A PSP is a fun handheld. Compared to it’s rival the Nintendo DS, its more powerful, the games look better, and they are arguably more adult orientated.

As a long time PSP owner here is my impression of its emulation quality.

NES: Great
Gameboy: Great
Gameboy Advance: Good
Genesis: Poor. Lots of slowdowns. Sound is laggy or doesn’t sound right.
SNES: Poor. Lots of slowdowns. Sound is laggy or doesn’t sound right.
N64: Nope
Playstation/PSX: Great, if not close to perfect. The PSX emulator on the PSP was written by Sony. The quality is outstanding.
NDS: Nope
GameCube and above: Nope

I see a lot of recommendations online to use a PSP as a cheap SNES emulator handheld. Don’t fall for that. The SNES emulation is bad. It’s so bad I don’t even keep the emulators or ROMs on my PSP. I have never played through a game. I couldn’t even make it through the first level of Contra 3 because the sound of my gun was so high pitched it was annoying me.

If you want to play some PSP or PSX games, definitely get it. You’ll never go wrong playing a game on the original hardware it was designed for. PSX emulation is great, in my opinion it’s better than the PC emulators.

The biggest downside to a PSP is the battery. Batteries don’t age well and the PSP is getting old. Official replacement batteries from Sony don’t exist. Aftermarket batteries are horror stories (check out some Amazon reviews). Most people either stay plugged in all of the time or use an external battery like you would use to charge your phone in an emergency. I read an article of one guy who removed the UMD drive and soldered in two NDS batteries in their place. I’m lucky enough that my battery is in good shape, but when the time comes for a new one I’m a bit worried.

 

The Woodi GBA and the Woodi GBA Micro are portable game consoles that do a fair job of replicating their Nintendo big brothers.

If you want to skip the reading, here is a video showing off both systems:

 

Woodi GBA
Woodi GBA

The Woodi GBA looks almost identical to a Nintendo Gameboy Advance. The biggest differences are a reset button above the B and A buttons and a micro USB port on the bottom right edge of the case. When you turn it on you’ll see that is has a back lit LED screen, much like a GBA SP or NDS. The screen is bright and looks really good. It has a rechargeable battery.  The battery lasts about five hours.

The Woodi GBA has 26 games built in. These games vary slightly based on the color of the Woodi GBA you buy. It has a cartridge slot for accepting other games. As near as I can tell the only game available is the Woodi 28-in-1 cartridge that came with it. Keeping count that is 26 games built in and 28 on the cartridge, a total of 54. The games are all from the Nintendo GBA. The cartridges and slot are very similar to the Nintendo GBA’s, but are not identical. Nintendo carts will not fit.

When I originally bought the Woodi GBA I was hoping it utilized a GBA on a chip. After playing the games I’m sure that it is actually emulating them. While the games normally play at full speed there are times when there are slow downs. The sound quality is what really makes me think the Woodi is emulating. The sound quality is bad, really bad. The sound plays slightly slower than it should.

I purchased my Woodi GBA for $32 on AliExpress. For that price it was worth it. It’s a nice system to keep in the can.

Woodi GBA Micro
Woodi GBA Micro

Pretty much everything I said about the Woodi GBA applies to the Woodi GBA Micro. There are a couple of exceptions to that: the micro uses three AAA batteries and it has no cartridge slot. The batteries last a seven hours or so. Opening up both systems, they have the same circuit board, just the screen, case, odds and ends are different.

The micro USB port is just for show. It doesn’t charge the system. Plugging it into a PC does nothing. Looking at the circuit board, it is not connected to anything.

The Woodi GBA Micro has 25 built in games. These games are all from the Nintendo GBA and the Nintendo NES. The NES games are definetly emulated. You can push the shoulder buttons at the same time to bring up a PocketNES menu while playing.

I purchased my Woodi GBA Micro from AliExpress for $30.

I like to travel with the Micro. It’s cheap enough that I’m not worried about losing or breaking it.

How do they play?

For being cheap Chinese crap, both systems feel reasonably well built. I’ve dropped my Micro a few times and it looks as good as new. The buttons on the Woodi GBA feel good, the buttons on the Micro feel oddly springy, but work well. Both systems are near identical to their Nintendo made counterparts so they both feel good in hand.

