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Next-gen Dreamcast VMU 'VM2' coming soon from DreamMods

We've seen various mods for the humble Dreamcast VMU over the years, with modders the world over going to great lengths to add extra functionality, or repurpose the thing altogether. From the implementation of illuminated screens, to full-on Raspberry Pi-powered gaming systems crammed inside the unit's diminutive shell; it seems people from across the Dreamcast community have found myriad inventive ways to milk even more out of the little memory card that could. 

It looks like the VMU is about to embark on its greatest transformative journey yet though, as the VM2 nears completion. Coming from Chris Diaoglou, the same genius who brought us the DreamConn Bluetooth controller back in 2016 (and, incidentally the rechargeable backlit VMU linked above), VM2 is a complete technological overhaul for the VMU, and adds such awesome new features as:

  • New monochrome LCD with backlight: Which can also be turned off to save battery
  • Higher screen resolution: Switchable between original (48x32), or scaled (96x64)
  • MicroSD slot: Gives the VM2 almost unlimited capacity
  • 4x VMU memory capacity: If a microSD is not present, a combination of the Sega 4x Memory and a standard VMU will be accessible. The user will be able to cycle through 4 128Kb pages, while keeping the LCD functionality that the official 4x Memory lacked
  • Embedded high-capacity LiPo battery: This will replace the batteries and provide longer operation time (sadly this will eliminate the beeeeeeep 🙃)
  • External charging: VM2 will charge either from its micro-USB connector, or from the controller while playing
  • PC connectivity: VM2 will be able to connect to a PC via micro-USB
  • Memory management: Connecting to a PC and using a custom GUI, the user will be able to backup/restore/manage both the main (4x) and the additional (mini-game) storage

VM2 will benefit from a new injection molded shell

We reached out to Chris for comment on this highly intriguing project and asked just what the hell was going on in his Dreamcast-powered laboratory:

"The VM2 aims at being a total reproduction of the original - the connector, outer shell, electronics, everything will be manufactured from scratch. For this reason, and depending on the community interest, I plan to start a campaign so I can raise the funds to put it into production.

"This means no cheap 3D printing or anything - everything will be made with quality injection molds, etc. and this is the main reason that a campaign is needed.

"Also, instead of the initial plan of 4x VMUs (main) plus 50+ minigame (additional) memory, I implemented the integration of a microSD card slot. This will allow for literally infinite space and virtual VMUs / minigames.

"The user will be able to create/copy/restore VMU files, either at the root of the SD, or organized in folders (i.e. per game). In addition, in case that a user doesn't want to use a microSD card, the VM2 will also support a default 1x(or 3x)VMU internal memory; and the selection of the current VMU file/memory to use, will be selected from the VM2 user menu."

- Chris Diaoglou, DreamMods

The VM2 has been in development for some time now, and you can find details on the various stages of its creation over at the DreamMods website (where you can also register your interest). 

There's no concrete information on when the VM2 will be available for purchase as yet, but as Chris says, a crowdfunding campaign may well be on the horizon in the near future. The projected price will be around the $100 mark - which may sound steep - but when adjusted for inflation the original VMU would have cost you $75 in 2022 money. Do the math. On that note an Atari Jaguar would have cost you less than £40 in 1999. Swings and roundabouts, innit.

Protoype showing the new hi-res, backlit screen

Judging from the exceptional quality of Chris's previous Dreamcast-related creations in the DreamConn and the DreamPort PSU (which adds full Bluetooth support to the Dreamcast without the need for an adapter), the the VM2 is a very exciting prospect indeed. That, and the small matter that VM2 looks set to offer a riposte to many of the main gripes aimed at the original VMU - namely the piss-poor battery life and the limited space on the card. The added bonus of a backlit, higher resolution screen make the VM2 an even more enticing project and one we'll be keeping a very close eye on.

Watch this space...and while you're doing that go to DreamMods and register your interest!

Oh, and thanks to Derek Pascarella for alerting my colleague Lewis to this. Who then alerted me and made me get my arse in gear and reach out to Chris.

2 comments:

DCGX said...

This is really cool, and my initial reaction is that I'd be all over this!

It all hinges on the microSD card for me. I use six SEGA 4X cards for all my game saves, plus a regular VMU for 4X incompatible games, plus one third-party for bleem! games and have never bothered with the screen. It's not explicitly stated in this article or on the website, but I assume transferring saves can still be done from other cards directly on the Dreamcast like any other transfer between DC VMUs? I so, and if I can consolidate everything to on card, that would be pretty fantastic.

NattyBoh said...

The old VMU may have cost us $75 in 2022 money, but it would've probably been $30 in 2020 money. The inflation over the past two years can make anything look good! ;-)
That said, I am excited about this VM2 and I'm definitely looking forward to it. No more beeping and trying to remember which VMU has the save you need!