Sega Saturn

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Sega Saturn
Sega Saturn Logo.svg
Manufacturer Sega
Type stationary game console
generation 5th generation of consoles
JapanJapan November 22, 1994
United StatesUnited States May 11, 1995
EuropeEurope July 8, 1995
Main processor CPU : 2 × SH-2 - 32-bit RISC (28.6 MHz)
Storage media Modules , CD-ROM
Controller up to four wired controllers can be connected
Online service Sega NetLink
Units sold approximately 11.56 million
Most successful game Virtua Fighter 2
predecessor Sega Mega Drive
successor Dreamcast

The Sega Saturn ( Japanese セ ガ サ タ ー ン , Sega Satān ) is a stationary game console from the Japanese company Sega , which was first released on November 22, 1994 in Japan. Around 170,000 devices were sold on the first day.


At the end of the 16-bit console era, Sega held second place in the console business almost worldwide behind Nintendo . The release date for Nintendo's successor to the SNES / Super Famicom , the later Nintendo 64 , was pushed back further and further, so that Sega had a good chance of positioning itself better in the market with the Mega-Drive successor, Saturn. Since Sony's PlayStation established itself as a strong market competitor, Sega was unable to meet this expectation.

In May 1995 Sega launched the Saturn in the USA , six months ahead of schedule. This was announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) that same year, where Sega representatives fought a advertising battle with Sony . However, this surprising move resulted in meager sales. This was largely due to the high price of the system and the lack of software available. As a result, Sega decided to only deliver Saturn units to selected dealers. This caused great bitterness on the part of certain companies, including Kay-Bee Toys .

In 1996 a peripheral called Sega NetLink appeared (a 28.8 kB / s modem that was plugged into the module slot ). Originally intended to save the console, it turned out to be counterproductive as it had a high price and only a few compatible games. A web browser was available with the device, programmed by PlanetWeb , who later became the programmer of the Dreamcast browser. A mouse and keyboard adapter was also offered for the NetLink, which can still be used to display web pages with many Internet providers. However, very few units were sold.

In Japan, the console was promoted through a series of television commercials showing a hero who forcibly persuaded teenagers to play Sega Saturn "until their ankles bleed". The tone and aesthetics of the spots were based on classic Japanese martial arts films. The hero, Segata Sanshirō , became a pop phenomenon over the course of the campaign, the song of the commercials, Sega Saturn, shiro! ( セ ガ サ タ ー ン 、 シ ロ! Sega Satān, shiro! ), Released as a CD single.


The Saturn's hardware, with two CPUs and six additional processors, made it difficult to take full advantage of the console's maximum performance, as the parallel design was and still is too complex for many game developers. Yu Suzuki is said to have said about the difficulties of programming two CPUs:

“The processors start at the same time, but there are delays when one has to wait for the other to catch up. I would have preferred a single very fast main processor. So I think that only one in a hundred developers knows how to program Saturn really quickly. "

- Yu Suzuki

Game developments from other manufacturers were also hampered by the fact that no usable development environment ( software development kit ) was available. As a result, many Saturn games had to be written in assembly language in order to get adequate hardware performance - an extremely tedious development. Often times, programmers only used one CPU to avoid programming difficulties for the Saturn.

The Saturn soon fell behind the PlayStation; although it had more than twice the polygon performance, this performance was seldom achieved due to programming difficulties. In the 2D area, however, the Sega Saturn was part of the upper class for a long time - thanks to the ability of some games to access the 4 MB RAM expansion.

A special copy protection was used, which was only cracked in 2016. Until then, it could only be bypassed by means of a mod chip or special import modules (with which import games that use other regional codes can also be played). Another possibility is to quickly change an original CD for a burned one. The system is started with the burned one. If the laser moves outwards to check the copy protection of the CD and thus the authenticity, the CD is exchanged for an original with the drawer open and Saturn running. When the laser moves back, the burned version must be reinserted. This is called the "swap technique".


The Sega Saturn was originally designed as the ultimate 2D console, but was redesigned to provide better 3D capabilities when the PlayStation was rumored to be. Then the Saturn was hastily thrown on the market in order to have a lead over the competition - as a result, very few games were available at the start of sales.

