Sega Dreamcast

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Sega Dreamcast Logo

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Sega Dreamcast

The Sega Dreamcast (Japanese: ドリームキャスト; code-named "Blackbelt" and "Katana" during development) was Sega's last video game console. An attempt to recapture the console market with a next-generation system, it was designed to supersede Sony's PlayStation and Nintendo's N64, and although generally considered to be "ahead of its time", it failed to gather enough momentum before the release of the PlayStation 2 a year later. After the Dreamcast was discontinued, Sega withdrew from the console hardware business.



Sega pursued two possible successors to the Saturn. The company's Japanese research and development departments were working on "Katana", a console employing a PowerVR2 graphics chip designed by VideoLogic and manufactured by NEC; while a system known as "Blackbelt" was developed by Sega's departments in the United States. This console's graphics system would have been provided by 3Dfx, but in July 1997 it was decided that the Japanese "Katana" would be the chosen format, renamed Dreamcast. In September 1997 3Dfx filed a lawsuit against Sega and NEC (later including VideoLogic), claiming breach of contract. [1] (

A timeline of the development of the console's GPU may be found here. (


The Dreamcast was released on November 27, 1998 in Japan; on September 9, 1999 in the United States and on October 14, 1999 in Europe. The tagline used to promote the console in the US was "It's thinking." The Dreamcast was the first console to include a built-in modem and internet support for online gaming. It enjoyed brisk sales in its first season and was one of Sega's most successful hardware units. In the United States alone, Sega sold 500,000 consoles in just two weeks. Before the launch in the United States Sega had already taken the extra step in displaying Dreamcast's capabilites in stores nationwide. Much like the Playstation's launch in North America, the displays of titles such as Soul Calibur, Sonic Adventure, Power Stone, and Hydro Thunder helped the Dreamcast succeed in the first year.

In April 1999, Sony announced its PlayStation 2, designed to be backwards-compatible with the older Playstation, and released the unit in Japan in March 2000. This diverted a lot of attention from Sega, which began to lose money as gamers waited to see which console would come out on top.

In January 2001, Sega announced that production of Dreamcast hardware was to be discontinued, although new games would still be published. With the company announcing no plans to develop a next-generation successor to the Dreamcast, this was the end of Sega's last foray into the home console business.

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A screenshot of one of the many games unofficially released to the public.

Though the Dreamcast was officially discontinued in early 2001, commercial games were still developed and released afterwards, particularly in Japan. Many consider the critically acclaimed arcade shooter Ikaruga developed by Treasure (Treasure Co. Ltd) (released in September 2002 after a large amount of speculation on the game's fate) to be the Dreamcast's swan song. Hacked releases of games made by Sega like Propeller Arena Online continued to become available to the public by program decoders like Echelon. On February 24, 2004, Sega released their final Dreamcast game, Puyo Puyo Fever, although a small number of third-party games are still being released.

Despite the poor lifespan, it is still a popular console among many videogame fans due to its impressive library of both mainstream and quirky titles.


 Dreamcast console and one controller.
North American Dreamcast console and one controller.

Dreamcast used a proprietary format called GD-ROM for storing games in order to discourage software pirates. This strategy backfired when the first run of discs had a high rate of defects, and pirates managed to pirate the games anyway (in some cases distributing them before the release of the legitimate versions). Sega kept regular-CD booting code in the Dreamcast BIOS for testing purposes; this was eventually discovered and exploited by pirates. Mil-CD support was removed from the final Dreamcast revisions toward the end of the console's life, but rampant piracy is often cited as one of the major reasons for the failure of the Dreamcast.

The Dreamcast continues to have a modest hacking enthusiast community. The availability of Windows CE software development kits on the Internet, as well as ports of Linux [2] ( and NetBSD/Dreamcast [3] ( operating systems, gave programmers a selection of familiar development tools to work with. A homebrew minimal operating system named KallistiOS offers good hardware support (though does not provide multitasking, which is generally unimportant for games anyway). Many emulators and other tools such as MP3 and DivX players and image viewers have been ported to or written for the console, taking advantage of the relative ease with which a home user can burn a CD which is bootable by an unmodified Dreamcast.

