1997: SEGA chooses between 3Dfx and PowerVR

Started by Airraid, 02 February 2008, 01:03:17

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SEGA had a major decision to make in 1997.  What 3D graphics subsystem would be used for their next console. SEGA ruled out going with Lockheed Martin's Real3D technology that powered SEGA's arcade machines.  

Sega had already dumped Nvidia and 3DO M2 as possibilities in 1995-1996.

By late 1996/early 1997, instead, Sega was choosing between the two most popular  PC 3D accelerator companies of the time: 3Dfx with Voodoo Graphics and Videologic with PowerVR.

Sega would not be using the then-current first-generation Voodoo Graphics or PowerVR1 PCX1/PCX2.

For the new console Sega was looking at the 2nd-gen / next-generation Banshee and Voodoo2 from 3Dfx  and PowerVR Highlander / PowerVR2 from Videologic. If 3Dfx had won the Sega contract, the Black Belt system would've gone forward  into full development and into production as a SEGA console DIFFERENT than Dreamcast.

However, SEGA decided to go with the Katana system with PowerVR2 instead.  

Katana was fully developed and went into production as Dreamcast.

Yet before that happened, there was months of trials and  many dozens of articles published online and in print.  

Here are just a FEW of those.
From Next Generation Online  and Next Generation magazine:  


3Dfx Confirms Black Belt and Banshee

In a report to the SEC, 3Dfx confirms its role in the development of Sega's next console as well as the existence of its Banshee chipset.
April 19, 1997

According to its report to the SEC, 3Dfx filed for an initial public offering (IPO) yesterday, confirming the existence of both Sega's Black Belt and its own Banshee chipset which Next Generation Online has been reporting on for nearly a month.

The document filed with the Security and Exchange Commission confirms that 3Dfx will be using its Voodoo Graphics architecture to develop a graphics subsystem for a new Sega game console. It would also seem that Sega is expected to invest heavily in 3Dfx, acquiring 700,000 of the initial 4.2 million shares that 3Dfx is offering. Furthermore, the agreement grants Sega the exclusive rights to the architecture for the next three years with regard to use in home consoles. Finally the report also confirms the existence of its Banshee board project that it so adamantly denied existed not more than a month ago when Next Generation Online first exposed the project.

With regard to the Black Belt, the report itself states: "Voodoo Graphics technology is also the graphics architecture for the 3D media processor chipset that the company is developing for license to Sega Enterprises, Ltd. ("Sega") for use in Sega's next generation consumer home game console. "

The Banshee project is clearly revealed with the report states: " The company has commenced development of Banshee, which is intended to be a high performance, fully-featured single chip, 3D/2D media processor for the PC and coin-op arcade markets. The company expects to begin commercial shipments of Banshee in the first quarter of 1998. All of the Company's products are manufactured, assembled, tested and packaged by third-party suppliers."

It is somewhat surprising that 3Dfx has so boldly exposed Sega's hand as well as its own secret projects, but during a public offering a company must show what it believes to be its best opportunities. In doing so, an IPO is likely to be more successful in garnering investors.

At press time neither Sega nor 3Dfx could be reached for comment


Developers Debate Black Belt

In Next Generation Online's continuing series of discussions with developers regarding the potential of Sega's Black Belt, Climax's Chris Bergstresser expresses his thoughts about the system's ease of development.
April 23, 1997


Yesterday's interview with Shiny's Dave Perry touched upon the corporate profiles of both Sega, 3Dfx and of course, Microsoft. Today's interview with the vice-president of Climax Entertainment, Chris Bergstresser enters new territory.
"Considering the way Sega is looking to setup the Black Belt system and the proposed operating system, Sega has made a good move." says Bergstresser. "Judging from the proposed plans, development for the system is going to be incredibly easy and development cycles will be considerably shorter than typical titles now."

Bergstresser went on to comment that if Sega is going to use the same Microsoft arcade OS that machines will be using in the arcade, "the process of porting games is going amazingly simple. All developers will have to do is sneeze and a game will pop out."

