My Console Setup 2019


This past year saw a flurry of tweaks and replacing of consoles and switches. Since I had posted about my console setup at the start of 2018 and 2016, I figured I should continue to note the changes. Notable is the increasing presence of optical drive emulators (ODE) and field programmable gate array (FPGA) consoles. Here goes.


Core Grafx II with Super SD System 3 (SSD3)
The Core Grafx was a revised PC-Engine, which included composite video out, which was an upgrade over the original PC-Engine's RF-video output. This is a moot point, as the attached SSD3 unit outputs RGB video. For those of you who don't know what the SSD3 is, here is an overview. The gist of it is that it allows for playing CD-ROM games and Hu-card games from an SD card. This is different from an Everdrive as it allows for the playback of CD-ROMS where Everdrives only play cartridge games.


Playstation 2 with HDD and Free McBoot
The Playstation 2 generation represents one of the largest leaps in technological power that I can remember. The original Playstation, while revolutionary with its 3D rendering, left a lot to be desired in hindsight. The PS2 exceed my expectations, and made 3D games fun. The FreeMcBoot mod allows for playing games that have been downloaded onto the internal hard disk drive. Getting the games onto the hard drive is a tremendous pain, but once they are there, things run smoothly.



Sega Saturn model 1 with Rhea and Japanese "This is Cool" model 2
I have two Sega Saturns hooded up simultaneously (actually, I have 3 as one is connected via HD Retrovision cables to a Sony Trinitron elsewhere). The Rhea is an optical disc drive emulator that replaces the laser, and gets game information from an SD card. Not willing to ignore my genuine Saturn game collection, I have my translucent "This is Cool" model 2 hooked up alongside it. 95% of my Saturn library are Japanese imports, so I felt a Japanese console was fitting. This seem a bit irrational, but what can you do. I have an action replay cart to bypass region locking, but Japanese startup screen is so much cooler.


Analogue Mega SG
Made by Analogue, known for its near-flawless implementation of FPGA technology to simulate retro hardware, the Mega SG is a dream come true for hardcore Sega Genesis fans. There have been droves of Genesis clones to date, but this is the right way to do it. The crystal clear pixel generation makes the Genesis pop off the screen, and the sound emulation is the closest that ever been produced. Since there is no emulation layer, flashcarts like the Everdrive are compatible.  It is even compatible with the Sega CD via the expansion slot. Unfortunately, the 32X is not compatible as it requires mixing of the analog graphics from the Genesis, and this being an all digital unit does not allow for it. I wasn't a huge fan of the 32X library, so I'm not as irked as others. I do have a Sega CD model 2, but I don't have it hooked up as I don't think it is worth the space, and the when attached, the overall appearance is wonky and misshapen. Recently there was an unofficial jailbreak firmware released, which allows for playing games directly from an SD card, forgoing the need for an Everdrive.


CBox Consolized Neo Geo MVS
The CBox is one of several methods to play actual Neo Geo hardware at home. It contains an actual Mulit Video System (MVS) board that is found in the Neo Geo arcade cabinets. Since the arcade cabinets played MVS cartridges, so can I. Some added features are multiple video options (RGB, S-video, and component), the Universe Bios preinstalled, and Sega Saturn controller compatibility. Collecting Neo Geo carts is not something to take lightly, but the 161 game multicart eases that need.


Sega Dreamcast with GDEMU
Like the Rhea for Saturn, the GDEMU is an optical disc drive emulator that plays games from an SD card. Even though the Dreamcast can play burned game discs with no fuss, the disc laser assembly and motor are prone to breaking down. A solid state option like GDEMU forgoes moving parts, and extends the life of the console in addition to the providing the convenience of SD card rom loading.


Playstation with PSIO
The PSIO is another rom loading solution, but this one communicates through the rear parallel port, and does not replace the optical drive. This means original disc games can be still be played. This is a fantastic mod in that regard.


Gamecube
This gamecube doesn't have anything too special going on, other than the attached Gameboy Player adapter and genuine Nintendo component cables. I am considering selling the cables (which are fairly rare and valuable) and switching to one of the newer HDMI solutions. I don't play it all that much to be honest.