The game selection on both systems is very good. You really can’t go wrong with classic GBA games. The games play OK. I touched on the sound problems earlier. Both systems remind me of PC emulators from 7-8 years ago… the emulation isn’t quite accurate. You notice things like colors being off or the tone of a sound being just slightly weird. I know some people who would be driven nuts by this, for me though it isn’t a big deal.  The games are fun and the system plays them well enough that I’m able to enjoy it all. Normal game saves work, after three months of ownership it hasn’t lost one of my saves. There are no save states like you would find in emulators.

Would I choose the Woodi versions over the Nintendo originals? That’s a hard question to answer… on a purely price and utility standpoint, yes I would choose the Woodi systems. $30 gets you a backlit, rechargable, GBA Advance with 54 games (builtin even,  no carts to carry). I can overlook some wonky sound for that. As someone who grew up with Nintendo and could be considered a fan, no. These systems are bad and morally wrong.

Other Comments

AliExpress isn’t for the faint of heart. It took twenty-seven days from the time I ordered until I received my systems. The first time out both systems were broken, the seller promptly sent me another set, letting me keep the broken ones. The new systems arrived twenty-three days later in good shape. The whole process was just under two months.

The Woodi Micro using AAA batteries isn’t all that bad. I use rechargeable Ni-MH batteries.  They last a long time.

I was really curious whether the systems were emulated or GBAs on a chip. All of the chips on both systems are either covered in resin or have the identifiers scratched out.

On being cheap Chinese crap… the game lists are poorly translated. I get a kick out of Castle Asia of Sorrow every time I start it up. The USB charger the Woodi GBA comes with is identical to an iPhone charger. Short of missing the Apple branding there is no difference in the look.

Castle Asia of Sorrow

Update 1/21/2016

All of the problems mentioned in the review above started to get to me. What really put me over the edge was the video/audio/controller lag in some games. The fifth world in Kirby’s  Nightmare in Dreamland is all but unplayable between the wonky sound and control lag.

I purchased these systems because I thought the hardware would be interesting to play around with, the games were inconsequential. I found that I liked the games and played them a lot though, go figure. I ended up buying a Nintendo DS Lite. It’s backwards compatible with the GBA and of course plays NDS games too. The difference in quality between it and either of the Woodi systems in night and day. There is no aspect done better by the Woodi systems than the Nintendo DS.

Would I still recommend the Woodi systems? If you’ve got $30 to blow, yes. If nothing else they’re neat conversation pieces. If you’re interested in playing games start to finish, go with an actual GBA or a DS. My vote is for a DS since they are half the cost used as a GBA and can play DS games too. The hipsters have the GBA market messed up in my opinion,  it is overpriced.

I’m a big fan of Limelight game streaming. It works remarkable well on my Galaxy Tab S and Amazon FireTV with a PS4 controller.

I had something of a revelation the last week. If you add an emulator as a Non-Steam Game to your Steam library, you can then stream the emulator over Limelight. I’ve tried Dolphin and PCSX2, and they both work well. At this point I’ve played through all of the cups at 100cc in Mario Kart Double Dash on my Tab S and I couldn’t be happier.

The prerequisites for the setup are out there, you need:

  • A PC capable of running the emulator(s).
  • That PC needs to be GFE compatible. (Basically a GeForce GTX 650 or higher graphics card. I use a GTX 760)
  • An Android device
  • A controller for the Android device. (My Tab S is rooted and I use a PS4 controller over Bluetooth)
  • A network connection between the Android device and PC of at least 30mbp/s. (My PC and Amazon FireTV is on a gig wired connection to the same AP/router my Tab S connects to via 5GHZ wifi)
  • The Limelight software installed on the Android device. (this part is free)
  • Steam installed on the PC with the emulator(s) added as Non-Steam Games.

At the time of this writing that’s about $700 worth of PC, a $50 controller, a $80 router/AP, and then whatever your Android device costs. Anywhere between ‘free’ for a phone and $500 for a nice tablet.

As an aside, you can also stream PC games. I play a lot of Borderlands 2 over Limelight, its great playing it on my big TV with surround sound in the living room or even playing in bed.

I’ve played a lot on my Tab S and an Amazon Fire TV. I also have the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Samsung Note 4 phones, I’ve loaded Limelight and played around for a few minutes, as far as that goes it works on those devices.

