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.

 

ipega9023

 

The IPEGA 9023 is a bluetooth controller that allows you to mount a phone or tablet into it. The sides of the controller telescope out and then spring back in to grip what ever is in the center.

I bought my IPEGA 9023 for use with my Samsung Tab 10.5 tablet. I mentioned in my emulator review for it that I didn’t like the IPEGA because of button placement; turns out I was wrong about  that. It’s not the button placement I dislike, when you use the IPEGA 9023 with a device that’s heavy you (or at least I do) hold it in such a way that makes it uncomfortable. I figured this out while trying the IPEGA with a Samsung Galaxy S3. When using the smaller device the IPEGA works very well and I was happy with it.

Since then I’ve tried the IPEGA with an iPad Air and a LG G Tab 8.3. Both tablets fit into the IPEGA and are able to use it as a controller. Both tablets are heavy enough that I hold the IPEGA awkwardly and end up uncomfortable in a short period of time.

I’ve also tried the IPEGA with an iPhone 5s, Samsung Galaxy S3, and a Samsung Note 4. All three of those phones work really well with the IPEGA. I’m able to hold it comfortably for long periods of time.

Having your screen in the center of the controller does take a little getting use to though.

As a controller the IPEGA 9023 works well. Its definetly not on par with a PS3 or NVIDIA Shield controller, but it gets the job done. I’ve read some reviews online speaking about dead zones in the analog sticks, my controller either doesn’t suffer from this, or I’m not one to notice it.

All in all the IPEGA 9023 is a good solution to the problem of holding your phone and controller at the same time while playing games. Its not good for holding a tablet. Considering I bought it just for use with a tablet I’m a bit let down.

 

My review of XBMC on Amazon’s Fire TV can be summed up easily, I’ve moved from my custom built HTPC to using a Fire TV for my day to day TV watching.

Commonly asked question I see about the Fire TV

  • It’s easy to install.
  • You don’t need to root the Fire TV
  • I have it plugged into a 5.1 surround system via HDMI. I didn’t have to go to any trouble to make it work.
  • I have about 3TB of media on an SMB share. My library is shared via MySQL. I had no problems getting this to work with the Fire TV. Navigating the library is just as snappy as my old HTPC.
  • The Fire TV will play a 1080p 5.1 surround sound movie without issue.
  • The Fire TV will play a 1080p MPEG-2 stream from a HDHomerun device without issue.
  • The Fire TV will play an USTVNow stream without issue.
  • The default remote map isn’t good. There are much better keymaps out there.
  • I could not get it to work correctly with a FLIRC and a Harmony remote. (See Cons below)
  • You can side load emulators. Anything up the PS1/N64 generation works. Though you’ll want to root it so you can use storage devices other than the built-in. This is much, much easier than getting emulators to work on other XBMC hardware/operating systems.
  • XBOX 360 and PS3 controllers work.
  • It’s by far the easiest way to get Netflix, Amazon Prime, and XBMC all on the same box.

Pros for the Fire TV

  • It makes no noise
  • It doesn’t produce any heat
  • It’s small. I have it hidden behind a photo 5×6 frame on my entertainment center.
  • It’s cheap! The Fire TV is $100. I spent about $375 on my HTPC less than a year ago. I thought it was cheap at the time.
  • You don’t have to jack with it much to get XBMC going. No custom hardware to put together, no OS install, ect, ect.

Cons for the Fire TV

TL;DR

The Amazon Fire TV is the best hardware to run XBMC on.

I’m fortunate enough to own a Nintendo 3DS, GCW Zero, and a Samsung Galaxy S3 Android smart phone. At one time or another I’ve used all three to emulate classic game consoles and play games. How do they compare to each other?

Hardware:

Out of the box the GCW Zero is ready to go. The Nintendo 3DS requires you to buy a $40 DSTWO flash cartridge. The S3 needs a Game Klip and a PS3 controller.

The 3DS has the biggest screen. It also has two screen, this is important for playing DS games.

The GCW Zero is the easiest to pocket. The 3DS is just a bit too big for a pocket, it does well in a backpack. The S3 by itself fits easily into a pocket, the Game Klip and PS3 controller not so much.

The S3 with a PS3 controller has the best controls of the bunch.

The GCW Zero has the best battery life, about eight hours for me. The 3DS around four and the S3 2-3. It’s difficult to judge the S3 since its hard to use it for nothing else than playing a game for 3+ hours.

NES, Gameboy, and Gameboy Color games: All three devices play these games equally well.

Super Nintendo and Genesis Games: GCW Zero and S3 can emulate these darn near perfectly. The GCW Zero has trouble with SuperFX games such as Star Fox. The 3DS has trouble running graphically intense games at full speed. It works well for RPGs or other games where fast responses are not needed.

Nintendo 64 and Playstation Games:  The S3 is the only one that can emulate these. It does pretty well.

Gameboy Advance Games: All three devices can emulate Gameboy Advance with near perfection.

Nintendo DS Games: The GCW Zero cannot emulate DS and even if it did it doesn’t have a touch screen. The S3 can emulate the DS very well, though its screen will be split into two in order to emulate the DS’ two screens. The 3DS can run DS games natively and perfectly.

Other Consoles: None of the three devices have fast enough hardware to emulate consoles beyond the Nintendo 64/Playstation era. The 3DS can natively play 3DS games though. Consoles older than the NES run well on all three.

What about native games? The S3 has the entire Google Play Store to pick from. The 3DS has the library of 3DS and DS games. The GCW has some not so great Linux games.

Using it for things other than games: Hands down the S3. Being a smart phone its all good. The 3DS has a limited web browser and can watch Youtube. The GCW just plays games.

Which one of the three do I use the most? I use my Nintendo 3DS the most. The screen size, battery life, controls, DS and 3DS game support make it my favorite of the bunch. Its the one I take if I’m going on a trip. The 16bit console support is a bummer but the 3DS and DS support more than make up for it.

 

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.

 

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.