Top: Western and Japanese Sega Saturn logos
Middle: Model 1 "Oval Button" NA console with model 1 controller
Bottom: Model 2 "Round Button" JP console and controller
|Type||Video game console|
|Generation||Fifth generation era|
|Units sold||9.5 million|
|CPU||2 × Hitachi SH-2 32-bit RISC (28.6 MHz)|
|Storage capacity||Internal RAM, cartridge|
|Graphics||VDP1 & VDP2|
|Online services||Sega NetLink, SegaNet (XBAND spin-off)|
|Best-selling game||Virtua Fighter 2 (1.7 million in Japan)|
|Predecessor||Sega Mega Drive / Genesis|
The Sega Saturn (セガサターン Sega Satān ) is a 32-bit fifth-generation video game console that was first released by Sega on November 22, 1994 in Japan, May 11, 1995 in North America and July 8, 1995 in Europe.
The Saturn sold 9.5 million units worldwide, and its installed base in Japan was over 6 million units though it was only 2 million in the United States. While it was popular in Japan, the Saturn failed to gain a similar market share in North America and Europe against its main competitors: Sony's PlayStation and later the Nintendo 64.
- 1 Development
- 2 Architecture
- 3 Performance in the marketplace
- 4 Saturn models
- 5 Technical specifications
- 6 Compatibility
- 7 Marketing techniques
- 8 Accessories
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Sega's 27-member Away Team, comprising employees from hardware engineering, product development and marketing, worked for two years beginning in February 1993 to design the Sega Saturn's hardware. Since the project was top secret, Hayao Nakayama dubbed the project "Aurora".
Rumors suggest that the original design called for a single central processor, but upon hearing of the PlayStation's capabilities, a second processor was added late in development to increase potential performance. At the roll out of 3DO in 1993, Sega of America president Tom Kalinske boasted that "we have a more powerful machine waiting in the wings, but the time's not ready yet." However, one major design change was forced on Sega, and the culprit was the Sony PlayStation.
The Saturn had impressive hardware at the time of its release, but its design, with two CPUs and six other processors, made harnessing this power extremely difficult for developers accustomed to conventional programming. Also, many of the ancillary chips in the system were "off the shelf" components, increasing the complexity of the system because the components were not specifically designed to work together. The hardware also lacked hardware video decompression support, the latter being a major disadvantage during a time when full-motion video was quite popular.
The Saturn's dual-CPU architecture was the source of some difficulty for developers. The biggest disadvantage was that both processors shared the same bus and were unable to access the memory registers at the same time. As a result, only one processor could utilize system memory at a time. The 4 KB of cache memory in each CPU was critical to maintaining performance. In general, very careful division of processing, in addition to the already-challenging task of parallelizing the code, was required to get the most out of the Saturn. One example of how the Saturn was utilized was with Virtua Fighter's use of one CPU for each character.
Many of the Saturn's developers, such as Lobotomy Software programmer Ezra Dreisbach, found it difficult to develop for compared to the PlayStation because of its more complex graphics hardware. In order to port Duke Nukem 3D and PowerSlave/Exhumed to the Saturn, Lobotomy Software had to almost entirely rewrite the Build engine to take advantage of the Saturn's unconventional hardware. Also, during testing of an unreleased Quake port for the PlayStation, the Saturn's performance was found to be notably inferior for the game. Arcade conversions like Virtua Fighter were often criticized by the videogame press for its poor, glitchy graphics.
Other developers have contested that the Saturn's shortcomings in these respects are overstated at best. WARP leader Kenji Eno, when asked how WARP managed to produce the impressive 3D visuals of Enemy Zero (a game originally developed for the PlayStation) on the Saturn, replied, "...the PlayStation and the Saturn aren't that different, so moving it[Enemy Zero] to Saturn wasn't too difficult."
Third-party development was initially hindered by the lack of useful software libraries and development tools, requiring developers to write in assembly language to achieve good performance. At least during early Saturn development, programming in assembly could offer a two to fivefold speed increase over C language. To save development costs and time, some programmers would utilize only one CPU, such as with Alien Trilogy. Sega responded to these criticisms by writing new graphics libraries which were claimed to help make development easier. These libraries were presented as a new operating system by Sega of Japan.
Saturn games also improved with time, as with nearly every other console system. One notable example is the Saturn port of Virtua Fighter 2. For instance, later programming techniques employed by Sega's AM2 saw an improvement in performance. Video exists of a canceled version of Shenmue - later released on the Sega Dreamcast - running on a stock Sega Saturn. The video was included in the Dreamcast title Shenmue II.
