Sega Channel

Sega Channel


According to an informational piece broadcast over the channel, a man named Stanley B. Thomas, Jr. invented the service.

For a monthly subscription fee (usually $14.95 depending on location), along with a $25 activation fee, the subscriber would get an adapter, which plugged into the Genesis cartridge slot, and was connected to their cable television connection. The service would provide them with unlimited access to 50 games, selectable through an on-screen menu, with new games appearing every month and later every 2 weeks. The games would be downloaded in about 1 minute and play just like the retail versions. These games were organized by genre, such as Action, Fighting, Adventure, and Family. Each month, there was a special theme with originally composed music, artwork and game categories.

Some unique issues arose and content were released through the service:
*Special "test drives" for up-and-coming titles were provided. In some, after a certain time limit (15 minutes), gameplay was terminated, and the player was returned to the menu. Other games had limited content; for example Primal Rage had only two characters playable.
*Some games had to be altered due to transmission limits; such as only having 6 playable fighters and Sonic 3D Blast being split into two halves were the player had to enter a code they had received by finishing Part 1 to download and start Part 2.
*Special modifications of existing retail games were made for Sega Channel, the most popular of which was a special version of Earthworm Jim by Shiny Entertainment.
*Some games not released in the United States were featured as "Sega Channel Exclusives", this marked the only time some games like Pulseman were playable outside of Japan.
*A selection of Japanese and European games were featured as Sega Channel Exclusives in North America; such as "Alien Soldier", "Golden Axe III" and "".
*Cheats and tips could be accessed on the service and appeared while the games were downloading.
*Throughout the service's life, contests were held, where players could win Arcade machines, projection TVs, BMX bikes, etc.

The service was also available in Canada through Shaw Cable, in some parts of the United Kingdom on certain cable services, in Chile on the defunct "Metropolis Intercom" cable company, and in Argentina on a national TCI branch, "Cablevisión TCI". Also, In Australia on Austar and the now defunct Galaxy.

To provide Sega Channel, a cable company would need to install new equipment into their headend, integrate service authorization into their sales center, and purchase the game adapters. Game adapters were manufactured by Scientific Atlanta and General Instruments, with a cost to the cable operators of approximately $100 per unit. Additionally, many cable operators had to clean their broadcast signal in the head-end and all the way to "the pole" to ensure that the signal could be received. Sega, a gaming company, thus played a major role in improving infrastructure for future digital cable services, as well as broadband Internet access and digital telephone services. At its peak, Sega Channel was available to one-third of the United States and had 250,000 subscribers.

Sega Channel was not a video-on-demand service "per se"; rather, as the service's name would suggest, it actually was a broadcast channel, similar to premium broadcast channels which (at the time) required a separate piece of addressable cable converter equipment to access. The program code for the on-screen menus and the 50 available monthly games was continuously broadcast as a sort-of "sequential access" RF signal. The menu system would be loaded into memory on power-up (which took about 30 seconds), and when a game was selected, the machine would "wait" for the requisite program code to be broadcast, then download it into volatile RAM. A downloaded game could not be garnered -- upon resetting or powering off the console, it was erased from memory, and the user was required to download it again, if desired. (The menu system would have to be re-loaded into memory also.)

This method of accessing program content was very ahead of its time, and had only been tried once before, with Mattel's Intellivision platform. With all the electromagnetic "noise" inherent in older RG-59 coaxial cabling, downloading games could be problematic at times -- such noise could and did disrupt transmission of binary images 4-32 megabits in size (as well as the menu system). If this were to happen, the download would fail, in which case the user would be required to reset the console and try again.

Special accessories for certain games, such as the "Lethal Enforcers" Justifier, posed a problem: users were warned not to leave them plugged in when they reset the console -- otherwise, the Sega Channel adapter could be permanently damaged.

Sega Channel ultimately ended due to the retirement of the Sega Genesis game platform and the difficult economics for the cable operators. The service ended on July 31, 1998, as the developers determined that the limited lifespan of the 16 bit technology was at risk due to the emergence of next-generation 32- and 64-bit technologies used by console developers Sega, Sony and Nintendo, coupled with the explosive growth of the Internet.

There were two different versions of the Sega Channel adapter, which were completely different in appearance -- the first was manufactured by Scientific Atlanta, and the second by General Instrument. Each adapter required a separate (included) 15v AC adapter to operate. Adapters were supposed to be returned to cable operators upon cancellation of the service; nevertheless, some of them still exist in the hands of collectors.

ee also

* Atari 2600's GameLine
* Intellivision's PlayCable
* Nintendo Entertainment System's Famicom Modem and Teleplay Modem
* Super Famicom's Satellaview

External links

* [*/] - Archive of the Sega Channel official homepage
* [ Business Wire] - Sega Channel Cited by "Popular Science" as Among 1994's Outstanding Products and Technological Achievements
* [ Sega Channel: The First Real "Downloadable" Content] - Article on the history of the service

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