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FPGA vs. EMULATION? What is your choice?

FPGA or Emulation?  

81 members have voted

  1. 1. Which do you prefer?

    • FPGA
      46
    • Emulation
      35
  2. 2. Which do you think has the most potential for perfection?

    • FPGA
      60
    • Emulation
      21


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When I say debugging it should be taken as debugging a homebrew ROM. Or watching the emulator step-through the ROM.

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Posted (edited)
On 5/24/2020 at 4:15 PM, mr_me said:

With fpga an engineer can decap an IC and recreate what they see in verilog.  With software emulation a computer programmer has to creatively come up with algorithms to simulate that functionality.  Both can be accurate but fpga is closer to the real thing.

Yes it's closer to the real thing, when you see at it from the technical side. If it's closer to the real thing when you play a game with it, depends on, how good the simulation/emulation (or whatever we will call it) at this moment then is. And this is independently from the fact if a software-emulator or a FPGA runs in this moment. Some software-emulators today use things like "RunAhead", to wipe out any kind of input-lag and these very small lags maybe was the last thing, on which a user could sometimes feel, on what he plays (original or software-emulator). Now also this can be wiped out then you feel no difference anymore.

 

Today both, FPGA and software-emulators are so good, that they feel like the real thing when you play on them, you only maybe have not the historical retro-feeling so strong, cause you can not see the running original hardware in front of you in this moment. But from the playability itself, i think, they are very very close, when the user takes care of some things like, using the original controllers, using fast-reacting controller-adapters, using monitors which can run the Hz-values you need for perfect smooth scrolling (50Hz/100Hz for PAL games and 60Hz for NTSC games) and of course also good screen-filters, that the old graphics have a soft-focus effect and not look like a mosaic of pixels on modern monitors. If such things are observed, i think you CAN have the same fun and playability like on the real thing with both, FPGA-products and software-emulators.

 

And i even guess, when you take a user today and put him in front of three identical monitors and on every monitor one of the three things (original console or computer / FPGA product / software-emulator) runs (somewhere hidden from the user) and then let this user play on all, it will be hard for the user, to say what is what. :)  I guess the most users can not say it then. Maybe the user can recognize it easier from the screen-filter than from the playability then. I guess the playability is closer to the original, than having the absolute perfect screenfilter that looks 100% like the original. This maybe also is not necessary, cause i guess the most users probably want to have a GOOD looking picture when a retro-game runs in an emulator/FPGA and not necessarily a "100percent looking like the original" picture.

 

But apart from the screenfilter, i think you can not say today, which is which. The emulation or simulation (FPGA) is very very close to the original and the gameplay feels the same then and finally also the highscores in the games will be the same or very similar. And should THIS not count the most and not the way how to get this, if with FPGA or soft-emu? For me it does, but i know that there are different viewpoints and this is also okay.

Edited by AW127
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Of course the HDL can also be run via software. Isim, verilator, model sim etc.

 

A bit slow on modern pcs, but one day they may be fast enough.

 

Also perhaps in a few years we can make our own cheap asics. That’ll confuse things even more.

https://github.com/google/skywater-pdk

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Posted (edited)

It's been 7-years since I made the thread. And in that time we've seen remarkable progress on both fronts, FPGA & SE. The realism and accuracy just keep getting better & better.

 

I still remain strongly preferential to SE. But also recognize kevtris' work and what's happening on the MiSTer front.

 

The reason why I remain in the SE camp is it makes the childhood dream of having all my fav systems in one box come true in a form even better than I imagined. As a kid I was somewhat limited to imagining a bunch of consoles that were dis-assembled and their circuits put into a rather large TRS-80 Model II sized box; replete with all the pitfalls and unforeseen modes of failure such a setup would bring. And of course, throw in the ease of moving from system to system, the instant availability to try new software, the reliability, and ongoing work.

 

At the other end of the technical spectrum I imagined alien-like circuitry. Stuff that was advanced far and away from simple 16-pin or 40-pin DIPs of the day. Special memory devices that could hold truckloads of disks and tapes. Like "Superman" library crystals. Chips made of elements that didn't fit the periodic table. Chips that could execute instructions in the future and then "catch-up" to them. Was quite amusing and fun to write short 5-page stories about it all - when word-processing was still a novelty to me.

 

On 5/25/2020 at 2:54 PM, AW127 said:

..Maybe the user can recognize it easier from the screen-filter than from the playability then. I guess the playability is closer to the original, than having the absolute perfect screenfilter that looks 100% like the original. This maybe also is not necessary, cause i guess the most users probably want to have a GOOD looking picture when a retro-game runs in an emulator/FPGA and not necessarily a "100percent looking like the original" picture.

That is my 1st criteria for telling the difference between SE/FPGA and original hardware.