It is widely believed that the PlayStation's success depended on the huge marketing campaigns Sony launched. Sega as a pure video game company couldn't keep up with the giant corporation on this point. Sega also struggled with developers: Core Design, for example, the makers of the Tomb Raider series, no longer developed sequels for the Sega Saturn after the rather disappointing sales of Tomb Raider , which meant a major blow for Sega. Western software houses converted titles, but stayed away from the Saturn for the most part.

Although the Saturn was more successful in Japan than its predecessor, Mega Drive , it was largely a failure in the North American and European markets, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps one of the most significant was the distrust players developed towards Sega after a number of add-on peripherals appeared for the Mega Drive, which were dropped after moderate support. These included the Mega-CD and the Sega 32X . The Sony PlayStation also had many popular software titles earlier in the race than Sega, with the exception of Tomb Raider , which actually first appeared on Saturn. Cost was also a factor, as the Saturn initially cost US $ 400 - in contrast to the PlayStation, which cost US $ 300. In this context, it should also be mentioned that the PlayStation could be converted relatively easily for black copies , which was theoretically also possible with the Saturn, but was still significantly more complicated.

The Saturn is still a cult console among fans today. Although the implementation of well-known arcade titles such as Daytona USA or the Virtua Fighter series are now considered 3D pioneering work, the Saturn remained in the shadow of the PlayStation until its end. The hardware was able to come up with luxurious, but also expensive features that PlayStation buyers could not find (internal memory, MPEG support - which made it possible to play video CDs ; RAM expansion). A few exclusive titles were also released that enjoy cult status among fans today ( NiGHTS into Dreams , Panzer Dragoon , Sega Rally ). What is missing are the big names and heroes from Nintendo, Sony and their alternative manufacturers.

In 1998, the game Deep Fear appeared in Europe as the last title for Saturn. In Japan, on the other hand, the Saturn continued to enjoy great popularity, which is not least due to the large number of role-playing games, many of which did not make it to Europe.


Gamepad of the first Saturn model in Europe and America
Japanese Sega Saturn in white

There were several models of Saturn. The first model with oval switches was replaced by a second with round switches after a while. A revised gamepad was also shipped with the second model. In Europe, Australia, Canada and the US, the consoles were black, while in the Japanese market they were white and gray. A few other color versions appeared in limited editions in Japan: The Skeleton "Cool" Saturn with a gray-tinted semi-transparent case and the Saturn Derbysta with a semi-transparent bluish case with the logo of the horse racing game Derby Stallion .

In addition, the consoles were also built by other manufacturers in Japan, such as the JVC / Victor V-Saturn and the HiSaturn from Hitachi . Some consoles were made by Samsung in Korea .

In addition, consoles for the SECAM standard there were produced for France, although these were actually PAL devices with a converter that converted the video signals.

Technical specifications

Memory expansion 1 MB

Main processors

  • Two (master + slave) SH-2 7604 32-bit RISC processors with 28.6 MHz each (25 MIPS each ) - each with 4 kB "on-chip" cache, 2 kB of which can be used as directly addressable RAM
  • SH-1 32-bit RISC processor, 20 MHz (20 MIPS), for checking the CD-ROM drive
  • Saturn Control Unit (SCU) DMA controller for connecting the three buses and processing geometry. 32-bit at 14.3 MHz
  • Hitachi 4-bit MCU, "System Manager & Peripheral Control" (SMPC)


  • VDP1, 32-bit video display processor
  • Sprite, polygon, and geometry engine (square polygons)
  • Dual 256 kB frame buffer for rotation and scaling effects
  • Texture mapping
  • Gouraud shading
  • 512 KB cache for textures
  • VDP2, 32-bit Background-and-Scroll-Plane Video Display Processor
  • Background engine
  • Five backgrounds scrolling at the same time
  • Two simultaneously zooming / rotating game levels
  • 200,000 texture-mapped polygons per second
  • 500,000 flat-shaded polygons per second
  • 60 animation frames per second
  • 24-bit true color graphics
  • 16.7 million colors
  • Resolutions: 352 × 240, 640 × 240 and 704 × 480 pixels
  • Programmable display resolutions: (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 scanline displays of 256 and 512
  • 7.1590 MHz clock rate for NTSC systems, 6.7116 MHz for PAL systems