Because of the short amount of time it will take to do PC or even arcade ports, developers will be forced to make original titles instead of cashing in on ports to the hardware. "In a sense I like this situation better, because it's more interesting and more of a challenge to do original titles," says Bergstresser.

Expanding upon the ramifications of simple development, Bergstresser continues: "Because games will be so easy and fast (and thus cheap) to port to or even develop unique titles for, we may even see the retail price of games drop slightly." Berstresser qualified this statement: "Then again, we may see prices stay the same for a while as publishers recoup the losses they've been taking for the last few years [laughs]."

With regard to Microsoft's involvement with the project, Bergstresser voiced some concern over how much of the system's RAM is going to be occupied by the operating system. "While it's cool that there is going to be a more standard OS that makes it simple to jump between platforms, it is going to be something that has to be adhered to. We still don't know exactly how good the OS is going to be for gaming and it may be an anchor weighing down system's performance." says Bergstresser. "The lazy developer will be thrilled that he doesn't have to work hard to get his game running, but until we know exactly how the OS will work, it's impossible to say that it's going to allow for new heights in gaming excellence."

Tomorrow, Next Generation Online will be speaking with the president of High Voltage Software, Kerry Ganofsky about his thoughts upon Sega's proposed system.


High Voltage on Black Belt

High Voltage's vice-president of development, Scott Corley talks about operating system restrictions and potential system power for Black Belt.
April 24, 1997


As a number of hardware manufactures have learned in the past, a system is only as good as the software on it. To this end, developer support has been a major factor in a system's success or failure.
As a part of our continuing series of discussions with developers regarding their current thoughts on the Black Belt, Scott Corley of High Voltage Software lends his insights.

"With the Black Belt system, Sega could be in a really good position if they give it some time and look to release it in about two years." says Corley. "Sega needs to develop a system that's going to be competitive with Sony's and Nintendo's next systems."

Corley also doesn't believe that there is necessarily the right technology to provide a major leap forward in gaming right now. "It doesn't seem like a system that is expected in the next year and a half is going to impress anybody." Referring back to the leap in game quality that the PlayStation provided when it was first shown in 1994, Corley says that Sony is likely to be investing a lot of R&D in providing a similar leap for its next system. "If Sega doesn't make that sort of leap and people can't distinguish the Black Belt from the Nintendo 64 or PlayStation, they're going to be in trouble."

Returning to the software side of discussion, Corley feels that while Virtua Fighter 3 is a no-brainer title for the system it "won't blow anyone away or be a huge leap in gaming".

Having worked with a number of systems that have attempted higher level interfaces with hardware, Corley feels much like Dave Perry did on the matter. "If Microsoft supplies services that are reliable and efficient then great. But if they are trying to 'hide' elements of the system than it won't be worth it."

To sum up, Corley said "If Sega can get passed all these hurdles and given enough time, the system does have the potential to be excellent."


Black Belt from a Lockheed Perspective
Two former Lockheed Martin employees, N-Space's Erick Dyke and Dan O'Leary voice their views on Sega's move to use 3Dfx instead of a Lockheed Martin solution.
April 29, 1997

With experience in developing for Model 2 (Desert Tank) and having helped develop the Model 3 hardware while at Lockheed Martin, Erick Dyke and Dan O'Leary have indicated that it would have been difficult for Sega to make a better decision in terms of a graphics subsystem.

"3Dfx has proven itself. Just look downstairs (at CGDC). Nearly every major demo at every booth is running off of some form of the Voodoo graphics chipset," said O'Leary. While consumers have yet to establish a standard in 3D acceleration, most of the developers projects and demos were using Voodoo as their target platform.

Commenting upon the strengths of the proposed Black Belt Dyke said: "Not only is Sega getting the hottest chipset around, but with Microsoft in its corner it will be getting useful libraries; something the Saturn desperately lacked."

