Sega VR

From Sega Retro

Segavr physical01.jpg
Sega VR
Manufacturer: Ono-Sendai, Sega of America

Sega VR is an unreleased virtual reality peripheral developed by Sega of America and Ono-Sendai for the Sega Mega Drive. Announced in 1991, the head-mounted display languished in development for a number of years, and was quietly cancelled around late 1994.[1] It is believed its cancellation was caused by technical challenges and safety concerns with the then-embryonic concept of virtual reality.

The hardware is unrelated to the similarly-named VR-1 and its separate Mega Visor Display headset.


For the first time, players will be immersed in a 3-D game universe at home! Sega VR will surround the senses in 360 degrees of pure game experience. Imagine the game happening all around you, filling your eyes and ears. Since the beginning of gaming, players have wanted to submerge themselves in the most incredible color graphics and explosive sounds ever seen or heard on Sega Genesis!

  • Only on Sega Genesis! Virtual Reality is possible through specially developed, futuristic Sega technology.
  • Head-mounted display (HMD) delivers it straight to your eyes and ears.
  • Head-tracking system delivers a complete 360° game world and in-your-face 1st person perspective!
  • Special display system feeds the eyes with stereoscopic views and incredible color graphics!
  • Stereo headphones send a rush of incredible stereo sounds to your ears!
  • No need for a TV! Sega VR operates directly with the Genesis system.
  • Intuitive control interface enhances the player's immersion in virtual reality.

1993 Sega of America trade catalog[2]


An early promotional photograph.

Sega VR is a Sega Mega Drive virtual reality peripheral with dual LCD screens in the visor, and interial head-tracking sensors; one of the first headsets to do so. It was also designed to be lightweight and comfortable for prolonged wear, more so than its contemporaries, with this being one of the headset's chief selling points. Unfortunately, the system was not planned to accommodate glasses wearers, an issue which project lead Stewart Kosoy wished to address before release.[3]

Each of the headset's LCD screens updates at a rate of 30Hz (thirty times per second)[4], and the inertia sensors update at a rate of 100Hz (one hundred times per second). This ensures that visuals update rapidly and in sync with the player's head movements. It also uses stereoscopic 3D technology to add three-dimensional depth to the visuals, and built-in stereo headphones to further enhance the virtual reality experience.[5]

At one point, a glove peripheral was planned to accompany the headset's use. However, it appears plan to utilize a Power Glove-like interface with Sega VR games fell through, with Sega of America instead choosing to control VR titles with a standard control pad.[3] Support for a possible Western release of the Mega Modem was also once planned, with Kosoy imagining players interacting in live online worlds, although these plans fell through as well.[3]

List of games


Virtual reality is probably one of the most talked about products today, and what we're trying to do is bring virtual reality experience to the consumer with a product that hooks into the Genesis for a few hundred dollars. Nobody else has done anything like this.

Tom Kalinske, Sega Summer CES 1993 Sneak Preview[6]


After a decade of rapid growth and development, the early 1990s saw computer graphics reach a stage in which large numbers of 3D polygons could be displayed in real-time. As these virtual worlds expanded, so did the desire to engage with them firsthand. Virtual reality was seen as the next step forward following the move to 3D graphics and gameplay, but numerous factors slowed the process. Chief among these was the prohibitively-high cost of the hardware required to render a believable virtual scene, and the difficulties involved with developing the controllers and interfaces for interacting with the virtual world. As research and development costs rose, the virtual reality bubble burst, and the companies which invested were forced to cut their losses. Virtual reality in the home would be considered unfeasible for nearly two decades before another meaningful push in this area was made.


IDEO's preliminary headset design.