  • Yamaha FH1 digital signal processor (DSP) with 22.6 MHz
  • Motorola 68EC000 sound processor with 11.3 MHz (1.5 MIPS)
  • 32 channels for PCM (pulse-code modulation) or FM (frequency modulation) sound
  • Any number of the 32 channels can be connected for multiple operators per FM sound channel
  • Typically four operators per channel were used for a total of 8 FM channels
  • 44.1 kHz sampling rate
  • 16-bit stereo DAC


  • 2 MB RAM (main memory shared between both CPUs and the SCU)
  • 1.54MB of video RAM
  • 512 kB audio RAM
  • 512 kB CD-ROM cache
  • 32 kB RAM (battery backup), as mass storage (save game status, high scores etc.)


  • Double-speed CD-ROM (320 KB / s transfer speed)
  • Audio CD compatible
  • CD + G compatible
  • CD + EG compatible
  • CD single (8 cm CD) compatible
  • Video CD ( MPEG1 ), optional
  • Photo CD , optional (through extra software)
  • Electronic books, optional (through extra software)
  • Digital karaoke, optional
  • 512 kB memory cartridges for saving scores, optional

Input and output

  • High speed serial communications port
  • Internal 32-bit expansion port
  • Internal multi-AV port for video CD adapter
  • Composite video / stereo (standard)
  • NTSC / PAL / SECAM RF (optional)
  • S-Video compatible (optional)
  • RGB compatible (optional)
  • Hi-Vision (EDTV) and 31 kHz (VGA) display: (31 kHz: 320 × 480 or 640 × 480, non-interlaced), (Hi-Vision: 352 × 480 or 704 × 480, non-interlaced) Requires compatible Monitor and video cable (optional)
  • Analog control pad optional
  • Two control pad connections

Power supply

  • AC120 volts; 60 Hz (US / CAN)
  • AC240 volts; 50 Hz (EU / AUS)
  • AC100 volts; 50/60 Hz (JP)
  • 3-volt lithium battery (CR 2032) for driving the permanent RAM and SMPC internal real-time clock

Television standards

  • NTSC-J (JP)
  • NTSC-US (US / CAN)
  • PAL (EU / AUS)
  • SECAM (F)

Power consumption

  • approx. 25 W

Size (Europe / US model)

  • Width: 260 mm (10.2 ″)
  • Depth: 230 mm (9.0 ″)
  • Height: 83 mm (3.2 ″)
Analog "3D Control Pad"
Saturn steering wheel "Arcade Racer"


  • Digital gamepad (8-way pad, 6 buttons)
  • Analog gamepad "Thumbpad" (introduced with the game NiGHTS Into Dreams and already looked very similar to the later Dreamcast controller)
  • "Stunner" light gun (introduced with the Virtua Cop game )
  • Multitap
  • "Arcade Racer" steering wheel
  • Netlink modem card
  • Netlink PS / 2 keyboard adapter (to be used with Netlink modem)
  • 1.44 MB 3.5 ″ floppy disk drive (serial interface, only supported by a few games)


There are different emulators of the Sega Saturn, for example Satourne , Saturin , SSF and Yabause.

There are also emulators that emulate other systems on Saturn, e.g. B. Game Boy , Atari Lynx , WonderSwan Color or SNES .


Sega planned to occasionally publish games for the Saturn as a module in order to eliminate loading times for games and thus enable uninterrupted gameplay. This was also done indirectly with games like King of Fighters 95 or Ultraman. These games had the actual software on ROM modules while the music was loaded from the CD, but the game can only be started with the CD. Later games were delivered with a RAM module (1, 2 or 4 MB) instead of a ROM module, which contained the actual software, for reasons of cost. When the game was started, the program code was then loaded into the module and, apart from the music, loaded from there, which led to considerable reductions in loading times. In particular, implementations of well-known Neo-Geo games such as The King of Fighters or Capcom's Vampire Savior games were almost 1: 1 implementations of the arcade originals thanks to this technology, while implementations for the PlayStation were only possible with restrictions.

Web links

Commons : Sega Saturn  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence