Microsoft plans to launch its Xbox gaming console in Europe on 14 March 2002, the software giant confirmed today.

The long-awaited Xbox will hit 16 European countries with a suggested retail price of 479 euros, which will probably result in a UK price of £299.99.

Produced by contract manufacturing company Flextronics at its plant in Hungary, about 1.5 million Xboxes are due to be shipped to the European market by June 2002, said a spokeswoman.

Last month Microsoft was forced to push the US release date back from the beginning of November to 15 November.

Microsoft, which is seeking to take a piece of the lucrative home video gaming market from Sony, Sega (which is no longer making consoles) and Nintendo, had originally announced that it would unveil the Xbox in early November at pounds-for-dollars price.

In Europe, the Xbox is expected to face stiff competition from Sony's PlayStation 2. Recent expectations from European analysts put PlayStation 2 in the number-one market position through next year, though Microsoft is projected to make a strong debut on the European gaming market.

There is some doubt about the firmness of Microsoft's European Xbox release date. Along with the delay in the US launch, the release of the Xbox on the Japanese market was also delayed.

In August, Microsoft announced that it was pushing the Japanese launch date from late 2001 to 22 February 2002, so that it could devote its full production capacity to satisfying US demand for the console.

But Microsoft doesn't anticipate any change in the European release date, the UK spokeswoman said.

Microsoft is planning to ship four to six million machines worldwide in its fiscal year ending June 2002, and "those plans are still on track", the spokeswoman added.