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Sega catapults to the Net

Online gaming will get another boost when Sega teams up with Catapult to offer video game playing via the Net by next March.

Online gaming got another boost when Sega announced that it will team up with Catapult to offer video game playing on the Net by next March with a new device.

As previously reported by CNET, the gaming feature will be offered on Sega's Net Link, a $200 Web browser that debuts on the same day. Net Link plugs into Sega's Saturn, a $200 video-game player for television.

The combined $400 unit becomes a three-in-one device: It allows you to play video games against yourself, against others on the Net, or simply surf.

The online gaming will include Sega videos such as Rally and will rely on Catapult's technology, dubbed XBAND, that lets you compete with a friend (or stranger) in real time over a phone line. Pricing hasn't been officially decided but will probably be a flat rate on top of a $19.95 monthly fee they will charge for ISP service, which is required to surf the Web on Net Link.

Net Link is the second Net TV device to hit the market this fall. WebTV was the first, but it doesn't let you play network games. A third device, Pippin by Bandai Digital Entertainment, is expected to be released this fall.

Nobody knows the potential size of the market for such Net TV devices, but it could pass the 1 million mark by next year or rise even higher. Most homes already have TVs that typically cost around $300 or $400, about a tenth of the cost of a PC.

Sega hopes to sell 100,000 Net link devices by year's end. There already are some 900,000 Sega Saturns in circulation. But the Saturn is locked in tough competition with Sony's PlayStation and Nintendo's newly released 64-bit machine. Currently, PlayStation is selling the most units.

Net Link comes with a 3D interface from Arc Interface, a subsidiary of Packard Bell, and is designed to look like a city where you click on buildings, canals, and boats to navigate. Advertisers will be visible too, including Time Warner, Disney, and Yahoo.

There are issues that may hamper these devices success, however, such as bandwidth limitations and far fewer features than a PC. Some analysts also wonder whether consumers will be bothered by all the boxes and wires they need to plug in to their TV.

But the Internet gaming feature could be a big plus. The industry could generate sales of $1 billion by the year 2000, according to a recent study by Jupiter Communications.

The players include MPath, Engage, and the Total Entertainment Network, as well as Catapult, which specializes in point-to-point online gaming. Sega hinted that it may strike a deal with one of those companies as well by the end of the year to beef up the multiplayer online gaming function.

TEN recently announced an online gaming service for about $30 per month, including Net access. But those games are played on a computer, not a TV.