CSK Holdings: A Brief History & Connection to the Dreamcast

Hey guys, I'm Ross and welcome to my first article as an official DCJY member. Seeing as my guest articles went down so well, Tom decided to ask me to join the team...and so I naturally obliged!

To give a little background to this article, Tom asked me if I had any knowledge about a variant of the Dreamcast that isn't well documented online. I looked into it and realised that what I'd discovered might make an interesting company profile. So, read on to find out more about the Japanese conglomerate that played a major role in the shaping of not only Sega, but also our beloved Dreamcast - CSK Holdings Corporation.
CSK Holdings Corporation?
CSK Holdings Corporation (株式会社CSKホールディングス Kabushiki-gaisha Shī Esu Kei Hōrudingusu) is a multi-billion dollar Japanese conglomerate with heavy involvement in I.T. industries.

Formed in 1968, they've played a big part in the history of Sega since 1984 when they bought the company and renamed it to 'Sega Enterprises Ltd.' Isao Okawa, a personal friend of David Rosen, became the company's chairman and two years later shares of the company were put on the Tokyo Stock Exchange to be traded.

CSK remained the parent company of Sega until 2004 when they sold their remaining shares to Sammy Corporation which led to the two companies merging to form the one we know today, Sega Sammy Holdings Inc.

CSK Research institute/ CRI Middleware/ Criware
A subsidiary of CSK Holdings, CSK Research Institute (abbreviated to CRI) was founded in 1983 for the purpose of research in the field of artificial intelligence.

In the late 80's, the company began turning its focus away from AI and towards research and development of multimedia. Shortly after making this change in direction, they provided technical support for the development of the FM-Towns (the world's first PC built with a CD-ROM drive) and later developed the first CD-ROM game ever released in Japan, After Burner 2 for the system.

In 1996, the company went on to develop two custom data formats for use in video games. ADX was an audio storage and compression format used sparingly towards the end of the Sega Saturn's life in such games as Burning Rangers, but later went on to feature in almost every release on the Dreamcast (you can find their logo on the back of most game cases).

The second format they created was a 24bit colour video format similar to M-PEG named Sofdec, capable of 60fps playback. Both formats continued to be used on the next generation of consoles; namely PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii. I'm sure many of you have seen the logo countless times during the start up of Dreamcast games alongside the Sofdec logo, but like me, probably never gave it a second thought.
The company also developed a number of titles and arcade ports for the Dreamcast such as the Aero Wings series. Their logo can be seen clearly in the bottom right hand corner of the Japanese release box art.
Some of the CSK Research Institute/ CRI Middleware Dreamcast releases.
The CSK Research Institute/ CRI Middleware can be clearly seen on the Japanese release of
Aero Dancing Featuring Blue Impulse
In 2000, when Sega converted all their in-house studios into 2nd Party developers, AM2 was merged with CRI and as such, AM2's later releases on the Dreamcast also feature the CRI copyright on the back of the case and/ or manual.
CRI copyright on the reverse cover art of the Japanese release of Fighting Vipers 2
Finally in 2006, the new brand CRIWARE was established as a term to encompass the entire CRI product lineup. To players of modern consoles, you are probably more familiar with this brand.
The distinctive CRIWARE logo.
CSK Kenpo Dreamcast
CSK Health Insurance Group, as the name suggests, is another subsidiary of the CSK conglomerate that offer private health insurance to employees within the corporation, but what is this strange limited edition Dreamcast, I hear you say.
The shipping box used to send out the set. What wonders lie inside?
Well, there's not much information out there in English, so I had to translate the following from Japanese news sites and blogs. Needless to say, the origins of this release are rather interesting and perhaps a little spooky...

Why? Read on to find out.

The CSK Kenpo Dreamcast (CSK健康保険組合 貸与版 Dreamcast SET: For loan CSK Health Insurance Group Dreamcast set) was first trialled in the Kansai region of Japan near the start of the year 2000. Created with support from the Tokyo Medical University for the purpose of improving the promotion of health guidance and disease prevention, reportedly the set was loaned to 12,000 insured employees with the goal of loaning to a further 8,000. 

The special feature of  the set was to allow insured members to use the Dreamcast (via video call) from their house to consult their doctors face to face regarding medication, diet and physical condition.

The set was sent to members' households on a loan basis and contained a Dreamcast console, Dream Eye, keyboard and custom web browser (Dream Passport 3 for Health Insurance use). The body itself is the same model as a regular Dreamcast. The only way in which the set differs is in the inclusion of stickers on the Dreamcast box, DreamEye box and Dreamcast console itself. It was also supplied with the aforementioned Dream Passport 3 for Health Insurance disk.
Photo from Yahoo Japan Blog of  a user's CSK Kenpo Dreamcast set 
The services on the Dream Passport 3 for Health Insurance
were exclusive to Health Insurance members.
In addition to making video calls, this disk could be used to get online and view various kinds of information such as eating habits. availability of recreational facilities etc. In addition it held exclusive events on the service such as baby photo competitions.

So there we have it, if you want to maximise your chances of owning a Dreamcast used primarily by sick people to talk with their doctors and take pictures of babies, then the CSK Kenpo set for you.

Divers 2000 series CX-1 Dreamcast

There's another limited edition Dreamcast out there that I'm sure many of you have seen before (in pictures online at least) but perhaps were unaware of its connection to CSK.

The Divers 2000 Dreamcast was a Japan exclusive Dreamcast-television hybrid released in May of  2000 at a price of ¥ 88,888 (£525/$750 at today's exchange rate). Pre-orders were limited to 1000 and were taken exclusively by the Japanese shopping site Maxell D-MAX.
Image used as promotional material used to
fill the limited 1000 preorders.

The system, a joint venture by Sega, CSK and Fuji Television, featured a 14 inch CRT screen with a built in Dreamcast and came bundled with a controller, keyboard, DreamEye camera and remote control. On the hardware side, the main difference when compared to a regular Dreamcast was it's ability to connect to music devices for support with MIDI files, output composite and s-video devices and of course support analogue television via it's RF connection like any regular CRT made at the time.
Japanese press reported that the system had a curved design with four horns protruding from each
corner of the screen and looked like something out of a science fiction movie. It's easy to see why.
The damn thing looks like nothing I've ever seen before and is reminiscent of Sonic's head in form.
Well, it's a step up from the Sonic Boom design I suppose.
The disk tray was located in the top of the unit.
For anyone hoping to acquire one in the year 2016, I wouldn't hold our breath. They sell for upwards of $5000 when they rarely appear on eBay.


DCGX said...

Very interesting read!

GenkiVideoGames.com said...

Smashing article. Great to find out more about this console. I'd never heard of it before we had one in. As for that TV hybrid - oh my gosh. Another piece of kit where I wish I could use Doraemon's gadgets to go back in time for....

Tom Charnock said...

Agreed - great article Ross! I knew almost nothing about CSK before reading this.