 

On the flipside how many of us in, say, an arbitrary town or 50 mile radius would have our VCS'es or Atari 400/800's hooked to the same television that was tuned and color-adjusted the exact same way? So in that respect the differences in screen color, geometry, shadow masks, and video hookup, were accepted and expected differences. Just as the pixilated look of LCD with no filters or effects is yet another variance. Just another look. There is no right or wrong. Comes down to personal preference.

Edited by Keatah

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I will say that as an owner of a MiSTer FPGA, it is bar none the *best* gaming thing I have ever put together. I have built Raspberry Pi Retropie rigs for myself, friends and family. And the software emulation on these is great no doubt. But once you try the FPGA simulation you will think everything else (except the real console) is inferior. It is the closest to real console experience I have ever encountered. So much so that I no longer even use the real consoles for many of the cores available for this thing.

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I used to be rather skeptical about FPGAs, but it was more of a pushback reaction to occasional proselytizing from some of its more zealous proponents (it can get rather irritating). I've never doubted its better than emulation though, the question was of how much better, and is it really such a night and day difference as aforementioned zealots claim.

 

Having finally put my MiSTer together I must admit that, while certainly not of the "night & day" variety, that difference is substantial. Very substantial. The insidious lag, while not that obvious when you have nothing to compare it to, actually does make a difference. Playing action games now feels like somebody took a very fat monkey off  my back. Weaving through bullet patterns with 0-lag is like living in the matrix, it's friggin'  exhilirating. You can even somewhat feel it in other games, everything is just much snappier. It has totally revived my interest in console/twitch gaming.

 

The "minimalizm" & "purity" of the whole experience, which I used to snigger at, got me too. Being able to boot into your machine before the TV syncs is amazing, even though it sounds like such a small, irrelevant  thing. Ant the whole 'but it's hardware simulation!" angle, while virtually indistinguishable from emualtion, plays on your mind too.

 

And for somebody like me, who only displays retro on CRTs, there is the added bonus of perfect-IQ: straight out of the box, without endless fiddling with timings and settings.

 

So, yeah. I'm not deleting my emus or thrashing the RPi, these things still have their uses. What I really miss in FPGA is actually the Pause ability (not even the save games). Plus, some formats are still not available (eg tapes in 8 bit Atari). But it's the undisputed king, and being available at under 200$ for the setup (board+RAM+some cheap bits) it's really recommended.

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Posted (edited)

to be fair using a ras pi as your baseline is like being amazed cause up till this point you have been driving a ford fiesta then saying ya know what? this Bentley is more plush

 

of course it is, the best pi on the market is slower and lower spec than my 2013 office pc, so yea it takes forever to start up and you gotta tweak everything to make the most out of it (not to mention retroarch in itself makes the entire process denser) 

Edited by Osgeld

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On 7/11/2020 at 3:26 PM, Osgeld said:

using a ras pi as your baseline

Somebody was doing that?

 

Even if, it doesn't even work like that. Difference between a swanky PC and Pi in startup time exists, but is definitely not as observable as vs MiSTer. The horsepower  also doesn't play as huge role since we're mostly talking about 8-16 bit machines and most of them run fine on Pi. The lag is lower on MiSTer because it works differently, not because it has more GHz/RAM.

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On 7/11/2020 at 2:26 PM, Osgeld said:

to be fair using a ras pi as your baseline is like being amazed cause up till this point you have been driving a ford fiesta then saying ya know what? this Bentley is more plush

 

of course it is, the best pi on the market is slower and lower spec than my 2013 office pc, so yea it takes forever to start up and you gotta tweak everything to make the most out of it (not to mention retroarch in itself makes the entire process denser) 

 

If you use a Pi 3B+ with Amibian (a distro specifically designed to run UAE for the Amiga and nothing else) the boot-up time is about 10 seconds.  This is the only thing I've used a Raspberry Pi for and I'm not interested in using a Pi for multi-purpose emulation (I'd rather leave that to PCs and laptops).

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Posted (edited)
On 7/17/2020 at 1:56 PM, youxia said:

Somebody was doing that?

 

Even if, it doesn't even work like that. Difference between a swanky PC and Pi in startup time exists, but is definitely not as observable as vs MiSTer. The horsepower  also doesn't play as huge role since we're mostly talking about 8-16 bit machines and most of them run fine on Pi. The lag is lower on MiSTer because it works differently, not because it has more GHz/RAM.

 

Turning on hard GPU sync in retroarch eliminates input lag entirely on my setup.  I can also turn on runahead, but I don't feel a difference with it on or off if I have hard GPU sync enabled.  Everything plays just as well as on a mister and I get all extra things like shaders that mister doesn't offer.