Unlike the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 which used triangles as its basic geometric primitive, the Saturn rendered quadrilaterals with forward texture mapping, similar to the 3DO. This proved to be a hindrance because most of the industry's standard design tools were based on triangles, with independent texture UV coordinates specified per vertex. One of the challenges brought forth by quadrilateral-based rendering was problems with textured surfaces containing triangles. In order to make a triangular shaped object, rendering had a fourth side with a length of zero. This technique proved problematic as it caused texture distortion and required careful reworking to achieve the desired appearance - Sega provided tools for remapping textures from UV space into rectangular tiles. These complications can be seen in the Saturn version of Tomb Raider, in which triangular rocks are not rendered as well as other systems' versions of the game.
If used correctly, the quadrilateral rendering of the Saturn had advantages. It could sometimes better approximate perspective than the PlayStation's triangles (linearly interpolated in screenspace), as demonstrated by several cross-platform titles such as Wipeout and Destruction Derby. However, the lack of UV coordinates could produce further problems with clipping textured surfaces - in some games like Sega Rally the UV's would simply be clamped at the near clip plane, although the polygon outlines were clipped correctly. The quadrilateral-focused hardware and a 50% greater amount of video memory also gave the Saturn an advantage for 2D game engines and attracted many developers of role-playing video games, arcade games and traditional 2D fighting games. With creative programming, later games like Burning Rangers were able to achieve true transparency effects on hardware that used simple polygon stipples as a replacement for transparency effects in the past.
The cartridge slot gave the potential for adding extra RAM or storage devices for saving games to the system.
Two ROM cartridges were released with Sega Saturn games: one with King of Fighters '95 and the other with Ultraman: Hikari no Kyojin Densetsu. The ROM cartridges contained part of the game data because not enough system RAM was available.
Two different RAM cartridges were released for the system; a 1 MB RAM cart by SNK for King of Fighters '96 and a 4 MB RAM cart by Capcom for X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter. A RAM expansion cartridge was also required for the games Groove on Fight & Final Fight Revenge. Both companies were known for their sprite-based 2D competitive fighting games and many of their subsequent games utilized their respective cartridges (such as Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire and Cotton 2: Magical Night Dreams).
Performance in the marketplace
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (August 2008)|
The Japanese Saturn was released in November 22, 1994, just a few weeks ahead of its rival, Sony's PlayStation. Approximately 170,000 machines were sold the first day the console went on sale. In a special Game Machine Cross Review in May 1995, Famicom Tsūshin would score the Sega Saturn console a 24 out of 40.
Many of the games that made the Saturn popular in Japan, such as the Sakura Taisen series and various role-playing video games, were never released in foreign territories as it was assumed at Sega of America and Sega of Europe that they were not appealing to a Western audience.
The last commercial licensed release in Japan and last official game for the system was Yuukyuu Gensoukyoku Hozonban Perpetual Collection, released by MediaWorks on December 7, 2000.
By the end of 1994, the 16-bit video game era was in twilight in North America and gamers were eagerly anticipating the new 32-bit machines from Japan. In early 1995, Sega of America president Tom Kalinske announced that the Saturn would launch in the U.S. on "Saturnday", (Saturday) September 2, 1995. This date was greatly anticipated by gamers and the media. It also allowed Sony to announce that the PlayStation release date would be one week later on September 9, 1995.
However, on May 11, 1995, at the first Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Kalinske announced that the "Saturnday" date was a ruse and that the system was being released nationwide by four select retailers (Toys "R" Us, Babbage's, Software Etc. and Electronics Boutique) immediately.
The surprise launch backfired on Sega for several reasons. The Saturn was released at a high price point of US$399, while Sony announced a US$299 price for the PlayStation at E3 itself, as a response to the Saturn's earlier release.
The early launch also meant that the Saturn had only 6 games available at launch, as most third party games were slated to be completed and rolled out around the original September 2 launch date, and as many successful Japanese titles were not imported. Third party publishers, particularly those based in North America, were angered as the surprise launch prevented them from capitalizing on the momentum inherent in an anticipated, planned release. Essentially the only software available on the shelves at launch was software released by Sega. Many within the gaming industry viewed the early launch as a calculated move to give Sega larger sales of Saturn software at the expense of independent developers.
