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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #1
I'd like to start a thread about these machines as they're increasingly more common, and there's a huge difference between them, from literally toy-like to more serious implementations, SOCs, emulators-in-a-box and FPGA machines, and there's everything between mass-manufacturing and hobbyist projects as well.

I'll start with a bit of a basic introduction, then hopefully we can look at individual machines later.
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
FPGAs and SOCs

FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Array) are basically reprogrammable processors (a bit like an empty sheet of graph paper) on which you can program logical circuits, or entire SOCs. Ideal for reproduction of older chips or systems. Whereas a SOC however is a one-time production progress, an FPGA can be overwritten time and time again so like emulators their designs can be perfected. The huge advantage of SOCs / FPGAs being that they're as fast as the real thing, zero lag. If your FPGA implementation is close to 100% accurate (kind of impossible as even between different versions of original systems there are manufacturing differences) it's also compatible with original hardware and can even replace it.
Some SOCs by the way are actually based on FPGA designs, such as the Commodore 64 DTV (2004/2005), which was based on the C-One, an FPGA Commodore C64. One of the better implementations at the time as it even did a bold attempt to reproduce the SID. Of course the C-One can still be updated, the DTV can not. The reason the DTV wasn't an FPGA is simple, costs. FPGA's were very expensive at the time, and while a lot cheaper now, they're still not something often used in a large-scale production process.
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #3
A brief history

Back when they were not yet known as Retro consoles, the NES design was often cloned on SOCs in China. You could perhaps see this as one of the origins of these type of consoles. Then there's the infamous "FireCore" Mega Drive / Genesis SOC, first used in the MegaDrive 3 and later in countless consoles by Tectoy and At Games. While perhaps impressive for its time, by today's standards it's of terrible quality.

Nintendo had a great hand in re-popularizing retro consoles with the introduction of the NES Classic Mini a few years back. Unlike others they did not use the SOC or FPGA approach. Their trick to keep costs down was simply using cheap and mass-produced hardware to run an emulator on. Since the NES is well emulated these days this was easy and cheap to do and much better than we had seen in the toy market so far (thanks to the aforementioned ageing SOC designs). Their other trick of course was how it looked. A cute miniaturized looking version of the original console with the same controllers it originally had.

Others have copied Nintendo's approach, most notably retrogames.biz's TheC64 Mini and Sony with their PlayStation Classic. Even At Games felt forced to update their yearly rehashed products with emulator-based versions.
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #4
Chinese knockoffs

Like the old days, the Chinese like to clone and they even clone the clones, so to speak. Browse a bit on a site like AliExpress and you can find all kinds of crazy things like (S)NES Mini's with much larger game selections, a variety of Mega Drive / Genesis clones, more generic named "classic" consoles of which some even mimic the Xbox One S design, portables that run NES or sometimes even GBA games, "game players" that look surprisingly like a Playstation Portable or Vita and even one knockoff GameBoy Color that's surprisingly good. Most of these consoles are as good as you'd expect though (and the vast majority plays NES games). Legal? What's that?
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #5
Do it yourself, or the "Pi approach"

It's easy to create a little retro machine yourself, the most common option being a Raspberry Pi. Just use the appropriate emulators and you'll have a great machine that can play about everything from Atari 2600 until the original PlayStation. Find some good matching gamepads and you're good to go. There's even Amibian, an OS solely dedicated to turn the Pi into a tiny Commodore Amiga. As popular as the Pi is, you can get all kinds of 3D printed cases as well.
I also found the Odroid Go to be an interesting project (a do-it-yourself kit to built a portable console capable of emulating the GameBoy and various other 8-bit systems).
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #6
Not really a retro console

Just wanted to mention the Arduboy. it's not really a retro console but rather a credit-card sized portable running its own library of games. Some of its games were ported to actual old systems.
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
TheC64 Mini

This machine, which is an emulator-in-a-box, runs a version of the Vice emulator (the best C64 emulator around, so that's a good choice) on a Linux build. The approach, especially at first sight, strongly mimics Nintendo's offerings, by offering a very cute looking small version of the C64 "breadbin" design and a joystick resembling the Competition Pro, often used on the real machines back in the day. The plastic mold of the joystick has the exact same size as the Commodore 64DTV, which had its entire board housed in such a joystick. It comes with 64 games built in.

Unlike Nintendo's offerings, the controller connectors are regular USB ones (2 of them). This also means you can use the joystick on your pc.

When TheC64 Mini first came out there were some sharp critics, especially on the controls.
- There was clearly noticeable input lag
- While looking like a Competition Pro, the joystick is an obviously cheaper build lacking the microswitches the original joystick it was based on had. Note that this is no different from the C64DTV (but that, being a SOC, had no input lag).
- While it was possible to load games from an USB stick, the process was a hassle.
- Additionally, some people dislike the fact the mini keyboard isn't real, but I find it a moot point since you can hook up any usb keyboard. It would be way too small to type on anyway.

The Mini has 2 very good features however:
- Pheripheral support via USB (including USB hubs allowing you to hook up multiple joysticks, a keyboard and a thumb drive at the same time)
- Software updates which made it a much better product over time.

The software support has been pretty good; the lag issue was resolved and loading games from an USB stick is now easy. It supports other joysticks too and I successfully hooked up a Retro Link Atari 2600 USB joystick and an actual new Competition Pro USB (recently released 25th anniversary edition, with microswitches).

Additionally, since mine is a PAL region version, when your monitor / tv supports 50hz it will produce the smooth scrolling you'd expect from a C64. Not all pc monitors support this (in which case it runs 25fps at 60hz) but this is a limitation of monitors rather than the device itself.

It also has a number of scaling options (scanlines, aspect ratio, blur level, etc).

By all means this device is way beyond the C64DTV (especially in the sound department), and as of yet there's not been an FPGA design that can rival Vice (someone is trying to make an FPGA SID chip though, but that's more a project to be able to replace the now ageing original chips). With the USB pheripheral support you can use the Mini like you'd use a real C64 including programming in Basic or running other non-game applications.
While probably obvious, what the Mini doesn't do is supporting original C64 peripherals. If e.g. you want to use your original tapes, the closest you can do is convert them to T64 and use those.

Default joystick aside, I find TheC64Mini more impressive than most of its rivals because of the more open approach and ability to use it as an actual computer. It's case design is as good as Nintendo's offerings (taste aside of course, maybe you never liked how the original looked). That it supports smooth 50hz scrolling when possible is a welcome addition as this is often a thing that can be hard to do on a pc.

The manufacturer plans to release a full-sized version as well, with working keyboard, so that might be even better.
I think other improvements would be to add actual DB9 connectors so you could hook up original joysticks and perhaps an SD card slot, so there's less need for using an USB hub.
 

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just wanted to add, there is also the asus tinker board.. it is similar to raspberry pi, but runs at 1.8ghz(pi b+ is at 1.4 now, regular b is at 1.2) and while it doesn't run retorpi, it can run lakka (retorarch for arm devices) so will emulate about every system
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #9
NES Classic Mini

While Nintendo is hardly the inventor of the retro console, they're responsible for making the current "emulator-in-a-tiny-box" approach popular.
A typical example of launching the right product at the right time, it had basically no competition; The quality of the product was way beyond that of the "competitors" at the time (like AtGames) who still used A/V cables too where Nintendo went for HDMI. Besides, the mini-design was half the success. The product (with it shortage) was in fact so popular that these "competitors" probably benefited. Fortunately it also "forced" AtGames in redesigning their consoles (although results were mixed).

The emulator used in the NES Mini is good. It's not the best ever, but it does the job well enough. Menu design is fitting as well.
The game selection is good... if you don't like it there's ways to hack the console but I ended up leaving it in its original state.
I love the controller's looks but the cables are way too short. Because the console itself also has a button, it's recommendable to have it close to you, so that means if your TV is far away the best options are long HDMI and USB cables.... really, I don't know what they were thinking but I ended up using it mostly at a desk so I don't need long cable length. Hardly couch-friendly.
Also, the controllers use Nintendo's own connectors, there's no connecting them to PC without some kind of adapter.
There's also no way to update the product legally and even the second batch left cable length and emulation quality the same.
However, while not perfect, it does feel like a proper Nintendo product with a nice attention to detail.