 Edit: For giggles I decide to give my Galaxy S3 a go and see how well it works. I played Left 4 Dead 2 for about an hour and a half. It was playable. The only issue I ever saw was that sometimes when there was a lot of things going on on screen the game would briefly stutter, losing maybe 1/4 second worth of frames. It mostly happened when a propane tank exploded. A bit annoying but nothing to make me stop playing.

Samsung Tab S 10.5

NES: Great
Gameboy: Great
SNES: Great
Genesis: Great
Gameboy Advance: Great
N64: Good – the hardware is more than enough to run the games, the emulators available are the problem.
Playstation/PSX: Great
NDS: Great
GameCube and above: Poor – games are unplayable. (Emulator problem as much as a hardware problem)

I’ve had my Tab S 10.5 for about three weeks now. I bought it as a replacement for an iPad 3. It’s been rooted and all of the Samsung junk turned off. I use a PS3 controller via the Sixaxis app.

I’m very happy with the tablet as a tablet. As an emulator machine its really good. My only complaint is the same complaint I have with emulation on any tablet; how do you hold the tablet and the controller at the same time? I tried an Ipega 9023 telescopic controller, the mount was good, but the controller had poor button placement for my hands. That made the controller difficult to use. Next I tried to DIY solution using a Gameklip and a car tablet mount. The Tab S was too heavy for the Gameklip. I end up propping the Tab S up via its case and setting it on a lap desk. This works, but I would much rather to have it mounted on the controller.

Having such a large screen makes emulating Nintendo DS games much more enjoyable than on a Shield Portable or phone. You have plenty of room to see both screens at the same time. The downside of the big screen is that games will look bad unless you apply a filter. Once you apply some HQ filters though, the games look amazing.

My favorite emulation device is still the NVIDIA Shield Portable, if for no other reason than the screen is mounted over the controller. The Shield is pretty dedicated to one task though.The Tab S is a great choice when you need a tablet but you also want to play some games. The screen on the Tab S is amazing and when you use emulators that support filters, your old games never looked better.

Since the Tab S 8.4 has the same hardware as the Tab S 10.5, all of the above should equally apply to it.

NVIDIA Shield Portable

Below is my quickie rundown of how well the NVIDIA Shield Portable emulates classic consoles.

NES: Great
Gameboy: Great
SNES: Great
Genesis: Great
Gameboy Advance: Great
N64: Good – the Shield hardware is more than enough to run the games, the emulators available are the problem.
Playstation/PSX: Great
NDS: Good. Some lag in parts, but nothing too bad.
GameCube and above: Poor – games are unplayable

tl;dr: The Shield Portable is best handheld emulator console out there.

The Amazon Fire TV can run NES, SNES, and GBA games. You can even use the included remote, though the game controller works much better.

I made up a package with a batch script that makes it pretty easy.

MyTechJam took it a big step further and made a video tutorial.

 

Here is how to play NES, SNES, and GBA games on your Amazon Fire TV.

Note: This does not require you to root your Fire TV. You will not lose access to the Amazon interface. Nothing will be removed or change. If in doubt look over the package you download and definitely look over all of the .bat files.

Enable USB Debugging and Find out the IP address of your Fire TV

This steps turns on the features that allow you to remotely install software on your Fire TV.

  1. From the Fire TV Home screen, select Settings
  2. Go to System -> Developer Options
  3. Select ADB Debugging to turn it ON
  4. Go to System -> About -> Network, and take note of the Fire TV’s IP address

(Thanks XBMC Wiki)

Download and Extract my Installer Package

Amazon Fire TV Emulator Package: Download

Once you have it downloaded, unzip it.

Install Emulators and Send Your ROMs to the Amazon Fire TV

Installing the emulators:

  1. Double click on INSTALL-EMULATORS.bat (in the installer package)
  2. When prompted, enter the IP of your Fire TV
  3. You should see the emulators install with a ‘Success’ message

Copying the ROMS:

There are folders for ROMs for each system in the installer package. Copy your ROMs into the folder appropriate for them. If your ROMs are zipped, unzip them. Make sure the NES ROMs have a .nes extension, SNES .smc, and GBA .gba.