In addition, the retailers who were not included in the early launch (most notably Wal-Mart and KB Toys) felt betrayed, with some retaliating by supporting Sega's rivals. This resulted in Sega having difficulties with these distributors for the Saturn (and also for its successor, the Dreamcast). For example, Sega's actions angered KB Toys so much that they refused to release the Saturn at all, and actually went as far as having some of their retailers remove anything Sega-related in their stores to provide more retail space for the Saturn's competition instead.
By the time of the PlayStation's release on September 9, 1995, the Saturn had sold approximately 80,000 systems. The PlayStation, on the other hand, managed to sell over 100,000 units in its first weekend of availability in the U.S.
From 1995 to 1997 the Saturn became the "other" system, running a distant third behind the Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation. However, it was the preferred system for many arcade and import gamers. Sales of the Saturn would generally spike as new arcade ports were released, but would die off again shortly after. By the end of 1997, Sega had announced that it would develop a successor (the Dreamcast), causing console sales and game releases to drop dramatically.
The Saturn's commercial failure caused Sega to lose $267.9 million and lay off 30% of its workforce.
Despite the success of Sega's previous consoles in Europe and although the Sega Saturn was launched in Europe on July 8, 1995, a few months before the newcomer PlayStation's release—the momentum for Sony's console amongst consumers began to build rapidly, stalling Saturn sales in the region. As a result, the Sega Saturn never enjoyed the success it achieved in Japan or even the post-launch hype the machine was awarded in North America, leaving the market almost solely in the competition's hands. By the time that the Nintendo 64 hit European shelves in early 1997, the Saturn's sales had long since stagnated.
As price drops continued throughout the 32-bit era, the system board design of the Saturn was not as easy to condense in a cost-saving manner and Sega fell behind after price drops offered by Nintendo and Sony. As a marketing strategy, Sega bundled three of its best selling games (Daytona USA, Virtua Cop, Virtua Fighter 2) with the system in order to keep the more expensive Saturn competitive with its rivals. This gave the console a small boost in sales, but it wasn't enough to cause any significant impact in the console race.
By early 1997, the Saturn was trailing the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation in both North America and Europe to such an extent that senior management began planning a new platform and, by E3 in 1997, had begun talk of the system called the Katana (which would later be named the Dreamcast). Sega of America President Bernie Stolar, who was strongly in favor of the upcoming console, announced "The Saturn is not our [SEGA's] future."
As Sega began public discussion about their next generation system, barely two years after having launched the Saturn, it became a self-defeating prophecy, some citing it as an example of the Osborne effect. This move, combined with Sega's recent history of short-lived consoles, particularly the Mega-CD and 32X which were considered ill-conceived "stopgaps" that turned off gamers and developers alike, led to a chain reaction that quickly caused the Saturn's future to collapse. Immediately following the announcement, sales of the console and software substantially tapered off in the second half of 1997, and many planned games were canceled, causing the console's life expectancy to shorten substantially. While this let Sega focus on bringing out its successor, premature demise of the Saturn caused them financial problems. Even though the Dreamcast did address many of the problems with the Saturn, Sega's damaged reputation caused customers and publishers to be skeptical and hold out to see how it would fare against Sony's PlayStation 2.
The aggressive move to replace the Saturn resulted in a rift between Sega and many of their third-party developers and publishers. North American developers were already hostile to the Saturn because it was difficult to program for, and because they were left out by its early release, so the future project alienated what remaining support Sega had in North America. However, many Japanese developers had strongly supported the Saturn in its homeland and saw little reason for Sega to rush another platform to market. The announcement caused a substantial drop in software sales, causing frustrated third parties to cancel many planned releases. The early abandonment of the Saturn hurt third party software support not only for the system, but also for Sega in general. Several major publishers such as Electronic Arts declined to support the upcoming Dreamcast, which played a part in its discontinuation as well.
Several games intended for release in North America or Europe were canceled. These titles include Sonic X-treme, Policenauts and Lunar: Silver Star Story, the latter two remaining as Japanese market exclusives. Further cancellations in 1998 followed cutting the western release lists down to titles such as Steep Slope Sliders, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Burning Rangers, The House of the Dead, Shining Force III, Magic Knight Rayearth (North America) and Deep Fear (Europe).
In Japan, Sega licensed the rights to produce Saturns to their hardware partners – Hitachi, who provided the CPUs and several other chips, and JVC who produced the CD drives for most models, although functionally identical Sanyo drives were sometimes used. SunSeibu released a model with a seven CD-changer for use in hotels, called the SGX. The concept of a multi-game player for hotel use is very common in Japan.
|Manufacturer||Model||Case color||Button color||Type of buttons||Notes|
|Sega||HST-3200||Gray||Blue||Oval||The original Japanese Saturn. This model had a black cartridge flap and came in a box labeled HST-0001. The power cord is un-notched and this machine has a drive access light.|
|Sega||HST-3210||Gray||Blue||Oval||Second model. It looks the same as the HST-3200 but the inside layout is similar to the early model HST-3220. Production was ended in favor of the White Saturn.|
|Sega||HST-3220||White||Gray/Pink||Round||Sega switched from blue to gray & pink buttons during the production run. This controller was a matching white with multi-colored buttons similar to a Super Famicom controller with the bottom row buttons colored green, yellow, and blue. The 'white' plastic is a very light gray and shares its color with the later Dreamcast. The cartridge flap is visibly gray. Limited models of the Saturn had oval buttons. Later units have some compatibility problems.|
|Sega||Skeleton Saturn (HST-3220)||Translucent black||Black||Round||Included a matching translucent black controller. Both controller and system had "This is cool" printed on them. Only around 50,000 were produced. Has some compatibility problems, notably with Metal Slug, Out Run, and Space Harrier.|
|Sega||Derby Saturn (HST-3220)||Translucent black||Black||Round||Released on March 25, 1999, this model was only available as part of a promotion with ASCII's popular horse racing sim, Derby Stallion. It came with the same translucent black controller as the Skeleton Saturn but did not have "This is cool" printed on the system. After limited supplies of the Skeleton Saturn, the Derby Saturn was quickly bought in bulk by exporters and for a time was easier to find outside Japan than inside. Shares the compatibility problems of the Skeleton Saturn.
Uses BIOS 1.0.1.
|Hitachi||Hi-Saturn (MMP-11 and MMP-1)||Charcoal||Khaki||Round/Oval||This machine appears similar in color to the European and North American Saturn without close inspection. Hi-Saturn is printed on the CD drive lid. Controllers have the same color layout as the unit with pinkish-beige and dark bluish/gray buttons. The Hitachi logo appears on them. The machine was packaged in an almost all-black box with a light-gray/white border. Excepting some limited promotional bundles, the Hi-Saturn came packaged with an MPEG plug-in card allowing Video CD playback. The start-up screen differs slightly from other models – instead of a shower of pieces forming the Saturn logo, the word "Hi-Saturn" shoots out from the middle of the screen and then flips around until it is readable.|
|Hitachi||Hi-Saturn Navi (MMP-1000NV)||Charcoal||Khaki||Round||This is the only consumer Saturn to differ in functionality or shape. It is much thinner, and is flat instead of curved on top, in order to accommodate a folding LCD monitor that clips to the rear. It includes GPS capability, and has a standard port on the rear for use with an included antenna. Navi-ken CDs are used for map data. Since Navi-ken was only available in Japan, only Japanese maps are available.|
|JVC (Victor)||V-Saturn RG-JX1||Gray||Blue/Gray||Oval||Resembles the first Japanese Sega Saturn with oval buttons and access light. "V-Saturn" is printed on top of the machine. Features a V-Saturn logo in place of the Sega Saturn logo at boot-up.|
|JVC (Victor)||V-Saturn RG-JX2||Light Gray/Dark Gray||Blue/Green/Pink||Round||Resembles the white Japanese Sega Saturn with round buttons. Case is light gray on top, with a darker gray base. Features a V-Saturn logo in place of the Sega Saturn logo at boot-up.|
|Black||-||Oval||Intended only for South Korea, this machine combines the older style oval-button shell with the smaller and newer mainboard which normally comes with a round-button shell. The Japanese language option was removed from the setup screen on some models.|
North American models
All North American models are black in color and were produced by Sega.
|Model||Type of Buttons||Manufacturing Period||Notes|
|MK-80000||Oval||4/95 – 4/96||Identical to the Grey Japanese Saturn except for color: the U.S. model is black. A few have been found with the backend molding of the MK-80000A and the notched power cord using the 1.00a BIOS version.|
|MK-80000A||Round||4/96 – 10/96||Features a notched power cord, no drive access light and a 1.00a BIOS. Internal jumper locations are changed.|
|MK-80001||Round||7/96 – 98||Similar in appearance to the MK-80000A, this machine has some changed internal jumper locations.|
Early models came packaged with a redesigned controller that was slightly bigger than the Japanese variant. Eventually the Japanese controller was adopted.
