'Sonic the Hedgehog' to range into homes via cable


SAN FRANCISCO -- Sega America Inc., a video-game leader with titles like "Sonic the Hedgehog II" and "Streetfighter II: Champion Edition," said yesterday that it would form a venture with the nation's two largest cable TV companies to transmit Sega's games into homes via cable.

The service, which is to begin tests this year and would be the first of its type, would eliminate the need for even the quickest of jaunts to the software store or video rental shop.

Sega's powerful cable partners will be Tele-Communications Inc. and Time Warner, each of which plans to conduct a 2,000-household test of the service. If the experiments prove promising, the cable companies would begin introducing the service nationally next year.

"The Sega Channel," as it is to be called, would allow cable subscribers who own Sega's Genesis video-game machine to select and play hundreds of games that would be offered 24 hours a day.

Consumers would have to buy an adapter to receive the games over cable and would be charged about $10 a month, about the cost of current cable subscription channels for movies and special events, according to a Time Warner spokesman.

Users could retrieve software copies of a game and play it for as long as they liked at one sitting. But the game could not be saved for repeated play.

The service would be the first nationwide offering in a growing wave of new digital information and entertainment services that are being aimed at home television viewers.

Cable executives hope that new interactive services will give theircompanies the inside track in developing the technologies that will combine to make up a national data highway. The idea of such a high-speed computer network is backed by the Clinton administration as a way of promoting computerized voice, video and data services for business, education, research and entertainment.

The alliance is the latest of a flurry of activity involving the convergence of cable television and the computer industry.

Earlier this week, Tele-Communications Inc., the nation's largest cable television company and the operator of United Artists Cable of Baltimore, said it would spend almost $2 billion to accelerate the installation of fiber optic cable networks to 90 percent of its customers, the first step in what it said would be an "information superhighway."

Sega, which industry executives say is planning to introduce a far more powerful video-game system later this year that will offer three-dimensional, full-motion video images, also appears to effectively altering the power balance in the consumer electronics business with its cable alliance.

By linking up with two cable giants with more than 17 million subscribers between them, Sega has apparently scored a surprise attack on its larger rival, Nintendo of America.

Nintendo, the electronics-game industry leader, has about 25 million machines in U.S. households, compared with the 8 million or so Sega machines now in use, according to Paul Kagan Associates. But many of those Nintendo devices are older, slower machines than Sega's Genesis machines.

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