Flush with funds from the success of the Sega Genesis, Sega of America began development of a low-cost virtual reality peripheral for the system in October 1991.[3] The project was led by Stewart Kosoy, an industry veteran with considerable experience in planning hardware and peripheral development.[7]

Initial headset designs were produced by famed design firm IDEO and featured a sleek headset sporting a futuristic silver finish. This design was further developed into the black and red headset seen in promotional material.[8] Kopin Corporation, an American screen manufacturer, was chosen to supply the headset's dual LCD screens.[9]

After startup Ono-Sendai caught wind of Sega of America's search for an affordable VR headset provider, they began work on a basic sensor prototype which could be produced at a low enough cost for a consumer system. Around October 1992, Ono-Sendai reached out to Sega of America and demonstrated this first iteration of the hardware.[9] The response was overwhelmingly positive, and Sega agreed to fund a more developed version of the sensor hardware. Ono-Sendai engineer Bandit recalls that "Sega had been talking to a couple of other groups for this project. It seems we were the only ones who could do what they needed (at the price point?) and even though we left the box with Sega, they could not figure out how we did it."[9]

Our goal was to create an entire VR system – HMD (head mounted display), software, everything. We made a number of prototypes, tearing video cams apart for the LCDs. I remember one night watching Michael Perry using Forth and a home-grown jig to determine the LCD parameters. It was a great feat of hacking.

I worked on a video game – basic shooter at tanks, limited field. I had something pretty good after two months, which included learning graphics. We put this in the headmount and used a joystick. Pesce took a forth board and a Radio Shack electronic compass and found the quadrature output. He then created a simple interface to it. This was the start of the Sega tracker. This was roughly Oct 1992. Donahue had set up a meeting with Sega to show the tracker. I built a foamcore box, with power and interface cable out of it, and we stuck the hacked up compass into it. We glued the edges and put Ono-Sendai stickers on them so we could detect intrusion. Pesce made a simple app on his powerbook to take the quad output and spin a ball/disk.

Ono-Sendai engineer Bandit[9]

The second Sega VR prototype consisted of a simple PCB with driver hardware that attached to a NMI micro board running Forth. A compass coil was placed into a small project box with a ribbon cable running to the PCB/NMI electronics, and a DB9 and power connector was attached to the other end of the board. This second-generation prototype was completed and subsequently left Sega of America as an example of what they could expect in the final product. In the end, Ono-Sendai's sensors were able to provide reliable tracking functions at a low unit price of just $1.[10] Ono-Sendai officially signed a contract with Sega, and as a result of the project was awarded $250,000.[9]

The VR headset detection screen of Nuclear Rush.

During testing, the headset reportedly "never crashed during any demo. After a while of VR demos, the folks we were courting would deliberately try to crash the demo. They got pissed when they could not crash mine. The Japanese folks may have tried to crash it, but they never said anything about it."[9] Despite this, the project was not without problems. Ono-Sendai lacked access to any Sega VR games during the headset's production, and were unable to actually test their headset with the games it was intended for. When the engineers required an NTSC video source to run through the headset for testing, commercial VHS tapes of Ren and Stimpy were used instead. Eventually, the headset's yaw/pitch controls were hacked into an unknown Star Wars game for further testing of head movement.[9] Further internal testing was performed at Sega of America through their Head Tracker Test Demonstration software.[11]

Sega of America commissioned the development of four VR games for the headset's launch. Producer Dante Anderson was assigned to oversee the production of Iron Hammer and Matrix Runner, and producer Carl Mey to the production of Nuclear Rush and Outlaw Racing. Per the game's developer Kevin McGrath, Nuclear Rush was the first Sega VR game produced[3], and required "25,000+ lines of C and Motorola 68000 assembly language".

A number of notable figures were assigned to work on Sega VR, such as Michael Latham of Eternal Champions fame, who recalls briefly working alongside famed computer scientist Jaron Lanier of VPL Research (the first company to sell VR equipment)[9] on the headset.[12]


A journalist at Summer CES 1993 demos an early headset.

Sega VR was revealed to the public at Summer CES 1993 with a proposed price tag of $200[13][3][14]. The working title for the technology was Virtual VR, a name designed to match the working title of the Sega CD's Full Motion Video technology (Virtual VCR). It was originally scheduled to launch in December 1993, followed by a United Kingdom launch in 1994.[15] Four games were in development for the system, each using 16Mb cartridges: Nuclear Rush (the pack-in game), Iron Hammer, Matrix Runner and Outlaw Racing. Reports also suggest a port of the hit arcade racer Virtua Racing was once planned for the system[16], with a sixth game, Chameleon in development as a potential follow-up to Nuclear Rush.[17] While the peripheral's showing was given the usual Sega of America spectacle treatment, many of the general attendees were only shown prop systems for demonstrating its comfortability.[16]