PC-Engine Duo component modded
The PC-Engine Duo was the combined unit of the Super CD Rom drive and PC-Engine. Originally, these units would have to be purchased separately, and joined by an interface unit (shaped like a briefcase), and required various system cards. The Duo unit foregoes the need for those extras, and plays everything (except the arcade card games) without a fuss. I went with the Japanese Duo over the American Turbo Duo since the Japanese library had more games released. The component mod was very necessary as the video output was composite by default. In hindsight, I should have opted for RGB as that would reduce the number of types of video connections I have goin on under my TV.


RetroUSB AVS
The Advanced Video System is named as an homage to the original proposed name of the Nintendo Entertainment System prior to its American launch back in the 80's. It is an FPGA clone console, outputting 720p visuals with stunning clarity. There are slots for both American carts and Japanese Famicom carts, so a 60 to 72 pin converter cart is not necessary to play imports. Everdrives are compatible as well, which is no surprise given that it is FPGA. It has four controller ports, for immediate four-player parties with compatible games. It is compatible with the the Famicom Disk System through an expansion port, for those who are interested.


Analogue Super NT
This is the FPGA Super Nintendo clone console. Just as Analogue's Mega SG nailed the Genesis nuances, the Super NT conquered the Super Nintendo's quirks: compatibility with special chip carts, to be specific. Everdrives are compatible, to no surprise. An unofficial firmware jailbreaks was released for this console as well, allowing for SD card game loading.

Playstation 3
It's probably my least played console that is hooked up. Its Ok, but the game library doesn't do much for me. Most of my games are collections of PS2 games remastered in HD. I do like that it is region free.

Playstation 4
I like the PS4 library better than that of the PS3, due to the increased number of indie and retro-aesthetics.

Switch
Like the PS4, retro game collections are the bulk of my small collection. I take it on trips to play in hotels and whatnot, but otherwise it is docked at home.

Raspberry Pi
Mine is housed in a RetroFlag Sega Genesis case, with safe shutdown mod. It is a little redundant I know, but currently it is the only way I can play arcade games on my TV.

Connectivity
My consoles are connected in the following manner:

Core Grafx w/ SSD3 --> GScartsw --> OSSC --> HDMI switch --> TV
Sega Saturn w/ Rhea --> GScartsw --> OSSC --> HDMI switch --> TV
Sega Saturn (Japanese) --> GScartsw --> OSSC --> HDMI switch --> TV
Playstation 2 --> GScartsw --> OSSC --> HDMI switch --> TV
Playstation w/PSIO --> GScartsw --> OSSC --> HDMI switch --> TV
Gamecube --> component switch --> OSSC --> HDMI switch --> TV
PC Engine Duo --> component switch --> OSSC --> HDMI switch --> TV
CBox Consolized MVS --> component switch --> OSSC --> HDMI switch --> TV
Dreamcast w/ GDEMU --> VGA cord --> OSSC --> HDMI switch --> TV
Mega SG --> HDMI switch --> TV
Super NT --> HDMI switch --> TV
AVS --> HDMI switch --> TV
PS4 --> HDMI switch --> TV
PS3 --> HDMI switch --> TV
Switch --> HDMI switch --> TV
Raspberry Pi --> HDMI switch --> TV

Means of connectivity:
GScartsw automatic 8 port RGB scart switcher

Impact Acoustics powered component switcher

Open Source Scan Converter

Monoprice 8port enhanced HDMI switcher

Even with all of these updated consoles, I still have my originals stowed away, not ready to abandon them. There may be a day when I want to hook up the originals again. From a game collection standpoint, I have started to focus the collection on only quality games that I truly want and/or know I will play. I kept a few stinkers if there was strong nostalgia for them, but for the most part the filler has been moving out, sold on eBay to finance the hardware changes. I have had an easier time letting go of the extra games since Everdrives and ODE devices have been acquired.

So that's what I currently have hooked up. How about you? Do you opt to have multiples of the same system connected? Are there consoles that you don't feel that you need to have connected? I'm always interested in seeing what other peoples' setups look like.






