Sega Master System

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Master System
Mark III Logo.png
Sega Mark III.jpg
Master System II.jpg
Top: North American/European Master System
Middle: Japanese Sega Mark III
Bottom: PAL Master System II
Manufacturer Sega
Type Home video game console
Generation Third generation
Release date JP: October 20, 1985 (Mark III)
NA: September 1986
JP: October 1987
EU: 1987
BRA: 1989
KOR: 1989
Retail availability WW: 1985–present
NA: 1986-92
Introductory price JP¥16,800
Discontinued NA: 1992
Units sold Worldwide: 13 million (as of 2009) (not including recent Brazil figures)
Japan: 1 million (as of 1986)
United States: 2 million (as of 1993)
Europe: 6.8 million (estimated as of December 1993)
Brazil: 8 million (as of 2016)
Media ROM cartridge, Sega Card
CPU Zilog Z80A @ 4 MHz
Memory 8 kB RAM, 16 kB VRAM
Display 256 × 192 resolution, 32 colors on-screen
Graphics Yamaha YM2602B VDP
Sound Yamaha VDP PSG(SN76489), Yamaha YM2413 (Japanese models only.)
SG-1000 (Japanese models only.)
Predecessor SG-1000
Successor Sega Genesis
Related articles Game Gear


The Master System is a third-generation home video game console manufactured by Sega between 1985 and 1992. It was originally released in 1985 as the Sega Mark III in Japan, and was renamed and redesigned for overseas markets, launching in 1986 in North America, 1987 in Europe, and 1989 in Brazil. It was rereleased in Japan in 1987 with additional features.

The Mark III and original Master System models used both cartridges and the credit card-sized Sega Cards, which retailed at lower prices than cartridges but had lower storage capacity. Later Master System models have no card slot. The Master System also featured accessories such as a light gun and 3D glasses designed to work with a range of specially coded games.

Succeeding the SG-1000, the Master System was released in competition with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It had fewer well-reviewed games than the NES, and a smaller library, due to Nintendo licensing policies requiring platform exclusivity. Despite the Master System's newer hardware, it failed to overturn Nintendo's significant market share advantage in Japan and North America. However, it attained significantly more success in Europe and Brazil.

The Master System is estimated to have sold at 13 million units, excluding recent Brazil sales. Retrospective criticism has recognized its role in the development of the Sega Genesis, and a number of well-received games, particularly in PAL regions, but is critical of its limited library in the NTSC regions, which were mainly dominated by Nintendo's NES. As of 2015, the Master System was still in production in Brazil by Tectoy, making it the world's longest-lived console.


A Zilog Z80A processor, the CPU in the Master System
Zilog Z80A manufactured by NEC

The main CPU of the Master System is a Zilog Z80A, an 8-bit processor running at 4 MHz. It has 8 kB of ROM, 8 kB of RAM and 16 kB of video RAM. Video is provided through an RF switch and displays at a resolution of 256 × 192 pixels and up to 32 colors at one time from a total palette of 64 colors. Physically, the Master System measures 365 by 170 by 70 millimetres (14.4 in × 6.7 in × 2.8 in), while the Mark III measures 318 by 145 by 52 millimetres (12.5 in × 5.7 in × 2.0 in). Both the Mark III and the Master System possess two slots for game input: one for Mega Cartridges and one for Sega Cards, along with an expansion slot and 2 controller ports. Sound is provided by the SN76489 PSG chip. The Japanese version also integrates the YM2413 FM chip, which had been an optional feature on the Mark III. With few exceptions, Master System hardware is identical to the hardware in the Mark III. Games for the console are playable on the Sega Genesis by use of an accessory known as the Power Base Converter, as well as on the Game Gear by use of the Master System Converter. In comparison to Nintendo's NES, the Master System was designed with superior hardware. It contains twice as much memory as its competitor, and its CPU runs at a faster clock rate.

Two Master system controllers
A Master System Light Phaser
A pair of Sega 3D glasses
A picture of the Master system 3 compact
A picture of the Master System Girl
Master System controllers
Light Phaser
SegaScope 3-D glasses
Master System 3 Compact
Master System Girl

A number of accessories were created for the Mark III and Master System, which are cross-compatible with one another. The controller for each console consists of a rectangular shape with a control pad and two buttons. Sega also introduced additional controllers, such as a bike handle controller and paddle controller, for the Mark III and a special sports controller for the Master System. A pair of 3D glasses known as SegaScope 3-D were also created for games such as Space Harrier 3D, although Mark III users need an additional converter to use them. The Mark III also had an optional RF transmitter accessory, allowing wireless play that broadcast the game being played on a UHF television signal. A light gun peripheral known as the Light Phaser was also released. Its design was based on the weapon of the same name from the Japanese anime Zillion.

The Master System was produced in several variations. Released in 1990, the Master System II removed a number of components in order to reduce the cost of the console, including the Sega Card slot, reset button, power light, expansion port, and activation music and logo upon turning on the system. Several licensed variations of the console also exist in Brazil, created by Tectoy. A variation known as the Master System 3 Compact was capable of functioning wirelessly with an RF transmitter, while Tectoy also sought to appeal to female gamers in Brazil with the Master System Girl, which was molded in bright pink plastic. A more recent version, released in 2006 in Brazil known as the Master System 3 Collection, contains 120 built-in games. Another Master System, built as a handheld game console, was released under several brands including Coleco in 2006.