The Sega Dreamcast was ahead of its time in many ways. It was possible to load web pages on a Sega Saturn Net Link, but the Dreamcast had a built-in dial-up modem and came with a web browser included in the box. In the US it was created by PlanetWeb; Japanese users got DreamPassport, . Further, several games had built-in web browsers to connect with websites online that offered hints, forums, DLC and special functionality. Sonic Adventure allowed you to upload the Chao from your Chao Garden to a day care service. All of those services broke when a game’s servers were taken down, although in the case of Sonic Adventure, a fan bought the domain when it expired and put up the original content so that Dreamcast consoles can find it.
While several versions of the PlanetWeb browser were released during the system’s short life, they all have some pretty significant limitations. The Dreamcast itself only has 26 MB of RAM, of which only 16 MB is of general use. Plus many sites rely on scripting, which the Dreamcast wasn’t equipped to handle even at the time. On top of it all few people use dial-up internet any more, so that modem isn’t too useful. The Dreamcast Broadband Adapter is an effective workaround, but is hard to find. The Dreamcast also had keyboard and mouse peripherals release for it to aid in internet use.
Dan Wood on YouTube recently plugged a Broadband Adapter, keyboard, and mouse into his Dreamcast and took it online with a 2008 browser release, and the video above shows the results. If you’re curious to see how much the web has changed since then it’s worth the 22 minutes out of your day it takes to watch it. (Less time, if you speed the video up! Another minute less if you skip past the ad!)
How many people used the Dreamcast for serious browsing? It was a fairly clunky experience even back then, when most web pages were fairly lightweight and most didn’t rely on scripting. I had it back then and I only put it in a few times. The PC experience was much better even then. Internet Explorer launched in 1995, and of course Netscape Navigator and Mosaic came before. Compare that to the Dreamcast’s 1999 release date for some hint that, even though it was the first console that was internet capable out of the box, it was already a little late to the party.
That’s okay though. We’re publishing a gaming blog in 2022. Old things are okay with us.
A few more links if you want to find out more: Sega Retro’s page on the Dreamcast Web Browser, here’s a Wayback Machine link to how the browser’s default landing page would have looked at the time, and here’s an archive of how the page looked in 2010, near the end of its life, after a fan had taken it over.
Browsing the Web on the Sega Dreamcast in 2022 — Is It Possible? (YouTube video, 22 minutes, contains Squarespace ad)