating what consumers have come to know as game console "generations."

In related news, Nintendo's consolidated financial statements revealed Monday that the company's new stereoscopic 3DS handheld system had sold 3.61 million units by year end March 31st, 2011, just over a month after its Japanese launch and about a week after its release in Europe and North America.