Nintendo has announced the launch date and price point for the Nintendo DS, with the new dual-screened handheld hitting retailers in the US on November 21 for the price of $149.99 (around £85) -- lower than what many retailers and analysts speculated.

The dual-screen system will launch on December 2 in Japan, making it the company's first system ever to debut outside of Japan. The European release date hasn’t yet been announced, though it will be in the first quarter of next year.

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The Nintendo DS will include free embedded software called PictoChat, which allows DS users to write messages with an on-screen keyboard or the stylus and send them to other DS owners. A DS handheld in sleep mode will be alerted if it senses another DS in transmitting range, allowing for on-the-fly chatting.

In addition, the console will also include a playable demo of Metroid Prime: Hunters, a first-person shooter that will somehow make use of the stylus touchpad.

With more than 100 companies signed on to develop for the DS, the console has solid third-party support -- and Nintendo itself is already developing 20 titles.

Nintendo Senior VP of Marketing George Harrison revealed in an early morning teleconference that the DS will be backed by the biggest launch budget for any of its platforms, at $40 million. He added that shipment projections have been upped from 3.5 million to 4 million.

Commenting on its inevitable comparison with Sony's PSP, Executive VP of Sales and Marketing Reggie Fils-Aime noted the reticence of its competitor surrounding its handheld, hinting at the potential issues with the platform.

"There has been a lack of detailed info on PSP for quite some time, and we expect that to continue as they deal with their tough issues on battery life and other challenges," said Fils-Aime.

The DS will have a battery life of 6-10 hours, and only be offered in the silver/black colour unveiled -- more colour variations will probably be introduced in the future.