To play GBA games you’ll need a GBA bios file. Put it in the ROMS-GBA folder.

Once you have everything in the appropriate folders, double click on INSTALL-ROMS.bat. When prompted, enter the IP of your Fire TV. You should see everything copy over.

If at some point in the future you want to add more ROMs to your Fire TV, just add them into the appropriate folder and double click on INSTALL-ROMS.bat again.

Launch Emulators and Configure 

You should now have your emulators and ROMs installed on the Fire TV. Unfortunately side loaded applications do not appear in the Home screen, you have to launch them via the Settings menu.

  1. From the Fire TV Home screen, select Settings
  2. Select Applications
  3. Find and select the emulator you want. (Nesoid, Snesoid, GameBoid)
  4. Select Launch Application

You will want to go into the settings for the emulator and map the buttons for the remote (or your controller) to the game buttons.

Where to go From Here?

If you’re only using the remote that came with the Fire TV you’ll want to get a real controller. The remote works OK for RPGs and games that don’t require twitchy actions. Amazon sells a very good controller made for the Fire TV. XBOX 360 and PS3 controllers work well too.

The emulators I’ve included are not the best out there. There are some really good commercial Android emulators out there, installing and using them makes for a better experience.

What Exactly does the Installer Package do?

The general idea is that it side loads the emulator’s apk files via winadb. The installer package (if you can call it that) contains a apks for the emulators, winadb, and a couple of .bat files. The .bat files launch winadb with the appropriate commands to connect to the Fire TV and install the emulators. You can easily modify the .bat files to allow you to install other emulators.

I was asked to give a run down of the XBMC computer I am currently using. It was assembled from parts and is running openELEC.

HTPC XBMC Computer

The case looks good.

My XBMC PC is capable of:

  • Playing 1080i video with no stutter or buffering. (Both local files and files from a Windows file server)
  • Playing 1080i streams of local cable TV channels.
  • Recoding those streams DVR style.
  • Playing 720p streams of premium cable TV channels via USTVNOW. (The 720p limit is from USTVNOW, not the computer)
  • Using my surround sound system for 5.1 sound.
  • Playing older video games from Super Nintendo, NES, Game Boy, Genesis, ect.
  • Throwing some colors on the wall with a Light Pack.

Parts List:

Total Cost: $638.26

Not cheap. You get what you pay for.

Some notes on the hardware:

My previous HTPC was an ASROCK Ion 330. It was prone to overheating. A lot of this was due to the small case size. The CPU fan lay under a spinning hard drive with a 1/4 inch gap. The fan blew hot air onto a hard drive producing its own heat. This was then blown out of the case by a 25mm fan. Because of the cramped quarters I didn’t have any other options for larger fans or moving parts. While the PC never got hot enough to shutdown it did get hot enough to make me worry about.

The case on this XBMC PC is roomy. The fan from the CPU isn’t constricted. It has a 65mm case fan with room for a second. I’m using an SSD drive as they produce little to no heat. The SSD has the added benefit of being silent. The PC as a whole is quiet enough that you cannot hear it without putting your ear near the case. Even under a load it doesn’t get hot enough to spin the fans up. Idle temperature is around 40C, loaded is around 55C.

The CPU has an integrated GPU. It comes with a heat sink and fan in the box. The CPU is overkill for playing videos. I went big with the CPU because someday I plan on emulating N64 and Playstation games. Possibly even Game Cube.

The HDHomeRun is for watching cable TV. If that’s not applicable to you, then no need to buy one.

The lighting arrangement can be had in a DIY kit for $50.

Software:

Putting it all together gets you this:


My camera is unable to capture the lighting effect. Here is a video from the vendor showing how it looks.
ADAlight demo from adafruit industries on Vimeo.

 

 

Being able to run emulators on an OpenELEC computer can be tricky. It takes a fair bit of knowledge from several different areas to setup. I’m going to try to give a good overview of putting all together into a working system. By the end you’ll have a setup that allows you to play all of your old games from the comfort of your couch.

Something to consider, the build of RetroArch I’m using doesn’t have emulators for a lot of systems. Here is a list of what it can emulate.

I’m going to break this up into sections. I’m going to assume you have OpenELEC installed and working.