The major question facing the duo was why did Sega neglect its long-term hardware partner Lockheed Martin when designing the hardware? O'Leary stepped up to the plate answering: "Sega has to find the cheapest but most powerful hardware it can. Lockheed Martin is still trying to figure out how it fits into the consumer space seeing as it has traditionally worked in the simulation arena. 3Dfx on the other hand was created from the ground up to be a consumer level product. It isn't at all surprising that Sega has gone this route."

When comparing Lockheed's Model 2 and Model 3 hardware to the proposed Black Belt specification, both O'Leary and Dyke felt that that Black Belt would be far more similar to developing for the Model 2 than Model 3. "The Model 2 is a beautiful board that is simple to get right to the metal, " said Dyke. "The Model 3 was designed around more of a traditional simulator model with a host and GPU arrangement where the database runs the entire game."

While Dyke mentions getting to the metal easily, some developers such as Scott Corley and Dave Perry both voiced some concern over Microsoft's OS getting in the way. "Good developers will cut through the OS to get to the metal as they need it." says Dyke. "As long as Microsoft doesn't force the OS upon the developers it should be fine."

With the ease of development that is expected to go along with the system, and the double-edged sword that this situation can present, Dyke said that Sega's quality assurance program should help to weed out games from developers that are relying too much upon the base libraries or that are quick ports of substandard PC titles.

Both Dyke and O'Leary also pointed to one non-technical element that is different at Sega presently than it was at the launch of the Saturn: executive personnel. Both men cited the fact that Bernie Stollar was a major factor for the third party support that PlayStation enjoys and the fact that Stollar is now responsible for generating that same third party support for Sega. "They've assembled a really good team at Sega now and it's going to be interesting to see what the next generation brings." said Dyke.


Black Belt CPU Comparison

There are currently two processors being considered for the CPU of Black Belt. Next Generation Online explores the cababilities of both.
May 2, 1997


The PowerPC 603e and the Hitachi SH4 are currently the two processors under consideration by Sega for use in Black Belt. Both processors are extremely good at floating point calculations.
PowerPC 603e


16-Kbyte instruction and 16-Kbyte data caches
Superscalar--3 instructions per clock cycle
On-chip power management
32/64-bit data bus mode
Fully JTAG-compliant

166 MHz
SPECint95* 3.9 (1) - 4.5 (2)
SPECfp95* 2.5 (1) - 3.3 (2)

200 MHz
SPECint95* 4.4 (1) - 5.1 (3)
SPECfp95* 2.8 (1) - 3.7 (3)

240 MHz
SPECint95* 4.9 (1) - 6.3 (3)
SPECfp95* 3.1 (1) - 4.6 (3)

*Estimated performance.
(1) 66 MHz Bus, L2 - 512 KB, 70 ns DRAM
(2) 66 MHz Bus, L2 - 1 MB, 60 ns DRAM
(3) 66 MHz Bus, L2 - 1 MB, SDRAM

Hitachi SH-4

While the SH-4 is not yet in production, it was initially announced at the Microprocessor Forum in October of 1996. Hitachi announced that it would have first silicon in the first quarter of 1997 with production beginning late in the second quarter of 1997.

The design of the SH-4 itself lends itself well to generation of 3D graphics. Current specifications are:

360 Dhrystone v1.1 MIPS
2-way superscalar
32-bit integer, 64-bit floating point
8Kbyte instruction cache, 16Kbyte data cache
5 stage pipeline
floating-point unit that can do the following:
scalar product in 3 cycles, fully pipelined (single-precision floating point) using just 1 instruction
matrix transform in 7 cycles, partially pipelined, single- precision floating point, using 1 instruction. That's 16 multiplies and 12 additions, all single-precision fp, in 1 instruction.
208 or 256-pin package
1.8 Watts worst-case power consumption
Even at the processor's initial announcement last October, certain magazines were already considering the possibility of its use in the next Sega console. According to the October 28th issue of Microprocessor Report: "The new core seems likely to appear in videogames, possibly from Sega, but it may not debut until 1998." Such predictions are looking more and more possible considering the proposed timing of Black Belt.

