A Closer Look At Dreameye

As mentioned here many, many times in the past, present and (probably) future, the Dreamcast has a fantastic number of peripherals - both official and third party. Just look back through our recent articles and witness the unrivalled majesty of the DreamPhoto Treamcast mouse for a good example of the latter. While that isn't technically a Dreamcast peripheral per se, you get the gist of what I'm saying...hopefully. So with this in mind let us turn our gaze, rather fittingly, to another of the Dreamcast's lesser-known peripherals: Dreameye. While it's true that our very own Gagaman wrote a short article on Dreameye back in 2009, I thought it was time that we took a closer look...

Dreameye is a web cam/digital camera that originally came bundled with the Divers 2000 Dreamcast and was intended to turn the Divers into a sort of video phone/email chat device for all the family. It must have occurred to Sega after the Divers failed to really make the intended impact, that owners of regular Dreamcasts might also be interested in utilising the online connectivity of the system and released the camera as a standalone device, complete with microphone and connection cables. Due to this there are actually a couple of different models of Dreameye available and they are differentiated by their colour schemes - the Divers 2000-bundled unit is white and translucent green, while the standalone model is white with a blue battery pack. The one recently acquired by the Junkyard is the standalone variety, and it was actually completely brand new and unopened; the cellophane was still covering the box and so it was rather nice to be the first to open this particular unit. Upon opening the box, first impressions where that it had an almost Apple-esque feel - the presentation is very slick and it really feels like you've bought something that adds tangible extra functionality to your console. What's even more interesting is that the Dreameye predates Apple's redesigned minimalist product presentation by several years...but I digress.
The second thing that hit me after unboxing the Dreameye (apart from being pleasantly surprised that the box includes a set of LR03 batteries) was just how small the camera is. It essentially comes in several parts: the main camera body, the battery compartment (which probably also houses the storage device), the lens cover (which is removable if you twist it) and the weighted base. Here's how it measures up next to a VMU:
Dreameye is tiny and it weighs almost nothing...but this also gives the unit a slightly 'cheap' feel. That said, in 2000 consumer digital cameras were very much in their infancy and so the Dreameye, with its video streaming capabilities was probably slightly more advanced than most mid-priced cameras available at that time. The minimalist controls and optical viewfinder also echo this sentiment - large LCD displays were just not de rigueur back then; and the simple 'on/off' slider and tiny orange LED that signals when a picture has been taken only amplify the bare bones nature of the contraption when viewed as a standard digital camera.

Also in the package, you will find a headset with adjustable microphone and the corresponding controller plug-in device into which the 3.5mm headphone jack slots. As it doesn't have a screen, I would guess that this is intended to be slotted into the second port on the controller, much like the Seaman/Planet Ring microphone unit does. In fact, I'd be surprised if this wasn't exactly the same piece of hardware internally but simply housed in a differently-coloured case. Here they are side by side, and I think you'll agree that look very similar (by which I mean identical, in all but hue):
The final piece of hardware included is the camera connection cable which allows the Dreameye to communicate with the console. As with pretty much every other peripheral for the Dreamcast, this cable slots into one of the controller ports (I'd recommend port B, folks) and the other end has a proprietary connector that goes into the little socket on the side of the camera. Once you've taken a few snaps with your Dreameye and connected it up to a console, the next thing in the box comes into play: Visual Park.
Visual Park is the only way to really make proper use of the Dreameye - or at least it was back in the early 2000s. It was by using this bundled software that users were able to make video calls, send emails and edit and save still images (taken with an eye-watering 0.3 mega pixels) to the VMU. You'll no doubt appreciate that while all this software is still functional today and the images can be viewed and manipulated with the basic Adobe-powered tools on offer, it's still pretty difficult to work out exactly what each menu is offering without engaging in a lot of trial and error - mainly down to the Japanese-heavy nature. Also, down to the way that my Dreamcast isn't anywhere near a broadband internet connection (and the dedicated servers are now in landfill. Probably) the web chat and all the rest of the functionality is pretty much redundant. Unperturbed though, here's a selection of images detailing the software at it's most impenetrable:
Enjoy the view from my kitchen window
Manipulating the mug tree with aplomb
As far as I can tell, Sega had other plans for the Dreameye that included enabling various games to make use of the extra hardware and if the Dreamcast had been more successful, maybe we'd have seen software that made use of the Dreameye in the same way that the PS2 did with Eye Toy.

So is there any point in trying to get a Dreameye? Honestly...probably not. It's little more than a curio for hardcore collectors, and while the camera itself is a cool novelty that takes pictures of decent quality there's no doubt that your mobile phone is superior in every way. The Dreameye doesn't have a flash either, and unless you're fluent in Japanese it's actually surprisingly difficult to work out what all the little bleeps and flashing LED patterns mean...I basically just held the shutter button down and hoped for the best, and only when I plugged the camera in and messed around with the confusing software was I able to discern which clicks had resulted in a picture being taken. Furthermore, the Dreameye does fetch a fairly high price on eBay these days (although this sealed one only cost £20!) so unless you're some kind of Dreamcast obsessed nutter (like me), you'd be better off spending your cash elsewhere. That said, it's still a functional and interesting device and another little glimpse at the plans Sega had for the Dreamcast before everything went tits up. If the Dreameye had launched in the US as intended, maybe it could have added another sting to the flailing system's bow. As it is, Dreameye is a nice novelty collectable and little else.
If you're still interested in the Dreameye, be sure to check out the Wikipedia entry for a full run down of tech specs. You may also find this IGN article on the proposed Western release interesting, as well as Sega Retro's wiki entry.

1 comment:

Barry Nomad said...

Great writeup! Don't forget about Gagaman's Rummage video as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0HGYgXc2AQ

One cool thing about the Dreameye is that the photos it takes are the same filetype as what the Japanese Jet Set Radio reads (I believe it does not work with the US and PAL releases).