The Sega Dreamcast is gone and abandoned. Or is it? Although Sega has yielded to the pressure put on by the three remaining big players -MS, Sony and the shrinking Nintendo- a small asian company is producing a modified version of the Dreamcast called the "Treamcast". While the name certainly isn't innovative, the product itself is certainly an eye-catcher: Combining a NTSC Dreamcast and a flip-up TFT screen, the Treamcast aims at the Dreamcast-fan, Console collector and people who want a good semi-mobile game console. But is it worth the $170.- that Success-HK is asking for?
Inside a nice-looking zipper-bag with an orange "Treamcast" logo is a slightly-bulky game console, two third-party controllers, an IR remote control and associated IR receiver module for VCD and MP3 playback, one power cable with a car plug (which is a great idea!) and of course a wallplug power adapter. The Treamcast itself is quite a bit "thicker" than the regular model, in fact it looks a lot like a gamecube in it's proportions. The top flips up and reveals the TFT screen and the CD loading tray. The console itself behaves just like the original - it's an english-language NTSC model that plays PAL and NTSC games just fine, but the TV output signal is NTSC only. The serial port and extension slot for the broadband adapter are all there, including a jack for headphones. Added controls include volume, brightness and contrast dials. The stereo speakers are nice, they sound very reasonable considering their size. I have to add that the Utopia boot CD works perfectly ok with this model, in contrast to some late japanese models. That means you can easily play self-burned games regardless of whether they are self-booting or not. If you're new to burning Dreamcast games, I recommend you to take a look at the DreamFAQ. Using CDI2Nero and Nero5 has worked best for me FYI.
The only thing that seems to be missing is the phone jack of the built-in modem, which is present in regular units. However, in the times of widespread DSL availability the most reasonable connection method is via the optional "Sega Broadband Adapter" a.k.a. the network card for the Dreamcast. Not all games support this though.
The TFT screen is small-ish, but perfectly alright for playing games. The speed of the TFT is ok, you shouldn't have problems even with faster games. The only gripe I have is with extremely dark games like Half-Life, where the screen needs to be readjusted during the darker passages. Dark areas tend to become pitch black, while turning up the contrast has the side effect of turning everything else into blinding white. During scenes with normal room lighting in HL there's no problem. Also, games that are generally more on the bright side are absolutely alright on this screen. In summary this screen is ok to play with, even though it has problems with very dark game situations. A more expensive TFT would've been better, but also more pricey.
The Treamcast has a small fan on the side which is fairly audible. Replacing it with a better fan is certainly something one should consider, unless you're playing in a moving car or the likes. I don't know if removing the fan altogether is problematic or not. The included wallplug is nice, it accepts everything from 110V to 220V without complaining, and outputs a solid 12.5V with an impressive 2.8A rating. Sadly the wallplug is fan-cooled too, with a very annoying fan I have to add. If the noise bothers you, you should either use a different power adapter or replace that fan with a less noisy one too.
The included controllers are a slight disappointment. Sure, they work, but getting a pair of original controllers is definitely a worthwhile investment. There's no VMU or even TV cable included with the Treamcast, but then again there's more than enough accessoir available on ebay or even at various online retailers.
The included VCD/MP3 playback is available via a boot disk. Just plug in the IR receiver and load up the software, and you're ready to go. It worked alright with the VCDs and CDRs I tested it with. Considering that the Treamcast is intended to be used as a portable device, for example inside a car, this feature is not entirely useless even though DVD players are a dime a dozen nowadays.
In summary, is it worth it? I think yes. It's perfect for those who want to play some real game classics in the wilderness or turn the backseats of the family car into a play zone. And if you're not a dreamcast owner yet, here's your chance to get an unusual model that is already being marketed as a "rare speciality" on ebay. The PSP is no rival yet either, since it's estimated price tag is also way above the $170 of the Treamcast. It's a great toy at a reasonable price. Considering that it comes with everything you need to get playing (well, except for a game CD) in the car or at home, you should get one while they are still available to buy. Apparently SEGA is not happy with this innovation, thus the Treamcast is probably available for a limited time only. There's a large amount of games available, a dedicated community of developers is working to bring homebrewn games to the DC, and there are even regular commercial titles still coming out for the DC in 2004. Plug in a Sega Broadband Adapter and you can play Quake3Arena over the internet or even boot Dreamcast Linux and run a small but fully featured linux box...
Two thumbs up!