Microsoft cooperated with Sega in hopes of promoting its Windows CE operating system for video games. The system shipped with a CD which contained a Windows CE-based dialer and web browser. But Windows CE for the Dreamcast had very limited capabilities when compared to the Dreamcast's native operating system. The libraries that Sega offered gave room for much more performance, but they were sometimes more difficult to use when porting existing PC applications. Developers took advantage of the easy development time, but games such as Sega Rally 2 lagged in performance and framerate due to Windows CE.

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Dreamcast games continue to be developed by fans.

The Sega NAOMI arcade game hardware platform uses the same technology as the Dreamcast. NAOMI-based games such as Crazy Taxi were easily ported to Dreamcast.

The Dreamcast is also able to output true 640x480 VGA, which set it apart from other consoles of its day. The system, when combined with the VGA adapter accessory (mentioned below), switched to the mode for the high-res, non-interlaced picture. However, the feature was underused by the public despite the potential for improved video quality with the use of a PC monitor. This was likely due to lack of knowledge on the subject. Also, a few notable games were not compatible with this mode, including certain Capcom fighting games and 2D shoot-'em-up games.


Dreamcast consoles came packed with a disc containing web browser software allowing dial-up internet access. Dream Passport was the Japanese browser, Planetweb was used in America and DreamKey in Europe. Version 3.0 of Planetweb included broadband, Java and mouse support. In Europe, the final version of Dreamkey was 3.0.

The Dreamcast was one of the first home console systems to offer online gameplay with the game Chu Chu Rocket (which was distributed free to Dreamcast owners in Europe). The SegaNet online dial-up service (US$29/month membership) attracted 300,000 subscribers in America alone. About twenty-two games, including Quake III Arena and Phantasy Star Online, supported SegaNet. Other major online games include 4x4 Evolution (first crossplatform game), Starlancer, Quake 3 Arena and Ferrari F355 Challenge. Although the online features of most commercially-released online-capable Dreamcast games are no longer supported; fans have developed servers for playing pirated copies of Phantasy Star Online, Quake 3 Arena can still be played online by setting up a server using software and a map pack released by Sega, and hackers have also made it possible to play an unreleased bowling game online. In America, SegaNet ran until the beginning of January 2003.

The modem module in the Dreamcast could easily be replaced with a broadband module to allow networked gaming over Ethernet. Phantasy Star Online version 2 included support for this device.


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Treamcast, a clone.

The standard Dreamcast unit is made of white and grey plastic. The power light, like the Dreamcast logo, is orange (or blue in PAL versions). Games were sold in jewel cases which initially had the Dreamcast name and logo on a white background, but later games used a black background.

The unit was packaged with a video cable which supports composite video and right/left stereo audio. Available separately were an S-Video cable, a RF connector (included as standard in the UK) and a VGA adapter (see accessories below).

In the United States, a black Dreamcast was released in limited numbers with a "sports pack" which included two Sega sports titles. Electronics Boutique offered a blue Dreamcast through its web site. In Japan, Sega released many varieties of the system, including limited edition Sonic anniversary editions, and Hello Kitty outfits.

Units manufactured after 2001 would not read CD-R media and therefore could not be used to play pirated games. This was also soon circumvented with a small modification of the boot process.

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The Dreamcast in Europe had its spiral logo in blue, similar to the logo on earlier Sega systems. This change in logo is thought to have been for copyright reasons. A German company, Tivola, had been using a similar swirl logo years before Sega branded the Dreamcast with the orange swirl. As well as the VGA mode (again using an adapter), the European Dreamcast supported PAL video, in both 50 and 60Hz modes. Games in Europe were sold in jewel cases considerably larger than their US counterparts.

A third-party in China released a portable Dreamcast clone entitled "Treamcast". This small system with its fold-down display resembled the later PS One. It could read CD-Rs and play MP3s and VCDs, and it contained pirated Dreamcast firmware, enabling it to play Dreamcast games. Sega accused the company of copyright violations and was able to halt production of the system.