Journalists who wanted to actually play Sega VR would have to do so privately with Sega of America representatives; these screenings were described admittedly by a company spokeswoman as "ropey".[18] With the exception of a select few Mean Machines Sega writers, no journalists from Europe were permitted entry to the exhibition space.[19] Though Sega simply claimed this was due to the system not being scheduled for release in that region until late 1994,[18] there were reportedly serious technical issues in converting the peripheral to work properly with PAL Mega Drive consoles.[20][19]

Although promotional advertising for Sega VR was fairly limited, Sega of America was already engaging in product placements for the upcoming hardware, such as concept artwork being used as a background poster in a September 1993 episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers[21] and a significant feature in the September 1995 Spike Lee movie Clockers (although the latter was still in production when Sega VR was cancelled and instead ended up using a similar-looking prop headset.)[22]

Health concerns

The resolution on the HMD was pretty crappy. There is no way it was realistic enough to fool folks. QVGA at best – 256×320 or something similar. There is a danger with HMDs: the IPD (inter-pupular distance) must be properly set. IO Glasses gets around this by having a really big aperture (sp). Sega had a thumbwheel to adjust the IPD. Here is the danger: if the IPD for the LCDs are wider than the user IPD, you force the user’s eyes to look outward. This is the opposite of cross-eyed. This can really stress the weak muscles around the eyes, and can cause permanent damage in less than 30 minutes. What I heard was the Sega lawyers brought up the liability issue on the eye damage. That is the reason I heard the project was canceled. Take it with whatever block of salt you want.

Ono-Sendai engineer Bandit[9]

Like with many virtual reality headsets, there were reports of occasional testers developing headaches or motion sickness from prolonged use. Mark Pesce, founder of the company that supplied Sega VR’s head-tracking sensors, stated the Stanford Research Institute warned Sega of the 'hazards' of prolonged use.[23]

On September 5, 1993[24], British newspaper The Independent on Sunday reported that Sega's virtual reality project could cause eye damage, which caught the attention of Sega's lawyers. The newspaper was forced to issue an apology the following October 3, stating the headset was still in a prototype stage and not available on the market.[24] Despite the apology, the struggling peripheral had already been associated with negative press.

Although these concerns are commonly associated with modern virtual reality development, they seemed even more concerning back in the mid 1990s. For a Sega of America who was preparing for the upcoming 1993 video games congressional hearings, these concerns made Sega VR more than just a financial risk. If experienced testers were feeling motion sickness, then surely children would too, and the last thing Sega needed was more bad press.


Following an additional two CES appearances, the United States release would miss its Christmas 1993 launch window and be delayed until August of 1994.[25] Promotional coverage slowed, and after its initial buzz died off, Sega VR was removed from its release schedule in late 1994. Sega claimed the project was cancelled because Sega VR was so realistic it might cause users to injure themselves from excessive movement. However, developers for the hardware have stated that health concerns over motion sickness in children was the actual culprit.[26]

According to former Sega of America vice president Shinobu Toyoda, the company invested around $6,000,000 into the development and production of Sega VR.[27][28] When Sega of Japan president Hayao Nakayama was notified of the project's exorbitant cost and subsequent cancellation, he reportedly responded with "an extreme show of anger."[27]


The Mega Visor Display, a separate VR project developed by Sega AM4 and Virtuality for VR-1.

In an October 1994 interview with Tom Kalinske, it was claimed some form of virtual reality headset was still in the works at Sega, but that the implementation shown at Summer CES 1993 "didn't deliver the VR experience".[29] In spite of the original project's cancellation, Kalinske was confident that a Sega 32X or Saturn-based headset would eventually be produced and sold for less than $225 USD.[29] By late 1996 the company was still suggesting a VR headset was in development, just that "it may be a long way off".[30]

Mere weeks after the Sega VR's only public showcasing at Summer CES 1993, it was announced that Sega's amusement research and development divisions in Japan had won a £3.5 million "test" contract with United Kingdom-based Virtuality, one of the first beneficiaries of the early 1990s VR craze, with the intent to create new VR works. Off the back of this, Sega would eventually create the separate Mega Visor Display headset.

