Pace and Sega today unveiled a piece of set-top box hardware with Dreamcast technology. Unofficially dubbed the “Games Gateway,” this piece of technology will function as a digital television recorder and will allow its users to download and play Dreamcast games as well.
The companies showed the technology off today to approximately 20 reporters. Andrew Wallace, Pace’s senior vice-president for worldwide marketing said the box will be released sometime next year, but did not specifically mention a price. Wallace suggested the device would be comparably priced to one of his company’s high-end products, which sell for around $600.
The Gateway appears to be an ordinary silver-gray set top box modified for extraordinary circumstances. Four Dreamcast controller ports are placed on the console’s top face, nestled against the back left-hand corner. The front face holds the standard playback/record functions and device is about the size of a standard VCR. Inside, the box holds Dreamcast architecture, as well as 40-gigabyte hard drive which can hold various recorded media. Pace explained these Gateway boxes can be custom made, and the service providers for the system will be able to request various video outputs such as S-Video and RF. VGA support may be possible, a Pace spokesman said, but only if it were specifically requested.
After a lengthy discussion of Pace and its role as the world’s largest dedicated developer of digital set-top box technology as well as a brief reiteration of Sega’s new restructuring plan by a Sega official (who made a cryptic, but perhaps uninformed, mention of a new piece of hardware), the box itself was put into action. A Pace representative showed off how the device could be made to record television shows for replay; apparently, two television shows or movies can be recorded at one time, and viewers are able to watch one of these programs while the recording is taking place. It will also be possible to play games while watching television shown in an enclosed box on the screen, although the functionality of this feature is certainly questionable.
A plugged-in Dreamcast controller was used to navigate through the Gateway’s menus, and the system will come with a remote control as well. Two Dreamcast games, Sonic Adventure 2 and Crazy Taxi were shown running on the box, and Pace told those in attendance that it was also possible to run F355 and Shnemue. The games appeared to run smoothly, save for flickers which were explained away as the result of the games being played on a PAL TV.
Pace said that Dreamcast content would be supplied by the various service providers. Titles could be delivered using any network infrastructure such as satellite and CATV, and pricing for games would be determined not by Pace or Sega, but by the service provider itself. Walalce suggested these companies could operate on a system of fixed payment (such as monthly or lifetime fees), or on demand in the manner of pay-per-view. The device’s hard drive could hold about 60 Dreamcast titles at one time, Wallace said, but made no mention if the games could be permanently saved … Gateway will provide for online broadband play, but does not rely on it, Wallace said. People will be able to play (through the appropriate provider) NFL 2K1 on the Gateway against people on a Dreamcast with no problem.
Questions remain as to the box’s viability, however. Though Pace claims the system will be aimed at the casual gamer, it remains to be seen if even this market will embrace a system that plays an extensive library of games that, while excellent, are not the latest and greatest. Also problematic is the system’s reliance on providers – the companies which will actually provide the Gateway’s “Game Channel” and who arrange for Dreamcast games to be downloaded. No such deals have been made between Pace and the people who provide these services, Wallace said, and no indication was given as to when such agreements would be initiated. On a purely aesthetic note, it seems unwise to have placed the Dreamcast controller ports on the back of the system, and to have aligned them vertically. This seems to be unwieldy at best, especially if multiple controllers will be used at one time.
Time will indeed tell if Pace and Sega can properly exploit the technology they have made, and the bargain they have entered into.