Dreamcast Hardware

Sega wanted to create something completely different with Dreamcast. Everything is different. You wouldn't think that it was a Sega console unless you knew. The console itself is a break from the traditional black casing seen with all Sega consoles in the US and Europe. Dreamcast is completely white.

The Dreamcast is quite a powerful piece of equipment and still stands the test of time. When you look at the specs it is hard to image that there is so much power in that machine. But this time Sega did not concentrate on raw specs. Instead the emphasis was getting the most of what they had. The Dreamcast has so many design features that allow it to provide the awesome graphics people want these days through the somewhat modest hardware compared to the competition (on paper that is)

For development the system has been rated one of the easiest systems to develop games for. The hardware has the full set of Microsoft DirectX drivers so porting games from or to PC can be done with minimal hassle.

For more info see the Dreamcast games section.

The controller is a slightly different design this time round. Sega have traditionally gone with the 3 over 3 button and a D-pad design but with Dreamcast the design is different. It looks like a scaled down Nights analogue controller from the Saturn years. They have gone for the 2+2 and 2 flippers a D-pad and an analogue controller. Both the Nintendo 64 and the Playstation have similar designs. Perhaps Sega thought this was the style of pad everybody wanted and tried to appeal to the masses so gamers could adapt easily but Sega's machines ( and especially the Saturn) are mostly used by the hardcore gamers and the Saturn pad is regarded as the best controller ever and it was disappointing to not have this style of controller on Dreamcast although there are plenty of third party controllers. The Dreamcast itself has four controller ports on the front like the N64 so no expensive multi-taps are needed for multi player gaming using pads.

The controllers themselves have two ports for inserting peripherals. Visual Memory units and Vibration packs usually occupy these slots although there are other devices available. You could have 2 memory units or 2 vibration packs in if you really wanted to.

VMU Specifications

VMU Specs
CPU 8-bit
Memory 128 KB
Sound 1-channel PWM sound source
Display 48 dot (W) x 32 dot (H) Monochrome
Display size 37 mm (W) x 26 mm (H)

The Visual Memory unit itself is as powerful as a Gameboy. It is a black and white, dot matrix style LCD screen, a D-pad and 2 buttons. Saved files can be displayed and deleted on the screen of the memory unit or you can do it through the Dreamcast on screen. Usual file functions apply such as copying, moving and erasing files.

Some games have other sub games which you can down load to you VMU to play. Games like Sonic Adventure allow you to have a Chao which is like a virtual pet on your VMU. During gameplay your VMU is utilised to show pictures on the screen. These are usually the game logo, pictures of characters etc and roll away in your controller window.

Other standard functions are available like date and time but the VMU is a temporary storage space for your web pages and files which you have found on the Internet. Of course this will not provide you with much space but larger VMUs up to 4Mb are available. Copying files from one VMU to another is mega simple. They just snap together and sorted.

The Dreamcast ships with a 56K modem. In the UK however, the machine ships with a 33.6K although 56K modems can be bought from maderiagames.com. You get connection to Dream Arena with your machine giving you e-mail, chat, news etc. The early version of Dream Key, which is the Dreamcasts web browser did not include Java support so online shopping was a little difficult but new versions have since been released. The latest version is Dream Key 3.0 which includes support for Javascript, Java, Flash but the best feature is the ability to choose your own ISP.

When the Dreamcast was launched many retailers adjusted their pages to allow for the onscreen resolution on the Dreamcast. Many of these have since gone but some gaming sites and Dreamcast Fan Sites have specifically modified their web pages for optimum usage on Dreamcast. For surfing the net, a keyboard is recommended.

The Dreamcast BIOS supports a range of functions including moving files to and from memory and CD Audio Playback.

Dreamcast BIOS Dreamcast CD Player

Dreamcast BIOS

CD Player

Memory Card Management

Memory Card Management


It is interesting also for all you people who thought the PS2 was sooo superior. Indeed in a few ways it is because it came a year later so of course there are obvious technological advances but still the Dreamcast has DOUBLE the amount of Video RAM and for those of you who like graphics over gameplay you made the wrong choice. The Dreamcast also has Texture Compression. What does this mean? Well basically 40 Times the amount of Video RAM the PS2 has. Add to this the fact that the Dreamcast runs at 640x480 compared to 640x240 for the PS2 then clearer, sharper visuals come from the cheaper of the two.