Prices have not yet been announced for the Hitachi chip yet, but it is expected to be the cheaper of the two possible solutions before Sega right now. As it stands now, Sega has still not made a decision as yet upon which processor to use as its CPU.

Black Belt Recap

May 29, 1997
Today's special include ten facts that everyone should know about Sega's next system, Black Belt.

3Dfx has been contracted to provide the 3D sub-system for the unit. It will be some variant of its Voodoo graphics architecture but exactly how many texelfx and pixelfx units will be included or exactly what sort are as yet unknown. Because of this it is impossible to determine exactly what the capabilities of the system will be. As a side note, Sega will be purchasing approximately 17 percent of 3Dfx when it goes public in a few weeks. 3Dfx's involvement with the project was confirmed via a report it made to the SEC in trying to go public.

In determining which 3D hardware to use, Videologic and NEC were approached by Sega to do work on the project using their PowerVR architecture.

The unit will have at least 16MB general RAM in addition to 2-8MB dedicated texture and audio memory.

Sega will be creating a lower level abstraction layer for the main OS for the unit, but Microsoft will also be providing higher level tools very similar to its DirectX APIs. Microsoft's involvement is expected to allow developers currently using DirectX on the PC and arcade to do easy and cheap conversions to the new Sega hardware.

The name 'Black Belt' is the original project name. Members of the project in the US still use this name, while Sega of Japan is referring to the same project now as 'Dural'. Early on, Sega was contemplating a name change for the project and it appears to have done so.

Games currently known to be under development for the system in the US and Japan are two sports titles (basketball and soccer) as well as Virtua Fighter 3.

Sega still denies all knowledge of the project stating "Sega hasn't announced any information about future platforms, plans or partners."

Developers will be solicited at this year's E3 behind closed doors to develop for the system. A number of traditional Sega supporters are already privy to many of the details surrounding the system.

Developers Next Generation Online has spoken to have unanimously agreed that Sega's proposed hardware is indeed a step in the right direction with regards to ease of development, potential power and partners (3Dfx and Microsoft).

Development kits will be available for third party licensees in April of 1998. The system is currently slated for release in Japan in late 1998 but this is a very aggressive timeline given length of development cycles. A US release is expected the following Fall ('99).

A target price point for the system are currently unknown.


3Dfx Loses Sega Contract

July 23, 1997

Just prior to press time, Next Generation Online
received official word that Sega has terminated its
development contract with 3Dfx.

While earlier reports from some trade magazines and web sites had
indicated 3Dfx had already lost its contract, the official decision
was only made final this morning. 3Dfx itself issued a release
regarding its situation.

As first uncovered by Next Generation Online back in April, 3Dfx
has been working under contract with Sega to create the 3D
sub-system for its next console. During that period, Sega had funded
the development to date for the new chipset and even had made an
equity investment of nearly $2 million into 3Dfx.

"We are disappointed with this notification and believe that it is
without legal justification," said Greg Ballard, president and CEO of
3Dfx. "However it is important to remember that Sega is only a
fraction of our business, representing less than ten percent of our
projected 1998 revenue. Our base business of selling 3D accelerator
chips into the PC market remains strong and is even strengthening.
We will release our earnings after the market closes on Thursday,
July 24, and anticipate that they will be consistent with analysts'
expectations. In addition, the rest of 1997 already looks to be very

3Dfx believes that under the terms of its contract with Sega that the
company will be explore its options including legal recourse.

The other potential candidate for the contract was rival chipset
company, PowerVR, whose Highlander technology (or some
derivative thereof) is now expected to be in use. According to
sources, Sega will have preliminary development kits in developers'
hands by the end of this quarter. In the mean time the company has
been encouraging developers to begin working with the PowerVR
SDK for PC.

With the termination of the Sega contract, it is expected that the
three year exclusive rights to console applications of the Voodoo
technology will revert back to 3Dfx. As a result, the company
should be able to pursue other console vendors for similar