European Saturns are identical as both regions share the same AC voltage and TV standard. There is no external variation between PAL and SÉCAM machines as all were shipped with CVBS SCART leads. All models are black and externally quite similar to the North American variations. PAL and SECAM machines will have "PAL" next to the BIOS revision number on the system settings screen instead of "NTSC".
|Model||Type of Buttons||Notes|
|MK-08200-03||Oval||Drive access LED and black buttons.|
|MK-80200-50||Oval||Version 1.01a BIOS.|
|MK-80200A-50||Round||Lacks a drive access LED. Buttons are grey.|
Sega Pluto 
The Pluto was the unreleased second model of the Saturn. It was revealed by a former Sega employee living in Japan on April 17, 2013 on the Assembler Games forums. Not much is known about the console, but it was nearly identical to the Saturn. Sega Pluto is a Sega Saturn console with a Netlink modem built into the system. The system weighs in at 2.8 kg and has two controller ports, a flip-top drive bay, and a cart slot. A second Sega Pluto was reportedly found in an American flea market, as reported in a video on Destructoid. It sold on eBay in late April 2013 for upwards of 15,000 dollars. Only Two Pluto prototypes are known to exist.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (August 2010)|
- Two Hitachi SuperH-2 7604 32-bit RISC processors at 28.63 MHz (25 MIPS)—each has 4 kB on-chip cache (4-way associative), of which 2 kB can alternatively be used as directly addressable Scratchpad RAM
- Custom VDP 1 32-bit video display processor (running at 28.63 MHz on NTSC and PAL Systems) for sprites/polygons
- Custom VDP 2 32-bit video display processor (running at 28.63 MHz on NTSC and PAL Systems) for backgrounds/video out
- Custom System Control Unit (SCU) with DSP for geometry processing and DMA controller (running at 14.3 MHz)
- Motorola 68EC000 sound controller (running at 11.3 MHz / 1.5 MIPS)
- Yamaha FH1 DSP sound processor, "Saturn Custom Sound Processor" (SCSP), running at 22.6 MHz
- SH-1 32-bit RISC microcontroller (for the CD-ROM and CD security checks; uses preprogrammed embedded ROM, not programmable by software)
- Hitachi 4-bit MCU, "System Manager & Peripheral Control" (SMPC)
- 1 MB SDRAM as work RAM for both SH-2 CPUs (faster)
- 1 MB DRAM as work RAM for both SH-2 CPUs (slower)
- 512K VDP1 SDRAM for 3D graphics (Texture data for polygon/sprites and drawing command lists)
- 2x 256K VDP1 SDRAM for 3D graphics (Two framebuffers for double-buffered polygon/sprite rendering)
- 512K VDP2 SDRAM for 2D graphics (Texture data for the background layers and display lists)
- 4 KB VDP2 SRAM for color palette data and rotation coefficient data (local, on-chip SRAM)
- 512 KB DRAM for sound. (Multiplexed as sound CPU work RAM, SCSP DSP RAM, and SCSP wavetable RAM)
- 512 KB DRAM as work RAM for the CD-ROM subsystem's SH-1 CPU
- 32 KB SRAM with battery back-up for data retention.
- 512 KB Mask ROM for the SH-2 BIOS
Audio generation was provided via a specialized multifunction sound chip developed by Yamaha, the YMF292, also known as the Saturn Custom Sound Processor or SCSP. The SCSP included 32 sound channels with both FM and PCM (up to 44.1 kHz sampling rate) functionality and fully configurable channel linking for modulation purposes, a 128-step DSP, and either 16-or 18-bit digital output to an external DAC. The SCSP was used in conjunction with the Saturn's Motorola 68EC000 co-processor and dedicated audio RAM, and MIDI compliance allowed use of an external MIDI controller, such as a keyboard. The SCSP lacked hardware audio decompression.
The Sega Saturn is equipped with dual custom VDP chips for graphics processing. The VDP1 chip is primarily responsible for sprite generation. Polygon generation is accomplished through manipulation of the sprite engine. Texture mapping and Gouraud shading is also handled by the VDP1.