 

I'm really starting to feel like FPGAs are the thing that some are fanatical about because it's more exclusive than software emulation.  Too many people have PCs, phones, tablets, SBCs and play old games on them now.  They need to feel like they know something everyone else doesn't.

 

Don't get me wrong, I like messing around with the mister and it serves the important purpose of being a small box that connects to my big TV and allows me to play old games while sitting on the couch, but for 8/16 bit games it's functionally equivalent to my PC/monitor at my desk and in many ways is lesser.

Edited by zetastrike
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6 hours ago, zetastrike said:

 

Turning on hard GPU sync in retroarch eliminates input lag entirely on my setup. 

Can you post links to tests confirming this?

 

I get what you say about "fanatical" attitude of some FPGA fans - I said as much myself in my post. But facts are facts, and what you say about MiSTer being "functionally equivalent" is simply not true. The differences (few frames of lag, boot up time, the, ahem "hardware simulation" aspect, and so on) might be unobservable or unimportant for some people, but they do exist and count for others.

 

@English Invader: I used Amiga on Pi3B+ and it's great overall, but also not cycle accurate. This makes some big games unplayable (It Came From The Desert, Barbarian and more). Its video-scaling is also imperfect (at least on a CRT).

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5 hours ago, youxia said:

Can you post links to tests confirming this?

 

I get what you say about "fanatical" attitude of some FPGA fans - I said as much myself in my post. But facts are facts, and what you say about MiSTer being "functionally equivalent" is simply not true. The differences (few frames of lag, boot up time, the, ahem "hardware simulation" aspect, and so on) might be unobservable or unimportant for some people, but they do exist and count for others.

 

@English Invader: I used Amiga on Pi3B+ and it's great overall, but also not cycle accurate. This makes some big games unplayable (It Came From The Desert, Barbarian and more). Its video-scaling is also imperfect (at least on a CRT).

This is exactly what I'm talking about with how asinine this has all become and why I ran the heck away from the CG Discord.  You're all LOOKING for problems and faults with things in order to justify the fanaticism.  Anything new comes out, be it an emulator, scaler, wireless controller, etc and immediately idiots do some "scientific" lag test and post a bunch of numbers that mean nothing in 99% of cases and hold it up as "see, it's not perfect, we need to wait for the next gadget that we preordered to get here.  If that's perfect, then you can play video games again."  I don't care at all, I don't feel any lag, it feels indistinguishable from any FPGA device in the same display, it has no impact in my performance in the game, I don't invent problems for the excuse of buying more stuff and to rationalize a lack of interest in actually playing video games.  In short, I'm happy with what I have, it works.  I know that's no bueno with the CG Discord crowd that demand absolute perfection down to the atoms, but that's a fool's errand.  What is perfect?  They're all chasing a dragon.

 

FPGAs are symbolic of what classic gaming has become in the last decade.  A bunch of people who aren't really interested in playing or talking about video games.

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2 hours ago, zetastrike said:

You're all LOOKING for problems and faults with things in order to justify the fanaticism.

Nonsense. There's nothing wrong with trying to improve things, that's one of the main things driving this hobby, most other ones too, and many things in the world in general. And making fantastical claims such as the one that "Turning on hard GPU sync in retroarch eliminates input lag entirely " is uninformed and needs calling out, otherwise it might mislead other people who are actually interested in this subject.

 

What's symptomatic of your little rant is that it contains a whole heap of "me"s and "I"s, and yet you try to project it as some universal truth. Newsflash: if it works for you, then it's perfectly fine! Go forth and enjoy!  But don't butt in in a vs thread and call people idiots just because somebody might have a different opinion, and also cares about the accuracy of technical claims.

 

The fact that you sound exactly like one of the me-me-me FPGA zealots you're trying to mock is an ironic bonus. And since my initial post was nothing like that - in fact I went well out of the way to underline my skepticism and dislike for this kinda attitude - then it's rather obvious you're just venting a long standing grudge in regard to this subject. Sorry, but I'm not interested this kind of tunnel-visioned timewasting.

 

 

 

 

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I like the idea of hardware level emulation and it's quest to perfectly replicate the original machines. I also like the options that software emulation brings that hardware does not, for example running polys at a higher resolution, performance enhancement and widescreen support. Both have a place for me.

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It's the middle of 2020, some 25 years since Software Emulation popped up on my radar. I find myself still preferring SE as opposed to FPGA. Though I don't diss on FPGA as much as I used to.

 

I continue to prefer SE because it let me create the AIO I dreamed about as a kid. And that idea and concept has become more important to me over the decades.

 

I don't demand perfection. For what is perfect? Were the original consoles perfect and that Zenith ChromaColour II perfect? Hardly. Each setup was different somehow, someway. And so are any recreations we have today.

 

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