Sega's revolutionary video game console called the Dreamcast was introduced to American consumers on September 9, 1999 (or 9/9/99). Dreamcast launched with an initial retail price of $199.99. As it had done four years previously with the Saturn system, Sega utilized the expertise of major companies to assist in the production of its new console. Hitachi, NEC, Yamaha, Videologic, and Microsoft all combined to help produce a specific part of the Dreamcast system.
The Dreamcast's CPU is a customized Hitachi SH4 RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Chip) which provides 128-bit performance and runs at 200MHz. It has been modified by Sega and Hitachi to enhance its floating-point operations capabilities which are important for high-output 3D calculations. The SH4 processor can perform floating-point operations four times faster than the Intel Pentium II chip.
NEC and Videologic combined to develop the Power VR which drives the Dreamcast's graphics engine. The Power VR boasts a peak output of more than three million polygons per second and adds customized anti-aliasing technology to the platform. High-resolution fog and water effects and a more vivid appearance of light and shadow are among the refined graphics that sets the Dreamcast system apart from other consoles.
Yamaha is providing a dedicated 3D Super Intelligent Sound Processor for the Dreamcast system. It is a chip is capable of producing 64 channels of sound. Sega also teamed with Yamaha to develop a customized 12x GD-ROM drive for Dreamcast. The new drive is intended to dramatically minimize the standard loading time for a disc-based console. This advantage will encourage the creation of more complex games and larger playing fields.
The Windows CE operating system that Microsoft has developed for the Dreamcast has been optimized to run DirectX applications. The primary motive for creating this specialized software was to simplify the process of game developing for third party companies.
A unique feature to video game consoles is Sega's Visual Memory Unit (VMU). The VMU is a memory card with its own built-in LCD (Liquid-Crystal Display) screen. When the VMU is inserted into a Dreamcast controller, the LCD screen allows players to preview their own special moves against competitors (like diagramming a play in a football game).
When the VMU is removed from a Dreamcast controller, it becomes a portable game card about the size of a credit card. By using the VMU players can save newly created characters or moves and can swap game information by connecting two VMU cards together. Up to two VMU cards can be plugged into a Dreamcast controller at one time.
The VMU also serves as its own 8-bit hand-held game platform and is very similar in design to the Nintendo Game Boy. It contains its own directional joypad and control buttons. Graphics are viewed on the VMU's LCD screen. A VMU card retails anywhere from $19.99 to $24.99, but requires its own separate battery power.
Sega's Dreamcast controller contains two slots for inserting peripherals (like the VMU card). It includes a digital joypad as well as an analog stick. The controller features a transparent view-port to see the VMU screen. There are four controller ports on the Dreamcast system.
Some of the other peripherals introduced with the release of the system were: The Rally Wheel -- a steering wheel add-on designed for racing games like Flag to Flag; The Jump Pack -- the Sega equivalent of the Nintendo Rumble Pak; The Dreamcast Arcade Stick -- a digital controller with six action buttons to the right of it; The Dreamcast Keyboard -- accommodates online users by permitting the composing of e-mail and the entering of textual information on the Internet.
When the Dreamcast is activated, a bouncing orange dot spells out the Dreamcast logo on-screen. If a game is not inserted into the drive, the system will automatically revert to the setup screen. At the setup screen players can select the preferred language, set the time, input VMU card data or choose the option to play a music Compact Disc in the GD-ROM drive. On-screen controls provide music lovers the same track accessing options found on a standard CD player.
The Dreamcast package includes: the console, instruction manual, one controller, one composite A/V cable, one power cord, and a copy of Sega's Dream Passport web software. By using Dream Passport, the Dreamcast system can connect to the Internet through any ISP. The software will not allow access until it has first been registered with Sega.
A Dreamcast NetLink Modem is built-in that can connect at 56Kbps. The Dreamcast system has been designed to accommodate faster speed modems when they are made available.
Sega has lined up several major third party software developers for the Dreamcast system. Companies like Acclaim, Accolade, Capcom, Interactive Software, Interplay, Konami, Microprose, Midway and Mindscape have committed to producing games for Dreamcast.
There were 19 games scheduled to be available at the launch date of the Dreamcast system: Sonic Adventure, Soul Calibur, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, Hydro Thunder, NFL 2K, Expendable, Power Stone, The House of the Dead 2, Flag to Flag, TrickStyle, Blue Stinger, Monaco Grand Prix, TNN Motorsports HardCore Heat, Tokyo Xtreme Racer, NFL Blitz 2000, Mortal Kombat Gold, AeroWings, AirForce Delta and Pen Pen TriIcelon. ~ Dave Beuscher, All Game Guide