Unlike Sega VR, this saw an official release in the Sega Net Merc arcade system for 1995's Dennou Senki Net Merc, as well as a large attraction, VR-1, first installed in Sega's new Amusement Theme Parks during 1994.[31] Plans for a home headset developed by Sega and Virtuality were also in motion for the Saturn (or purportedly even Dreamcast[32]) with the augmented reality-led Virtua Visor, but were ultimately never finalized.[33][34][35]

Though VR-1 achieved some critical acclaim, Dennou Senki Net Merc was panned upon its trade show appearances, ultimately receiving a very limited release due to stock depletion of the Model 1 boards it used. Following this, Sega and Virtuality parted ways, though MVD headsets remained at Sega's R&D offices for internal purposes into at least early 1996.[36] Sega would not return to the prospect of virtual reality again until the first powerful, cost-efficient consumer head-mounted displays designed by other companies appeared in the 2010s, leading to the release of Space Channel 5 VR Kinda Funky News Flash!.

Despite its cancellation and subsequent fade into obscurity as the fifth generation of consoles began, Sega VR was eventually featured in the 1995 Spike Lee movie Clockers. As filming began before the headset was cancelled by Sega in 1994,[37] scenes featuring a prop decorated to appear as a Sega VR headset remained in the final cut of the film. In these scenes, Tyrone (played by Pee Wee Love)[38] wears a Sega Genesis CDX and carries a Sega VR headset with 6 Button Arcade Pad, which he uses to play a fictional Grand Theft Auto-like game named Gangsta. He is seen playing while riding in the passenger seat of a vehicle, demonstrating the system's portability.

Magazine articles

Main article: Sega VR/Magazine articles.

Promotional material

Main article: Sega VR/Promotional material.



Photo gallery

Video gallery

1992 American Alpha-Bits cereal commercial

External links


  1. (Wayback Machine: 2010-01-14 19:13)
  2. File:1993 Sega Catalog.pdf, page 72
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Interview: Stewart Kosoy (1993-08) by Mega Force (Spain)
  5. Sega Visions, "August/September 1993" (US; 1993-xx-xx), page 94
  7. (Wayback Machine: 2021-04-25 09:06)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 Interview: Bandit (2006-07-25) by Sega-16
  10. (Wayback Machine: 2021-04-26 22:06)
  11. File:HeadTrackerTestDemonstration MD US title.png
  12. @tempusfugitive on Twitter (Wayback Machine: 2021-04-11 09:00)
  13. Sega Force Mega, "August 1993" (UK; 1993-06-24), page 6
  14. File:SegaVR usdebut 1993CESChiago.mp4
  15. Computer & Video Games, "August 1993" (UK; 1993-07-15), page 15
  16. 16.0 16.1 File:EGM US PreviewGuide 1993.pdf, page 5
  17. (Wayback Machine: 2023-09-23 07:24)
  18. 18.0 18.1 Sega Force Mega, "September 1993" (UK; 1993-07-22), page 9
  19. 19.0 19.1 Mean Machines Sega, "September 1993" (UK; 1993-07-30), page 48
  20. Megazone, "November 1993" (AU; 1993-11-03), page 11
  21. References to Sega/Film and television#Television
  22. References to Sega/Film and television#Film
  24. 24.0 24.1 Edge, "December 1993" (UK; 1993-10-28), page 13
  25. Sega Magazine, "March 1994" (UK; 1994-02-15), page 11
  26. (Wayback Machine: 2021-04-28 01:10)
  27. 27.0 27.1 @Manga56 on Twitter (Wayback Machine: 2022-06-04 12:42)
  29. 29.0 29.1 Electronic Gaming Monthly, "December 1994" (US; 1994-xx-xx), page 193
  30. GamePro, "November 1996" (US; 1996-xx-xx), page 24
  32. (
  33. Interview: Kenji Tosaki (2022-06-03) by Shiro
  34. File:Patent US5844530.pdf
  35. File:Patent USD370909.pdf
  36. @MegaDriveShock on Twitter (Wayback Machine: 2021-04-29 18:51)
  37. (Wayback Machine: 2021-04-28 08:57)

Sega VR
Topics Technical specifications | Magazine articles | Promotional material | Ono-Sendai Corporation
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