The CBOX Neo Geo Consolized MVS



The Neo Geo MVS (Multi Video System) was an arcade system developed by SNK. It was dubbed a 24-bit system, although the exact categorization of its architecture is not that simple. Regardless, its games were on par with or better than current arcade offerings at the time, and most definitely more advanced than any home console offering.
The Neo Geo MVS arcade system was hard to miss, due to its bright red cabinet

It had multiple games to choose from, thanks to its multiple internal cartridge slots. A single arcade cabinet could house up to six games for a player to chose from. When games were no longer making money, newer games could be easily swapped out at a fraction of the cost when compared to replacing an entire arcade cabinet. This versatility made it popular with arcade owners, and so arcades everywhere had the big red MVS cabinets.

An MVS 4-slot motherboard photo credit:http://pinballmd.com

SNK eventually released a home console version, called the Advanced Entertainment System (AES), which was essentially the same hardware as the MVS, with a single cartridge slot. The system cost around $700 at the time and games were about $200 each!
The Neo Geo AES home console
photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Neo-Geo-AES-FL.png

Even though the console and arcade hardware were the same, the game cartridges for the home system and the arcade system were not directly compatible due to different pinouts. The MVS arcade cartridges are cheaper, as there were more of them produced than the AES home versions.

Growing up, I only knew one kid with a Neo Geo. Its price point limited the audience, which was a business decision. SNK gambled on their premier home console being so advanced and captivating, that it would attract the attention of hardcore gamers. They were mostly right, as the home console had games released until 1997, and the arcade had games being released for it up until 2004.

The Neo Geo games library was focused on 2D action games, and not capable of 3D graphics. Still, it occupied a niche market with a love of 2D sprites, and had a cult following to this day.

It never occurred to me that owning a Neo Geo system was possible. It was just as absurd as wishing for a Lamborghini; there was just no way it was going to happen. Even years after its heyday, Neo Geo systems with hookups and a controller command upwards of $400 on the secondary market. That's not even taking into account the cost of the actual games. I resigned to accept the fact that only way I would play Neo Geo games was through emulation. Metal Slug is one of my favorite games, and it is a staple of game night when friends come over. Playing on it on RetroPie is fine, I guess.


My favorite Neo Geo game

One day I was watching a YouTube channel called RetroCore. Its a fantastic channel with deep dives into hardware and game reviews. The CBox MVS system was reviewed, and I was captivated. Apparently, there was a company in China that was harvesting the motherboards from old MVS arcade cabinets, and making home consoles from them. The production was fairly well designed, with a decent attention to quality. Mark Smith from RetroCore gave it a favorable review, and my interest was piqued. The price point is spot on, with these units costing roughly $175, not including shipping. This may not seem cheap, but this is a Neo Geo we are talking about.

See the Sega Saturn controller ports?

What really attracted me to this specific console was the controller compatibility. These units are compatible with the almighty Sega Saturn controller! I am a huge fan of the Saturn pad, and this is a revelation. I don't have issues with the original Neo Geo arcade stick, but when given a choice, there's no contest. This was shaping up to be an awesome console.

There is a multicart that is widely available for the MVS, and it can even be ordered along with it in the same order, which is the route I went. It contains 161 games, but many of those are hacked versions of the games, so in reality there are about 94 games on it. That's not bad, considering it costs about $75 for the multi cart, and it sure beats taking out a second mortgage to start collecting actual games.

The console has the Neo Geo universe bios installed, meaning extra game playing options, settings, and cheats are preinstalled. Installing this yourself would require some precision soldering, which not everyone is comfortable doing.

So I decided to liquidate a bunch or unneeded peripherals, controllers, and unwanted games through eBay. I made enough to more than cover the cost of the consolized MVS and multicart. I ordered it from aliexpress. Shipping from China is a bummer, as expected. There was a $2 difference between their standard shipping and premium shipping, so I figured why not? The estimated time for delivery was 10-15 days. I got mine in 6 days! They sent it via DHL, which is odd, since I didn't pay for the DHL delivery, so maybe they messed up?


There are three video output options: S-video, RGBs, and component. I hooked it up via component, as I don't have an MVS RGB cable at the moment. It is run through a switcher, and into the OSSC line doubler. The picture quality is everything that I hoped it would be. I applied scanlines, and playing these games on original hardware with no lag using Saturn controllers is absolute bliss.