Getting ROMs on OpenELEC

Be sure to organize your ROMs into folders based on their console. EG: put your SNES ROMs in a snes folder, put your NES ROMs into a nes folder, and so on.

By far the easiest way to get ROMs onto your OpenELEC computer is to put them onto a flash drive and plug it in. Once plugged in use XBMC to add a new file source pointing to the flash drive.

Go to Settings and then File Manager

Go to Settings and then File Manager

Select Add Media and then Browse

Select Add Media and then Browse

Select Root File System then Media. Your drive will be one of the folder in there. Select it.

Select Root File System then Media. Your drive will be one of the folders in there. Select it.

Once you've selected your flash drive, click OK.

Once you’ve selected your flash drive, click OK.

The file source is now added and your ROMs are now easily accessible by OpenELEC/XBMC.

Getting RetroArch working on OpenELEC

Our hero and savoir, zaggash, has written a RetroArch addon for OpenELEC which makes installing all of the emulators a breeze. First thing we need to do is download a copy of the addon and install it on OpenELEC. Go to Zaggash’s site and download build appropriate for your computer.  For instance I use the Generic build. Take that file and put it on the flash drive from the previous step and then plug the flash drive back into your OpenELEC computer. Now we need to install it.

Go back to System, then select Addon Browser. From there select Install from Zip file. Navigate to the source we created in the previous step and install the emulator.retroarch ZIP file.

Now we need to add another file source that points to RetroArch. Go back to System->File Manager->Add Source->Browse. This time select Home Directory->.xbmc->addons->emulator.retroarch->bin. Call the new source Emulator Bin.

Getting ROM Collection Browser working on OpenELEC

ROM Collection Browser is also available as an addon. It gives you a nice menu in XBMC to launch your ROMS from. You can install it via addon manager without doing anything special.

Once installed start the addon. We’ll need to add your ROMs. Here is how I would do it for Game Boy Advance ROMs.

Start ROM Collection Browser. Hit the Menu button on your remote and select Add Rom Collection->Scrape game info and artwork online->Game Boy Advance. Now we need to select where RetroArch is, open your Emulator Bin source and select retroarch.sh.

Now it will ask you for any arguments RetroArch needs to start. Change it to: vba_next “%ROM%”

Note that vba_next is the core from RetroArch. If you’re adding different game systems the core name will change. See here for a complete list of cores: http://sourceforge.net/p/zaggxbmcaddons/wiki/Core%20List/

Once it is done scrapping the artwork for your games you should be able to launch them with the remote.

Getting a controller to work on OpenELEC

For me, this was the toughest part of the setup. I tried numerous controllers and spent a lot of time banging my head against the wall. In the end I settled on a corded SNES USB controller.

Wireless XBOX 360 controller: An XBOX 360 controller will actually work just by plugging it in, problem is that the drivers included with OpenELEC are not able to control the LED lights on the controller. Where as on an XBOX the lights will go solid in a spot to represent which player you are, on OpenELEC they continue to flash, forever. If you can deal with the flashing its all good. I’ve had thoughts of taking the controller apart and removing the LEDs.

PS3 Dual Shock 3 Sixaxis: I couldn’t get the controller to work either wired or in Bluetooth mode. In both cases the OS detects it as a HID device, but never as a joystick.

Random corded USB controllers: I’ve had good luck with my SNES USB, old Microsoft Sidewinder, and Logitech USB controllers. All of which only needed to be plugged in to work.

Once you’ve made a choice on controllers you have to let RetroArch know about it. You’ll need to SSH into your OpenELEC computer. The login is root and the password is openelec.

Once logged in:

cd .xbmc/addons/emulator.retroarch/bin/
./retroarch-joyconfig

From there follow the prompts to hit the buttons on your controller. If you don’t have a button it asks for, just hit any button. If says anything about not finding a joystick, you’re in trouble.

Once down you’ll get a bunch of lines mapping buttons to action, you’ll want to copy all of this and put it at the bottom of /storage/emulators/retroarch/config/retroarch.cfg

Also at the bottom of your retroarch.cfg file add:

input_enable_hotkey_btn = 6
input_exit_emulator_btn = 7

Replace 6 and 7 with numbers representing the buttons on your controller you want to hit that will exit a ROM you’re playing. On my controller 6 and 7 represent the Select and Start buttons.