The VDP1 renders primitives to two 256 kB frame buffers that is most commonly configured as 512x256x16 with a 320x240 visible area. For medium and high resolution games, a 1024x256x8 frame buffer is used. Games running at 30 frame/s, like Virtua Fighter Remix and Die Hard Arcade, this gives a visible area of 640x240. For games running at 60 frame/s, like Virtua Fighter 2 and Dead or Alive, taking advantage of interlacing allows the two frame buffers to be combined for an effective size of 1024x512 per frame, with a visible area of 640x480. Having two separate frame buffers allows double buffering of the display and provides more time for rendering. The active framebuffer is read out to the display by the VDP2, which can apply data from a coefficient table to modify the scanning process, for effects like rotation, scaling, and general distortion of the entire frame buffer as a single entity.
The SCU (system bus control unit) provides DMA across a dedicated bus commonly labeled as the "B-bus" that the VDP2 and VDP1 are connected to, allowing transfer of data from them to and from main memory. Keep note that transferring data from and to the same bus is prohibited by all 3 SCU DMA levels.
- Rendering engine for command tables: textured and non-textured polygons, untextured "polygons," "polylines," and lines along with command tables that controls the frame buffer.
- "Sprites" are textured polygons with specific rendering modes:
- Normal sprite (one point), shrunk/scaled sprite (two points), distorted sprite (four points)
- Other rendering modes:
- Overwrite (replace frame buffer contents)
- Shadow (underlying frame buffer pixels rewritten with 1/2 brightness, primitive not drawn)
- Half luminosity (primitive rendered with 1/2 brightness)
- Half transparency (primitive and underlying framebuffer pixels averaged together)
- Gouraud shading for RGB-format textures only
- Dual 256KB frame buffers
- Programmable frame buffer depth of 8 or 16 bits per pixel
- Automatic erase feature to clear framebuffer with single color
Some commonly quoted specifications are highly dependent on the rendering modes for the polygons and other factors that burden the system load:
- 200,000 texture-mapped polygons per second
- 500,000 flat-shaded polygons per second
- 60 frames of animation per second
- VDP1 memory is split: 512 kB for texture data / command lists, 256 kB for one frame buffer and 256 kB for another. Because of the split, it is not possible to use the frame buffer as a texture.
- The VDP1 has no texture cache, but since texture memory and the frame buffer have separate buses and can be accessed simultaneously, there isn't a speed penalty.
- The two frame buffers have a high-speed auto-erase feature.
- Commands are stored in a linked list in RAM, multiple lists can be stored, the list can be processed by the VDP1 without wasting a DMA channel.
The VDP 2 serves as the Sega Saturn's background processor. Certain special effects such as texture transparency and playfield rotation and scrolling (up to five fields at any given time) are handled here.
Both the VDP2 and VDP1 32-bit video display processor have direct access to the both SH-2s, as well as direct memory access (DMA) to both the main and video RAM.
- Background engine
- Four simultaneous scrolling backgrounds
- Uses 8x8 or 16x16 tiles or bitmap display per background
- Programmable memory access controller for VDP2 VRAM
- Two simultaneous rotating playfields
- VDP2 can rotate VDP1 framebuffer position while scanning out to display for rotation effects
- Color RAM supports 15-bit (32768 colors) and 24-bit (16.7 million colors) display modes
- Programmable priority at the per-background / per-tile / per-pixel levels
- Background color tinting/fading, and transparency effects
- Background blur effect (gradation) to simulate distance
Programmable display resolution:
- Horizontal sizes of 320, 352, 640, 704 pixels
- Vertical sizes of 224, 240, 256 scanlines, non-interlaced
- Vertical sizes of 448, 480, 512 scanlines, interlaced (only PAL consoles support 256 and 512 scanline displays)
- Hi-Vision (EDTV) and 31 kHz (VGA) display support:
- 31 kHz: 320×480 or 640×480, non-interlaced (progressive scan)
- Hi-Vision: 352×480 or 704×480, non-interlaced (progressive scan)
The Sega Saturn video game console features a double speed CD-ROM drive manufactured by JVC-Victor (some models may have been manufactured by Hitachi or Sanyo). The drive has a transfer rate of 320 KB/s, and a 512 KB data cache. Drive related functions are controlled via a single Hitachi SH1 32-bit RISC processor operating at 20 MHz.