Now, I'm totally new to the Neo Geo, and I'm sure there are hardcore fans of the system that my not be fans of this console, and that's fine. For people like me who are just happy to be able to finally have a cost effective solution and be able to play original hardware, using a Saturn controller, this is a perfect solution. Maybe more people would like to know that this exists. I highly recommend it!




Scaling Down the Collection, Again


Just because the shelves hold that many games doesn't mean it has to be full
A couple of years ago I decided to weed out some of the games that I just didn't want anymore. A lot of these were duplicates of games that I had several ports of, across several systems. I had too many versions of Mortal Kombats, Street Fighters, Sonic Collections, and so on. After doing so, the numbers crept back up eventually over the years. Hidden gems videos and posts were dangerous, as they would be the impetus for seeking out more games. After playing a lot of these "hidden gems", most of the time I didn't have the same shiny opinion of the game as various Youtubers. I'd say one out of five hidden gems were worth seeking out.

I am really starting to favor quality over quantity recently. I have decided to take a hard look at all of my collection, and finally play all the games that I own to make sure they are what I want to keep. I'm not playing through the entire game, but just enough to sense if I would come back to it, if there is some redeeming characteristic, or if its total trash. I discovered that there was a significant percentage of the games that I haven't played until now, that I don't need to have. For example, I just can't get into Decap Attack. It is generally heralded as a fun, kooky game, but it didn't do anything for me. Likewise with Kid Chameleon. Comix Zone is also well regarded for its graphical style and unique presentation, but I found it so-so. These are games that I didn't play growing up, and picked them up as an adult based on popular opinion, but I guess my taste goes against the grain. I am finding examples of these across all platforms.

Then there are the games that have lots of nostalgic value, but are terrible. Take Super Thunder Blade for instance. As a child of the 80's, I remember the Blue Thunder TV show and movie. This game was a directly inspired from those, so much so that the opening title screen is stolen straight from the movie! I wanted this game so much when I saw it in stores. When I actually got it, I was underwhelmed. The gameplay is unforgiving and simplistic. Its utter garbage, and I would have gotten rid of it sooner had it not been for nostalgia. I'm not going to play it again, so there's no need to hang on to it.

My plan is to put these up for sale. This is a huge undertaking, as it is effectively up to a third of my total collection. It's possible I may regret this decision, but I'm still keeping my favorites, so I don't think it will sting too much. I feel that if a game is just going to sit on my shelf, it should be owned by someone who wants to play it.

I have flash carts for all of my cartridge-based systems, and that allows me to play the games that I'm curious enough to try, but not serious enough to own. This allows me to thin the collection, and keep the games that I truly love or need to have for sentimental reasons. Any of my top ten games in the Shoot'em Up or Beat'em Up genres are locks to keep.


Optical Drive Emulators for disc-based consoles are just as effective and helpful as flash carts, although these don't quite exist for every disc-based system yet. For Sega Saturn, the Rhea is the best possible accessory to own, especially given the ludicrous game prices these days. The Playstation has the PSIO, which is equally as awesome. The Dreamcast has GDEMU. The Playstation 2 has FreeMcBoot in tandem with a hard disc drive adapter, although I find that not all PS2 games are able to be installed (mine won't read PS2 games that are in CD format, as opposed to DVD format).


I never had any intention of collecting entire sets for a system. I think that's foolhardy and unpractical for several reasons. I did have sub-collection goals, like all of the Shoot'em Ups for Saturn, Genesis, Super Nintendo, original Playstation, Playstation 2, Dreamcast, and PC-Engine. I actually came decently close to completing a lot of those. Eventually I got the the point where the last couple of games that I was missing were outrageously expensive because of low print runs (they were released near the end of the console's life, or they were not good enough to warrant reprints). So I decided what I had was the best there was.

Years ago I moved my dad into a retirement home, and I had to deal with clearing out his house. My dad was a librarian, and he was a bookworm. He literally had THOUSANDS of books. He was not capable of telling me which were his favorites, or which had value, or anything that would have been helpful. So my family and I sorted through everything, guessing about value and using eBay listings as a reference. We took loads to the nearby Half Price Books, and I'm sure we took a bath on the value, but we had no other choice. We had to clear out the house to be rented to help pay for caregiver bills. That experience has made me reevaluate physical possessions, and question the need to have so much. When I go, no one is going to know the good games from the bad games. It's a huge burden to put on your dependents.