Nintendo launched the same version in Europe and America, and a Famicom version in Japan (and later a special Shonen Jump edition). Before you scream that Japan always gets the best things (and yes, the Famicom Mini has an equally cute design), just ponder this... the original Famicom had the controllers hard-wired into the console and you could neatly slot them into the console when done with playing. As the mini version replicates this perfectly, you can imagine how tiny the controllers are on the Japanese edition...
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #10
SNES Classic Mini

The "sequel" to the NES Mini, it manages to improve in about every area. While I don't know a real SNES well enough to compare it with, the emulation quality in the SNES Mini seems to be actually better than its predecessor (and you'd think a NES would be easier to emulate). Another good game selection, although the SNES has enough gems to make you wonder "couldn't they have included x or y" ....and where is Chrono Trigger?
The menu design is similar but slightly nicer to look at (duh, we have arrived in the 16-bit era), with Mario and Luigi running around.
In an unprecedented act of generosity Nintendo included 2 controllers in the box. The cables are also longer but still nothing to write home about.
The rest is similar; again Nintendo's own connectors and a one-time release with no updates.
For what it does I rate the SNES Mini pretty highly. The games have aged well, and the console does a good job of bringing them back.

This time the US and European version again have the same game selection (which means several games that never were released in Europe on the original are included, we are not complaining) but the case differs because so did the original. Personally I prefer the looks of the European model (which is like the Super Famicom).
 

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I have this case on my raspberry pi running lakka (retroarch) pwer and reset work (after installing a driver script) and even the red led lights up
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #13
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That's my Zemmix Neo, with 3D printed case. It's an FPGA MSX.
The hardware design is based on the One chip MSX.
It is a complete MSX2+ machine and also implements the Konami SCC and MSX Music sound chips.
It can run real cartridges but also boot MSX-DOS 2 from an SD card. From there you can pretty much run anything.
 

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Pilgrim
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Was going to tell you to add some pics to your posts.

This is why I still consider the Shield TV a great device, you have the updated services like Netflix, Spotify and Youtube while still having access to an insane amount of games with emulators for a lot of consoles. From PS2 (still very slow atm) and Nintendo Wii (playable) and backwards you can play a lot of systems.

These retro consoles are great pieces of nostalgia but sometimes feel limiting. But damn they look good. :D

Maybe get a wireless or wired controller with an adapter to only 1 box, that way it would still feel authentic while using an emulator?
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #15
Was going to tell you to add some pics to your posts.

This is why I still consider the Shield TV a great device, you have the updated services like Netflix, Spotify and Youtube while still having access to an insane amount of games with emulators for a lot of consoles. From PS2 (still very slow atm) and Nintendo Wii (playable) and backwards you can play a lot of systems.

These retro consoles are great pieces of nostalgia but sometimes feel limiting. But damn they look good. :D

Maybe get a wireless or wired controller with an adapter to only 1 box, that way it would still feel authentic while using an emulator?
It sure helps. There's plenty of good replica controllers to be found too. Something for another thread perhaps... or we could add it to the discussion here.

I'll add some more pics later; especially in the case (pun intended) of the mini consoles (nes, snes, c64, psx) they look absolutely gorgeous. However, you are right that technically they're just limited emulators (except the c64 mini which is pretty open).
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #16
Haven't been updating this thread as much as I wanted too.... I ditched the ps classic, because cute design alone does not make a good retro console.
It had nothing else to offer for me other than an inferior experience, as I already had the games that interest me (that especially being R4 and MGS) and my PS2 runs them better; it also helps that my TV does an excellent SCART/RGB conversion.
The PS3 is also a much better way to experience original PS1 games.
 

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Foundry/Foundation
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Discussion Starter #18
That would be lovely.
By the way, is it true that early PS3 models use hardware to run PS1 (and not just PS2) games like the PS2 does?

I do think the PS1 software emulator in the PS3 was pretty good as well though. Only issues I noticed were it sometimes not picking up CD audio and interlacing problems in high res. mode.
 

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Administrator
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That would be lovely.
By the way, is it true that early PS3 models use hardware to run PS1 (and not just PS2) games like the PS2 does?

I do think the PS1 software emulator in the PS3 was pretty good as well though. Only issues I noticed were it sometimes not picking up CD audio and interlacing problems in high res. mode.
no even on launch ps3s it was still emulation for ps1
 
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