Nintendo plans to launch a new portable game player later this year, according to a company spokesperson.

The move will likely come at about the same time that rival Sony launches an assault on Nintendo's top position in the portable gaming sector with the release of its handheld PSP, or PlayStation Portable, device.

Few details of the player, called Nintendo DS (short for Nintendo Double Screen), have been released. However, the Kyoto-based company said the machine will have dual screens, each around 3in in size.

"The additional screen will expand the game experience and allow us to do things that have not been possible so far," the spokesperson says, adding that the company will provide more details at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) event scheduled to take place in Los Angeles from 12 May to 14 May.

Nintendo's new portable games player adds weight to what was already expected to be a fierce battle between the company and console heavyweight Sony.

Sony, which entered the gaming business in 1994 and currently enjoys the top position in the console market, plans to launch its PSP in the fourth quarter of this year. As with Nintendo, Sony is keeping details of its new player a closely guarded secret, although it has released provisional specifications and an artist's empression.

The specifications include a 4.5in wide-screen display, 3D graphics, support for MPEG4 video, and a USB2 port.

The player will use a new media format called UMD, or Universal Media Disc. The 2.4-inch optical discs will be encased in a cartridge and hold up to 1.8GB of data, according to Sony.