So, this has led me to where I am now. When I have time to play, there's a shorter list of games that I WANT to play compared to the list of games I own. It's time to slim down, and concentrate the collection into the essentials. If I want to play Goof Troop or Grind Stormer ever again, I can do so using the Everdrive.

What do you all think? Would you ever thin out your collection? What would make you do it?





8Bitdo Bluetooth Controllers


Bluetooth controllers have been a staple since the seventh generation of video game consoles. The PS3, XBox 360, and Wii all embraced bluetooth functionality as the industry standard. We may now take this technology for granted, but prior to this, wireless controllers were hit or miss. The Nintendo Gamecube had the excellent Wavebird controller, which is considered one of the best pre-bluetooth controllers. That was the exception, not the rule. Most wireless controllers were line-of-sight infrared, so you had to have the controller pointed at the receiver constantly, or the signal would not transmit. Sega had produced some wireless controllers for the Genesis and Saturn, which are fairly rare.

OEM Sega infrared controllers. Photo credit: http://www.cedmagic.com
Fast forward to today, and there are all kinds of new accessories produced for retro consoles. Enter 8Bitdo, a company that makes bluetooth controllers for a variety of systems. Obviously the older systems did not have onboard bluetooth capabilities, which is why they also produce bluetooth receivers, which you can plug into the controller ports.

Bluetooth receivers for original hardware

I have a couple of these controllers and receivers, and I am impressed with the overall product. The build quality is solid, the controllers feel nearly indistinguishable from originals. Third party controllers often feel too light and flimsy. One test that I use to judge the build of a controller is if you can twist it even a little bit. If so, that's not up to par. I am happy to say that these pass the twist test.
The directional pad can make or break a clone controller. It is the part of the controller that is most essential to the control. The resistance, texture, and wobble are all spot on. The button presses are nearly as similar, yet maybe with a little more "click" than the originals. Simply put, these are the best recreations of the tactility and feel that I have ever come across.

Their bluetooth controllers can also be used for modern devices, like Android, PC, Raspberry Pi, and in some cases, Nintendo Switch. This versatility is a strong selling point.

Now that TV screens are larger than they ever have been, people are sitting and gaming on their couches, instead of kneeling on the floor, tethered by a controller cord. Sitting on the floor for extended periods of time may conjure memories of being ten playing Super Mario Bros., but my body doesn't cope as well as it used to. The cords are not long enough to reach the couch, so Bluetooth is a welcome addition.

Some games are good standards to test for how impactful the lag is

Hardcore gamers may notice a tiny amount of input lag, only noticeable on games that require twitch reflexes, like some shoot'em ups or precision platformers, or Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! I am fairly sensitive to input lag, and I will say that it is pretty negligible. This issue can be confused with lag caused by TVs. To mitigate this, make sure that the TV input that the console in plugged into is set to "game" mode, so that not picture processing is occurring. I had a hard time fighting Mike Tyson, but then again, I'm not sure if I'm as good as I remember.

Different models have different features. The earlier models were fairly basic, with the button configurations to match a SNES controller. The SN30 Pro has dual analog sticks,  L2 and R2 triggers, star and home buttons for the Nintendo Switch. Analogue sticks on a SNES controller feels odd to me, but I can see how it has its appeal for use with emulation.

8Bitdo has even released modification kits that allow you to convert original controllers into bluetooth controllers. The internal guts can be easily replaced with this reversible process. It even ships with an anti-static bag for storage of the original pcb. I suppose this is for those who absolutely must have original buttons, dpad, etc. They work exactly like all of the other controllers in their lineup.
Original controllers turned bluetooth
They continue to release new models like the M30 for the Sega Genesis, yet also compatible with . Every model seems to have a selection of colors available. I'm hoping for Sega Saturn iterations and, this is a long shot, PC-Engine versions. The company has been gaining a deserving reputation, and hopefully they will be able to address all legacy consoles. Time will tell.