The PS2 has the multi CPU design that Sega suffered with in its Saturn. Generally programming for a multi cpu design is more difficult. The Dreamcast has a single central cpu.

This article is not really about making comparisons. For a very good article about the DC vs PS2 checkout www.dcemulation.com. However, take into account that the Dreamcast ships with a modem and has online play whereas nothing else except PCs do make it superior.

Booting Imports

As with any console games on the Dreamcast are territory locked. Since new games are only being released in Japan people without Japanese consoles will not be able to play them.

There are 2 methods to boot imports; boot discs and mod chips. Generally a boot disc is all that you will require. The Gameshark is the best as it is easily obtained off the net. There is a link further down this page. As boot discs do the job of mod chips these are fairly redundant meaning there is no need to take your machine apart if you do not mind swapping discs.

If you are using a Pal machine then things can be more complicated.

Boot discs will not change the display rate of the machine so Japanese and US games will run at 50Hz. Most games have no problems and some you will have borders. There are a few games that have more serious issues when booted on a pal machines.

If you want to be able to run all games at full speed and full screen then you will need a US or Japanese machine (NTSC) to use your boot discs on or have a mod chip fitted.

Gameshark

This is basically a game enhancing program and used to go by the name Action Replay. You boot up the program and activate codes that provide you with infinite health or lives etc. Codes for games can be found all over the net.
Gameshark Gameshark

What the Gameshark also does is allow you to boot games from other territories. It will even switch the boot sequence to the orange logo from the blue or vise versa. It will also boot a few homebrew games and projects.

You can download the image and burn yourself a copy.

GameShark Ver 3.3 | http://www.megagames.com/dc/dc_utils_bootcd.shtml

Utopia Boot Discs

These are generally not much use anymore except for booting some homebrew and WinCE projects such as QuakeDC. They can boot some games but only a few.

Mod Chip

A 4 wire mod chip exists for the Dreamcast. It allows any game from any territory to be played on a machine. Its installation is universal across all Dreamcasts and relatively simple as far as mod chips go but does require soldering onto the motherboard.

It can be bought from some online retailers for a price of around 15.

Supplier: http://www.lik-sang.com

Supplier: http://www.dreammodchip.com/

Instructions for fitting: http://www.maxking.co.uk/dreamcastmod.htm
Dreamcast Mod Chip

Where to Buy Dreamcast Stuff

There are still plenty of suppliers of Dreamcast equipment around. Now is a great time to get yourself a top notch console and loads of brilliant games for little investment.

Almost all of the PAL equipment you can get for dirt cheap. The best place to get started with looking for a DC is Ebay. You can pick up some great deals. Be sure to buy a console with a memory card. You could buy one separate but the price you are going to pay just wont be worth it.

Its possible to get a console with a memory card with about 10 games for less than 50. If you dont have access to Ebay then your local Game Station should have a stock of DC stuff. Games can be as little as 3 and you can usually get a machine for under 25.

For the latest in Dreamcast releases the best has to be Lik-Sang who are continuing to support the DC in many ways and still promoting it through themselves and sponsoring some community websites such as Sega Xtreme.

They have the latest releases for pre-order and a stock of games from all regions. They also sell universal (chipped) consoles plus a whole array of peripherals.

The links below will direct you to some of the better places for getting your Dreamcast stuff.

Lik-Sang based in Hong Kong. They have lots of Dreamcast hardware and the latest releases for pre-order.

Interesting Devices UK based company. Have various peripherals such as memory cards and controllers.

Another World Another UK company who supply latest import releases for all consoles even going back to the Saturn!

Raven Games UK company. Have some Dreamcast hardware and software plus some older Sega machines.

Raven Online is for their shop and for their other with info about various consoles.

Computer Exhange They can have a good range of stuff at times. They also have many Japanese titles in their high street shops.

Whitedog.co.uk Another UK company with some Dreamcast products including replacement cases and power supplies.