Hands-On: Sega's net@

TOKYO - Our correspondents in Japan bring you hands-on impressions of Sega's fiber-optic network service, net@.

TOKYO - GameSpot News recently visited one of Sega's arcade centers in Tokyo to try out its fiber-optic network service, net@ (pronounced "net at"). Using the network is similar to visiting an Internet café, but the content is immediately available to you without having to find or access it yourself. The service provides digital content including movie trailers, comics, video chat, cable TV, and network games you play via the consoles' touch screen instead of with a keyboard or mouse (in most cases). The consoles' content menus are located at each corner of the screen. The menu items are quite small and bunched together at first, so we had to "stretch" them to a legible size using the touch screen. This made the interface difficult to use and time consuming.

The download speed is fast, but the quality of the movies could have been improved. When watching the movie trailers, the compression of the movie clips was noticeable, and the sound was not very good either, with audible static. This experience made the idea of downloading the clips onto your home PC, which probably has better speakers, sound pretty desirable. Sega provided several varieties of content, but nothing that would be unique to anyone who frequently surfs the Internet.

Other features, such as the video chat and the network games, looked more promising, but very few visitors were at the arcade at the time we visited, and there was no opportunity to actually test it in action. Most of the network games are simple but silly. A kick-board skating game forces you to flick on the touch screen to accelerate as you race. By the time the race is halfway through, your hands are already tired from tapping the screen. The only game that proved to be interesting was Hundred Swords. Although a network multiplayer game was not possible due to the small number of visitors in the arcade at the time, a single-player mode was available for play. We'll deliver hands-on impressions of the net@ version of Hundred Swords tomorrow.

The first 30 minutes costs 300 yen per player, with an additional 100 yen for every ten minutes thereafter. If two people share a console, 30 minutes costs 450 yen, with 150 yen for every additional ten minutes. The price is not bad, but considering the service's lack of unique content, the low price is not convincing enough to seriously go and try net@ out. This service may be put to better use if it becomes available for home use. Overall, the net@ service has a long way to go. Unless Sega can improve the service's content and put more effort into attracting new users, net@ doesn't seem to have much of a future.

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