The Sega Dreamcast set first-day sales records when it debuted on 9/9/99. It boasted the first 128-bit processor in a game system, built-in online connectivity, an innovative memory card that doubled as a miniature hand-held gaming device, and a proprietary disc that could hold one full gigabyte of information. It ran a version of Windows CE for easy programming, or programmers could access the CPU and GPU directly. Its GPU was a special version of the PowerVR processor used in PCs of the time. Its processors could render up to 7 million polygons per second, making it almost 20 times as powerful, polygon-wise, as the Playstation 1.
When the next wave of 128-bit systems hit, they were billed as much more powerful than the Dreamcast. Let's check the numbers:
Nintendo 64 - @100,000 pps (polygons per second), but with major additional graphic effects
Sega Saturn - @200,000 pps, slightly fewer depending on the effects used
Sony Playstation - @360,000 pps depending on the effects being used
Sega Dreamcast - @7million pps
Nintendo Gamecube - @16 million pps
Sony Playstation 2 - @66 million pps
Xbox - @100 million pps
Nintendo Wii - @65 million pps
Sony Playstation 3 - @333 million pps (as assessed by outside testers)
Xbox 360 - @500 million pps
By the way, none of these maximum polygon counts reflects what's actually going to happen in a game situation. In a game, you might see about half of the benchmarked pps being used, largely to avoid overtaxing the system and messing up gameplay. Notice a few things, however.
1. Out of the three 32/64-bit era systems, the N64 had the most amazing graphics, but could render the fewest polygons per second.
2. The Dreamcast and Gamecube numbers were not far apart.
3. Gamecube graphics were indistinguishable from most PS2 and Xbox graphics.
4. Games that really pushed what the Dreamcast could do would look right at home on the other 128-bit systems.
Dead or Alive 2
Ferrari F355 Challenge
Skies of Arcadia
However, let's not spend too much time rehashing ancient history. (I may have done that already.) Modern systems (Xbox One, PS4) put anything before them to shame, and they haven't even begun to push what the machines can do. It's not all about the polys, or the Teraflops or whatever. It's about the games. The Dreamcast was the first game system to create convincing graphics. I remember my father-in-law watching us play UFC and asking who was winning, and being surprised it was a game and not a Pay Per View match.
There's another, even more important reason to own a Dreamcast -- it emulates other systems very, very well. If you want to back up all of your old Atari 2600, NES, Genesis, and NeoGeo Games, the Dreamcast can and will play them, all this without having to mod the system.
That's right, no modding!
Yes, I know your PC can do all of that as well, maybe even your cell phone. But there's nothing quite like laying back on the couch with an actual console controller in your hand, playing games on an actual TV. The Dreamcast also makes a great base for building an arcade unit. (I'll show mine off in a later post.)
Last but not least, the Dreamcast was made to run in VGA mode with a special attachment, and that signal can be upconverted to 1080p with the right equipment. This means it will look right at home on your HDTV.
Additionally, because of the ease of use of the Windows CE operating system, people are still making games for Dreamcast. My favorite homebrew site is theisozone.com. There you will find all the tools you need to back up your games from older systems onto discs that play on Dreamcast, plus a host of new, homebrew titles, some surprisingly awesome.
If, like me, you are a gaming nerd, you NEED a Sega Dreamcast. Luckily for you, they are cheap, plentiful, and easy to find. (Click here to find one.) Take my advice, friend, and enjoy yourself.