Sega's Dreamcast reaches out to the Net

Sega's Dreamcast reaches out to the Net

When Sega of America released the Sega Dreamcast in the US last week following a $US100 million marketing campaign, 300,000 buyers had preregistered orders, the company said.

Sega hopes to see $45 million in sales during the first 24 hours, which would make history in the world of entertainment by exceeding the current $28 million record held by the most recent Stars War movie "Episode One: The Phantom Menace," according to a Sega statement issued last week.

However, the Sega Dreamcast may turn out to be much more than just entertainment, since it's indicative of the growing convergence between gaming and online technologies. In addition to serving as the interface to video games, the game console is also an Internet terminal for sending e-mails and chatting, as well as Web surfing and downloading.

The $199 Sega Dreamcast has a built-in 56Kbps modem linking the console up to the Sega Dreamcast Network, an online gaming portal. By connecting a keyboard to the console, Sega players can chat together, upload their game scores and download upgrades, hints and new gaming characters via the portal.

Furthermore, Sega intends to open up Dreamcast for full online gaming early next year, with AT&T's WorldNet Service as the preferred Internet provider, the company said.

So far, 18 games are available for the Sega Dreamcast, among them Hydro Thunder and The House of the Dead. By the end of the year, 40 games will be available, Sega said. The games are priced between $39.95 and $49.95 on average.

A 128-bit chip architecture is employed in the game console, which is based on a 200MHz Hitachi SH-4 processor and a 3D graphics chip from NEC -- the PowerVR 2DC 3D. The device processes graphics four times quicker than the fastest Pentium II processor from Intel, according to Sega.

Sega is also debuting handheld gaming with a small device, dubbed the Visual Memory Unit, which means the player is not tied to the console. The unit houses an LCD (liquid-crystal display) screen and can be plugged into the control pad as a game enhancing peripheral, Sega said.

Dreamcast is available at about 15,000 stores and at the online retailers and eToys. An official said the company did not wish to comment on how sales of Dreamcast are going, while officials at eToys didn't return a call seeking comment.

Sega of America is a subsidiary of Japanese Sega Enterprises, which in May announced a loss for the third year in a row. Sega competes with two other Japanese game vendors, Sony and Nintendo. Both companies have announced new products, with Sony set to unveil a mock-up of its PlayStation 2 gaming machine this week.

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