… and that’s it. You should now be able to start Rom Collection Browser, find a game with the remote, start it, play it with a controller, then return to XBMC by hitting two buttons on the controller.

 

GCW-Zero

I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on a GCW-Zero. I’ve had it for about two weeks now and have been playing with it just about every night for a hour or so before bed. I have mainly been playing Link’s Awakening DX, but I have spent a fair amount of time with each system I can emulate.

NES via FCEUX: Perfect. Tried a bunch of different games without issue. Made it all the way through Super Mario Bros. 1 without a glitch.
Game Boy/Game Boy Color via GamBattle: Perfect. I tried a couple of other emulators at first, both of which had problems with music or colors. (OhBoy notably)
SNES via Snes9x4d: I get the occasional slow down. It’s about like SNES emulation on a 3DS. SuperFX games do not work well such as Star Fox or Stunt Race FX.
GBA via ReGBA: No issues that I’ve seen. Mario Kart plays very well. I’m almost expecting to find something glitchy, but so far so good.
Playstation/PSX via psx4all: PSx4All is an unofficial port and the only PSX emulator I could find. Every game I tried was very slow and the sound stuttered or was lagged.
Genesis: I’ll confess I’m not much of a Genesis fan and didn’t try it. There are several Genesis emulators available.
Nintendo DS, Nintendo 64: Spec wise the GCW-Zero should be able to emulate these but there are no emulators yet written.

Some Random Notes:

The hardware is nice. It’s cool, in a nerd sort of way, to see Linux boot up on a handheld. The GCW is light and feels good to hold. You can hold it a long time and not get fatigued. The buttons are all easy to reach and have a good feel.

The native  games for the GCW-Zero are neat but nothing to write home about.

The one exception to the above is Kobo Deluxe.

ScummVM has a port but most of the games are pretty laggy. Should be all good once the software gets some optimizations.

Quake 1, 2, 3 and Decent 2 run really well. The control scheme made them unplayable for me though.

Doom is supposed to run well but for the life of me I couldn’t get it to work.

Warcraft 2 runs in DOSBox. It’s a little laggy but I was able to play the first mission without wanting to kill myself.

Adjusting the volume by holding the power button and using the D-pad is weird, but does the job.

By trolling Ebay I got my GCW for a lot less than retail. I’m not sure I would pay $140 for it.

The best comparison to the GCW-Zero are the Android handhelds put out by JXD. In my opinion the GCW-Zero has great hardware and questionable software. The JXD devices have questionable hardware (quality control issues) and great software (Android OS). If I knew for certain the JXD handheld I was buying had no hardware quality issues I would buy a JXD handheld over a GCW-Zero. Problem with JXD is no one knows if you’re going to get a device with a jacked screen, buttons, or who knows what else.

ThinkGeek is a reseller if you’re looking for a reputable seller.

Bottom Line:

If you can find one for less than $100 I would recommend a GCW-Zero. I think in a year the software will catch up and it’ll be an awesome device.

My other thought is that in a year the handheld Android consoles will be a dime a dozen with greatly improved build quality.

 
5/9/14 Update: With the release of the newest firmware and some updates to the SNES emulators, SuperFX games work pretty well. Stunt Race FX works great!

The first and only Nintendo 3DS flash cart was released last month. Here is my take on it.

It works, mostly. You can put a Nintendo 3DS ROM on an SD card and play it via the Gateway cart. If you’re used to DS flash cartridges and their features you’re going to be in for some surprises though.

As of this writing the Gateway 3DS only works on firmware 4.5. If you’ve ever updated your 3ds you’re out of luck for now.

The Gateway 3DS only allows one rom per SD card. The SD card does not need to be the exact size of the ROM.

The Gateway 3DS does not run any homebrew yet. That means no emulators for SNES, GBA, ect.

The Gateway 3DS does not run DS games. You need a DS flash cart like the DSTWO for that.

The biggest problem is that games that utilize saves do not save once you take the cartridge out. Chew on the implications of that for a bit.

Sadly, that’s a whole lot of ‘does nots.’ Good news is that the makers of the Gateway have plans to resolve all of these problems in future firmware updates as the cartridge is upgradable.

In the meantime the Gateway 3DS is more of a proof of concept than a real usable flash cartridge.