- CD-DA compatible
- CD+G compatible
- CD+EG compatible
- CD single (8 cm CD) compatible
- Video CD (required optional MPEG add-on), Photo CD, Electronic Books, digital karaoke (optional)
- Two 7-bit bidirectional parallel I/O ports (controller ports)
- High-speed serial communications port (Both SH2 SCI channels and SCSP MIDI, also used for the Serial port)
- Cartridge connector
- Internal expansion port for optional MPEG adapter card (different models available from Sega, JVC, and Hitachi)
- Composite video/audio (standard)
- NTSC/PAL RF (optional RF adapter required)
- S-Video compatible (optional cable required)
- RGB compatible (optional cable required)
- EDTV/Hi-Vision compatible (custom cable required, not commonly available)
While the Saturn graphics hardware is capable of VGA (progressive/non-interlaced) video, no existing retail software ever used this mode and the system cannot force any such software to run in this mode. Moreover, neither Sega nor third-party manufacturers produced or sold the cables required to support such high-resolution modes on any type of display.
- AC120 volts; 60 Hz (US)
- AC240 volts; 50 Hz (EU/Asia)
- AC100 volts; 50/60 Hz (JP/TW)
- 3 volt CR2032 lithium battery to power non-volatile RAM and SMPC internal real-time clock
- Power Consumption: 25 W
- Power Consumption: 12 W (JP)
Dimensions (US/European model)
- Width: 260 mm (10.2 in)
- Length: 230 mm (9.0 in)
- Height: 83 mm (3.2 in)
A VDP1 transparency rendering quirk causes strips of pixels to be rewritten to framebuffer for 2-point (scaled) and 4-point (quadrangle) "sprites", applying the transparency effect multiple times. Rarely seen in commercial games (Robotica explosions), later titles implemented software transparency via direct framebuffer access to correctly render polygons (Dural in Virtua Fighter Kids).
Another technique developed for pseudo-hardware transparency was to rasterize polygons using one or two pixel tall sprites with transparency enabled to fill in horizontal spans. Because 2 of the 4 quadrangle points were identical, there was no framebuffer rewrite during rendering.
In addition to playing games, all of the Saturn models could play CD-DA, CD+G, and CD+EG discs. A software disc was sold by Sega to allow the playing of PhotoCDs ('Photo CD Operating System'). An MPEG decoding hardware module was released by Sega, JVC and Hitachi, allowing VideoCD playback. JVC later released a VideoCD module that included the software for displaying PhotoCDs, eliminating the need for a software disc. However, these modules were released in Japan and Europe only due to the popularity of the Video CD Format. In order to use one on a North American Saturn, a region converter must be used.
There were some titles that could be played on both North American and Japanese consoles, with Street Fighter Alpha 2 being one of the titles that could be played on both regions systems without a converter. Scud: The Disposable Assassin, which was only released in the North America, was compatible with both European and Japanese Saturns, in addition to North American Saturns.
One marketing technique used by Sega to promote the Saturn was Segata Sanshiro (せがた三四郎 Segata Sanshirō ), a parody of Sanshiro Sugata portrayed by Hiroshi Fujioka. He is a Judo master who tracks down and punishes those who do not play the Sega Saturn. He uses two catch phrases, "You must play the Sega Saturn!" (セガサターン、シロ! Sega Satān, shiro! ) and "Sega Saturn, White" (セガサターン、白 Sega Satān, Shiro ), which sound similar to his name. Sanshiro lives as a hermit high on a mountain, devoting his life to intensive Sega Saturn training. He trains physically every day by carrying around a giant Sega Saturn on his back and punching buttons on its giant controller. The character dies in his final commercial, where he sacrifices himself to stop a missile launched at the Tokyo headquarters of Sega. He appears in the games Segata Sanshirō Shinken Yūgi and Rent-a-Hero No. 1 and was also considered for Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. He was received with critical acclaim in Japan. The Sanshiro character was originally planned to be in the Dreamcast title Segagaga, but licensing issues prevented this from happening.
Another notable commercial was released right after the Nintendo 64's launch. It consisted of Nintendo 64s launched into the air like clay pigeons and then shot one at a time. It was referred to as a "Pretendo" and at the end of the commercial the narrator said, "Face it Pretendo, you weren't worth waiting for."
During the first year-and-a-half of the Saturn's US life, Sega also had a marketing campaign similar to the one used for the Sega Genesis in the early 1990s, where they would directly attack the PlayStation through a series of aggressive MTV-styled ads. Typically, they would showcase a Saturn exclusive like Nights Into Dreams... and end with a reminder that such a game was "not on PlayStation." In some advertisements for the core Saturn system, Sega also boasted that the system had two 32-bit processors while the PlayStation only had one.