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A Sega VMU

The VMU, or "Visual Memory Unit", was the Dreamcast's memory card. It had a monochrome LCD screen and two gaming buttons. It could play minigames loaded onto it (a Chao game was obtainable in Sonic Adventure, for example). It could also display a list of the saved game data stored on it, and two VMUs could be connected together (end-to-end, needing no other hardware) to exchange data.

Standard memory cards could also be purchased without the additional features of the VMU. Most of these were third-party, although Sega eventually released a 4X memory card. The 4X cards did not have the VMU screen or stand-alone abilities, but they had four times the space by switching between four 200-block sectors.

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Standard Dreamcast controller

Most Dreamcast games supported a rumble pack, which was sold separately and could be plugged into the controller.

The Dreamcast controller offered an analog stick, a D-pad, a Start button, four gaming buttons (labeled A, B, X, and Y), and two analog index finger triggers on the underside. It also contained two slots which fit memory cards or the rumble pack; the uppermost one had a window through which the VMU's display could be seen. The Dreamcast controller was somewhat large and a few players found it difficult to hold.

Unique to the Dreamcast among current console gaming systems, it could use a VGA adapter for output to a computer display and HDTV compatible sets (which provided much better quality than a television set).

The Dreamcast supported a mouse as well as a keyboard which was useful when using the included web browser, but was also supported by certain games such as The Typing of the Dead and Phantasy Star Online.

There was a microphone peripheral used for Alien Front Online, version 2.6 of the Planetweb Web browser (long distance calling support), the European Planet Ring collection and Seaman. Other peripherals included a fishing rod controller (used for Sega Bass Fishing) and the maracas for Samba de Amigo. Steering wheel controllers and dance mats were also available.

Hardware Sales

Estimated hardware sales at end of 2004
Region Sales
North America 4 million
Europe 2 million
Japan 3 million
Worldwide total 9 million



  • CPU: SH-4 RISC CPU with 128 bit graphic computational engine built-in (operating frequency: 206 MHz 360 MIPS/1.4 GFLOPS)
  • Graphics Engine: PowerVR2 CLX2, capable of drawing around 7 million polygons per second (though rarely pushed this far; the models for the polygons would become a limiting factor, chipping away video memory for the textures)
  • Memory: Main RAM: 16 MB (Hyundai (, Video RAM: 8 MB, Sound RAM: 2 MB
  • Sound Card: Super Intelligent (Yamaha) Sound Processor with 47MHz 32-Bit RISC ARM7 CPU core built-in (64 channel PCM/ADPCM)
  • GD-ROM Drive: 12x maximum speed (when running in Constant Angular Velocity mode)
  • GD-ROM: Holds up to a gigabyte of data. A normal CD-ROM holds 700 megabytes.
  • Inputs: USB-like "Maple Bus". Four ports support devices such as digital and analog controllers, steering wheels, joysticks, keyboards and mice, and more.
  • Dimensions: 189 mm x 195 mm x 76 mm (7 7/16" x 7 11/16" x 3")
  • Weight: 1.9 kg (4.4 lb)
  • Color: White
  • Modem: Removable; Original Asia/Japan model had a 33.6 kbit/s; models released after 9 September 1999 had a 56 kbit/s modem
  • Broadband: these adapters are available separately and replace the removable modem
  • HIT-400: "Broadband Adapter", the more common model, this used a Realtek 8139 chip and supported 10/100 Mbit
  • HIT-300: "Lan Adapter", this version used a Fujitsu MB86967 chip and supported only 10 Mbit
  • Color Output: Approx. 16.77 million simultaneous colors (24 bit)
  • Storage: "Visual Memory Unit" (VMU) 128 Kb removable storage device and 4x memory cards that hold four times as much data

See also

Template:Dedicated video game consoles

External links

es:Sega Dreamcast fr:Dreamcast ja:ドリームキャスト nl:Sega Dreamcast pl:Dreamcast pt:Sega Dreamcast sv:Dreamcast zh:Dreamcast


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