PSIO: Playstation Input Output Flashcart


Continuing the recent trend of optical drive emulators, or ODEs, Cybdyn Systems (aside: I keep reading that as Cyberdyne Systems from the Terminator movies) has produced the Playstation Input Output (PSIO). This is an SD card reading device that plugs into the parallel port in the rear of an original Playstation. The primary purpose is to be able to play backups of your games, should the optical drive fail or the original CD roms become unplayable.

It is important to note that not all Playstations are compatible with the PSIO. Only the earlier models that have the parallel port can connect to the PSIO. Later revisions of the console dropped that port, so if yours does not have this port you are out of luck. However, there were sooooo many Playstation consoles produced, that finding one for cheap should not be an issue.


Due to how the PSIO operates, a small pcb switch board needs to be purchased and soldered onto the motherboard. This step right here immediately raises the necessary technical knowledge of the user.
Alternatively, you can send in your console to have it soldered for you when purchasing the PSIO unit, which is what I did. This was a smart move by the sellers, as it diminishes the need for soldering skills, and widens the potential customer base.

One of the major differences between the PSIO and the Rhea, Phoebe, GDEMU, and Super SD System 3 is that the PSIO does not replace the optical drive. Since is connects through the parallel port in the rear, the optical drive is untouched, allowing for continued use. The Rhea and Phoebe for the Sega Saturn, and the GDEMU for the Dreamcast all require replacement of the optical drive, precluding the ability to switch back and forth from backup roms and original games with any kind of ease.

The PSIO accepts a standard sized SD card, both in FAT32 and EXfat formats. Larger capacity cards are compatible, but I found that FAT32 works better. The PSIO manual is quite the tome, and if you gloss over it you may miss some technical details that will make or break your experience. There are several caveats to playing your backups, format wise. The PSIO accepts bin/cue, iso, and img formats. If you use bin/cue formats, the bin file must be consolidated to a single bin file. The PSIO account that you create on Cybdyn's website (with serial number verification) allows you to download a program that will do this for you. However, I found this to be hit or miss. Compatibility is much better if you rip your games into a single bin file from the start using a program like imgburn. Also, not all cue files are compatible as well, depending on the audio configuration of the game. If the game contains redbook audio, the .cue file will definitely have to be converted to .cu2. The aforementioned program will convert your cue file into a CU2 file.

Another quirk I've found, is occasionally the PSIO will not remember the settings that were entered and I'd have to go through the initial setup again. This is especially a problem when resetting after the PSIO freezes when the rom format is incompatible.

This is the initial setup screen. If your rom files are incompatible, you'll be seeing this screen a lot.
Once up and running, with roms in the exact format that the PSIO likes, the gameplay is just as it should be. This is no surprise, as the original console is running the software, regardless of delivery method. I really like the flexibility to play backup roms or physical discs. With my Saturn Rhea ODEMU, I keep another Saturn console around when I want to play actual discs. Game compatibility is stated to be above 99%, and I haven't found a particular game that does not run.

The startup time is not necessarily faster than playing an original disc. The PSIO has to load up when powered on, which isn't exactly brisk. The Rhea on the Saturn loads way faster, but that may be attributed to the difference in how the devices operate. It's not a deal breaker, but it should be noted.

The PSIO is a unique ODEMU as it allows for original discs to be played

These can be purchased from the manufacturer's website. Cybdyn is an Australian company, so if you want to have the soldering of the pcb switch done for you, you're paying a premium for shipping.  More conveniently, Stone Age Gamer, a retail company based here in the states will offer the same package consisting of the PSIO unit, switch, and soldering. Shipping is cheaper, and turnaround is faster.

From a strictly cost perspective, the PSIO is well under the comparable rates that other ODEMUs are going for. Granted, the Rhea and Phoebe units are produced in smaller quantities and sell out immediately after being posted, which drives prices sky high on the secondary market. I get the feeling that there are many more PSIO units being made than those.

The menu is fairly basic, but at least there is a menu.

Overall, I highly recommend the PSIO if you are comfortable with the process of backing up your games and changing file and SD card formats. If not, there is a requisite learning curve. If you decide on picking this up, I urge you to read through the lengthy manual, as you will save yourself a lot of headaches.