Electronics giant Sony will today announce the details for public trials of its long awaited online PS2 gaming service, the company announced at its European Press Forum this week.

Half of Sony's total profits last year came from its gaming consoles. A whopping 90 million PS1s and 50 million PS2s have been sold globally to date. The PS2 is also the top-selling DVD player in Europe, putting extreme pressure on the company to make its online gaming forum a huge money earner.

Sony is already playing catch-up with rival Microsoft, which has been testing its European online gaming network for the past few months.

To take part in European trials, users need to buy a PS2 network adaptor, at a cost of £39.99, in order to connect their consoles to a broadband link. The starter kit includes a headset with voice-recognition functions and an online-only version of the game Socom: US Navy Seals.

The US service costs $39.99 (around £24) and has been a huge success, while the far less popular Japanese model charges gamers a hefty £100 for access plus additional content fees. The company has so far signed up about 600,000 gamers compared to Microsoft's 350,000 Xbox users.

"The US market accepted the service well but high pricing in Japan has deterred many gamers. It is essential we achieve not only an additional level of playability but also a price that gamers are willing and can afford to pay for," said Nick Sharples, head of corporate communications at Sony.

Sony sees online gaming as key to driving broadband subscriptions and is working alongside several ISPs to provide tailormade packages for gamers. It has so far announced agreements with NTL, Telewest, BT Retail, BT Openworld and Freeserve.

The service will be launched officially this spring.