For hardware, that means nearly $450 million in July purchases, a 17 percent increase compared to the same time last year. The top-selling DS moved about 608,000 units, with the Wii second at about 555,000.

PS 2 Still Popular

The next four places showed small differences, with third-place Sony’s PlayStation 3 at 225,000, its PlayStation Portable in fourth with 222,000, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 fifth with 205,000. The PlayStation 2, now entering late middle age eight years after its release, still sold about 155,000 for sixth place.

In total sales, the Wii is in first place, with about 13.5 million sold in North America and about 31 million worldwide. The Xbox 360 is in second place, with 12 million U.S. sales and 20 million worldwide, and the PS3 takes third with 5.5 million U.S. and 15 million worldwide.

Game software sales in the U.S. totaled $591 million, an increase of 41 percent over last year. The top two games were Electronic Arts’ NCAA Football 09 for the Xbox, with 397,000 sold, and Nintendo’s Wii Fit, with about 370,000. Guitar Hero: On Tour for the DS sold 309,000 for third place, and Wii Play was fourth with 284,000.

The remaining games in the top 10 were, in order, NCAA Football for the PS3, Soulcalibur IV for the Xbox 360, Mario Kart for the Wii, Rock Band Special Edition Bundle for the Wii, Soulcalibur IV for the PS3, and Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution for the Xbox 360.

‘Years’ for Sony to Catch Microsoft

Mike Goodman, an analyst with industry research firm Yankee Group, said it is “pretty safe to assume that Nintendo will continue to lead the way for the foreseeable future.” The more interesting development, he added, is the continuing monthly battle between the PS3 and the Xbox 360, which in the U.S. is “still very close.”

In the latest U.S. figures, he noted, “Sony has managed to inch ahead of Microsoft,” but the Xbox 360 still leads in total sales since launch. “At this pace,” Goodman said, “it will take Sony years to catch up with Microsoft.”

Goodman said the PS3’s built-in Blu-ray high-definition DVD player is “nice to have,” but probably “not a must-have” that would sway buyers. The inclusion of Blu-ray in the PS3 delayed the release of the console, but became a possible asset after the recent Blu-ray triumph in the high-definition format war with HD DVD.

Goodman noted the monthly competition might be in for a shake-up if a rumored big price-cut for the Xbox 360 takes place this fall. If, he said, Microsoft were to drop $100 from the console price, the dynamic of the monthly sales race could dramatically shift once again.