A device resembling a Saturn appears briefly in Neon Genesis Evangelion episode 23, with a Sega-badged TV. Sega was a sponsor of the program and the movies. Another device resembling a Saturn also appears briefly in You're Under Arrest episode 48, with the case opened and being repaired by Miyuki. A Sega Saturn can be seen in the movies Mars Attacks!, Mallrats, First Kid, and Dead man on Campus. Also in the Jet Li movie Black Mask, Tracy Lee is playing a Sega Saturn with various games while she is being held hostage by Tsui Chik, with two of the games being Virtua Fighter and Darius Gaiden.
The Sega Saturn was also prominently featured atop Drew Carey's TV in The Drew Carey Show for some time, even after its discontinuation. Eventually, in Season 6, it was replaced with a Dreamcast. In Shenmue for the Dreamcast, a Sega Saturn can be seen in Ryo's TV Room in his house, which can be played on later in the game. In Choukou Senshi Changerion, the main character owned a Sega Saturn that was prominently displayed on top of his TV; this was done also because the toys and show were sponsored by Sega. In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Toji Suzuhara and Kensuke Aida are seen with a Sega Saturn, and Asuka Langley Soryu is seen playing a video game with a Sega Saturn-type controller.
Curiously, in the game Alpha Protocol, the protagonist Michael Thorton can find a white Sega Saturn game console below the TV set in his safehouses in Rome and Saudi Arabia.
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The DirectLink, also known as Link Cable, is a device that enables two Sega Saturns to connect to each other for multiplayer gameplay. The device requires two televisions and two copies of the same game.
Only 8 Games utilize the Link Cable:
- Daytona USA (CCE Netlink Edition)
- Doom (European and Japanese Versions Only)
- Hexen (accessed through debug mode)
- Cyber Troopers Virtual-On
- Wipeout (Japanese Version only).
The Action Replay can be used to change the code of certain games in order to gain access to features not meant to be accessed or to advance further into a game using cheats. It can also back up save files from the Saturn's internal memory, play imported games from any region without any modification to the system, and expand the RAM capacity by 1 to 4 Megabytes (depending on cartridge version) for certain games.
The Arcade Racer is a type of joystick designed after a steering wheel for the Sega Saturn. As the controller is an analog control mechanism instead of the digital input of the standard controller, it possesses a smoother response. It was compatible with games such as Virtua Racing, Daytona USA, Sega Rally Championship and Sega Touring Car Championship.
The 3D pad is an analog controller, released in 1996 to coincide with the release of Sonic Team's Nights into Dreams. It featured a ball shaped analog stick, replaced the shoulder buttons of the regular Saturn pad with analog triggers, and included a D-pad so that it could also serve as a standard controller. A number of games were compatible including racers such as Daytona USA: Champion Circuit Edition, Sega Touring Car Championship, and Manx TT Superbike; first person shooters such as Quake and Doom; and specialized platform games such as Sonic 3D. Most first-party Saturn games released after the 3D pad were compatible, even games in which analog control has no function, such as Shining the Holy Ark. The 3D pad was also able to emulate the earlier "Mission stick" analogue joystick, and in some cases the arcade racer, allowing for games written to take advantage of the mission stick or arcade racer's analog control to be played using the 3D pad.
Sega released a light gun for the Saturn called the Stunner, which used the same design as the light guns used in the arcade versions of Virtua Cop and The House of the Dead. Early in the Saturn's life, Saturn bundled the Stunner with Virtua Cop, one of the console's best-selling games. This ensured that the Stunner received considerable support from both 1st party and 3rd party developers. In addition to Virtua Cop, other popular Saturn games with light gun support include Area 51, Virtua Cop 2, and Die Hard Trilogy.
Several third party light guns for the Saturn were also released.
Utilizing the cartridge slot behind the CD drive, Storage cards are inserted to store game information such as high scores and saved game files. This was one of the few accessories for the Sega Saturn to be available to third-party manufacturers.
The Sega NetLink was a 28.8k modem that fit into the cartridge slot in the Saturn for direct dial multiplayer. In Japan a now defunct pay-to-play service was used. However, all compatible games work today with the western version because it was direct dial. It could also be used for web browsing. Only five games are compatible with the North American version: Daytona USA (CCE Netlink Edition), Duke Nukem 3D, Saturn Bomberman, Sega Rally (Plus) and Virtual On.
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