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Metal Jesus

First Review of RetroN 77

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What makes you believe so? What kind of magic do you expect to happen just because it is hardware emulation?

 

Effectively the opposite is true. Since software can be updated regularly, it will stay compatible even with never games.

 

Can't the cores of an FPGA be updated regularly?

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Yes, through firmware updates. This is how the Super NT received updates so quickly after the release to fix bugs and support other systems.

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A FPGA based emulator is still precisely that: an emulator. It is written in Verilog or VHDL, and it is compiled to a dedicated arrangement of gates instead of an executable for a general purpose machine, but it still remains an emulator, not a recreation of the original hardware. Its faithfulness depends on the accuracy the hardware model, just as with a software emulator.

 

If you want to plug in and play original hardware cartridges, just get yourself a VCS — that’s the only way to do really achieve 100% compatibility ;) Other than that, there is no reason to expect more from a FPGA that from a software emulator.

 

I believe it is the dedicated arrangement of gates and no OS to get in the way is what makes the FPGA a better choice for the hardcore gamer. And those gamers would agree. They gush and wax poetic over the fidelity and accuracy and zero-lag. And they're glad to be relived of messing with software emulation's configuration "nightmare". Just saying what they say. Don't shoot the messenger.

 

Some people say the same can be achieved with software emulation written directly on the CPU, and accessing the necessary I/O ports directly. Essentially having no OS. Just the emulator .exe and that's it. I'm sure that's possible and I'm sure that was done in the early DOS days back in the late 1980's and early 1990's. But presently, today, no. No one is doing it. Therefore it doesn't exist.

 

Somewhere along the way these these API's got in the way, bloating things up, and bogging things down. The FPGA doesn't have to deal with that.

 

And that's why people give software emulation (as it's implemented today) a bad rap.

 

Concerning lag: as Stephen already said, typical input lag with Stella (and any other good emulator) is about one frame — that’s 20msec at most, about an order of magnitude below human reaction speed. I am convinced that is much too low for most people to even notice. To put things into perspective: sound travels 7 meters in 20msec. In addition, games usually process input only once per frame, too.

 

I have yet to set up a test bench for checking that on Windows 10. But I heard that a USB keyboard on W10 introduces 190ms of lag straight away. And that's because of the USB protocols.

 

I hear that PS/2 or AT keyboards are polled fast enough to be essentially lagless at 5ms. Anyone care to comment and confirm this?

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Please tell me exactly which adaptors on the RetroUSB page are causing you issues.

 

I already have the SNES version (and original SNES controller) to use for testing. I'd be willing to purchase both a Genesis and Atari version to do further testing. There is currently no point in me buying the NES one, since I don't have an NES controller (unless someone wants to donate one :) ).

It was an older version of the nes adapter, and the snes adapter. I was getting the bug (Stella ignores the first four button inputs) using an older version of Stella on Windows 7 64-bit. The SNES adapter that you have from Retrousb is the correct adapter version.

 

Windows control panel will detect A button as button 5. Stella detects it as button 1. Buttons 1-4 are Start/Select/B/Y on the SNES controller (I frget the exact order) pressing either of these on the Stella configuration screen will not be detected because Stella couldn't read buttons 1-4. The older NES v1 of this controller adapter did not work because the NES only output A/B/Start/Select as the first four buttons (which Stella couldn't read) and nothing on buttons 5-8.

 

Other users had the same issue with the Syzygy usb controller. There were 8 buttons showing in the Windows control panel. Fire mapped to button 1. The other inputs were inaccessible or unused. Stella could not detect presses of the Fire button on this specific stick, presumably because like the RetroUSB adapters, it ignored the first four inputs. I don't own one for testing.

 

Finally the issues presented were posted in the forums around 2014, so they may already have been fixed in current versions of Stella.

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I see the R77 as a compromise, like many projects. It tries to bring the cartridge experience home for a low cost. It does that. For most cartridges, but not all.

 

If they tripled the price to a little over $200, perhaps they might have forgone whatever SoC + software they use now and programmed an FPGA instead. They would likely gain compatibility with Harmony/Melody, DPC+, extraRAM, multigame 16-in-one types, and Supercharger. Do it right and it wouldn't matter what kind of cartridge was used. It would simply work.

 

That's what the gamers and collectors see and want.

 

 

 

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I see the R77 as a compromise, like many projects. It tries to bring the cartridge experience home for a low cost. It does that. For most cartridges, but not all.

 

If they tripled the price to a little over $200, perhaps they might have forgone whatever SoC + software they use now and programmed an FPGA instead. They would likely gain compatibility with Harmony/Melody, DPC+, extraRAM, multigame 16-in-one types, and Supercharger. Do it right and it wouldn't matter what kind of cartridge was used. It would simply work.

 

That's what the gamers and collectors see and want.

 

As a proud AVS and Super NT owner, I approve this. There's no comparison with the AVS and Super NT compared to janky emulator/dumper solutions like the Retron5/Retrofreak.

 

Pitfall II not running is inexcusable, even if I can forgive the DCP+ stuff. I still believe it may be possible to get working dumps of the ARM homebrews assuming the banks containing the ARM code are accessible and readable through the cartridge bus. I can also see Retron77 being used to dump homebrews or other rare games directly to SD Card for later retrieval using a hacked firmware. Retrofreak allowed this out of the box, but it encrypted the ROMs preventing them running on external hardware.

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What kills me most about emulation haters is they dump all over emulation when done on PC the traditional way but as soon as someone does it "officially" it's all good. Take the recent release of Donkey Kong on the Switch, people who would normally rage on playing the arcade version any other way than a real arcade cabinet are now suddenly perfectly fine to play it using Nintendos emulator. They somehow think Nintendo "isn't emulating" or their emulator is somehow better.

 

Ain't that the truth bro! Buncha goddammned hypocrites if you ask me.

 

The "WintelPC + emulation" stench is completely overpowering. And it's a stigma that's growing like a fast cancer.

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What kills me most about emulation haters is they dump all over emulation when done on PC the traditional way but as soon as someone does it "officially" it's all good. Take the recent release of Donkey Kong on the Switch, people who would normally rage on playing the arcade version any other way than a real arcade cabinet are now suddenly perfectly fine to play it using Nintendos emulator. They somehow think Nintendo "isn't emulating" or their emulator is somehow better.

Donkey Kong played on an original arcade cabinet with an original board is official. Donkey Kong played on the Switch is official.

 

Playing Donkey Kong in Mame is unofficial. Playing Donkey Kong on a 60-in-1 jamma pcb is unofficial. Crazy Kong is unofficial.

 

Get what I am saying here? For the first time, we have an officially licensed by Nintendo Donkey Kong running the real arcade ROM on modern hardware. Nintendo has provided leaderboards for the switch arcade port which, barring future hacking efforts, are just as legitamate for bragging rights as Twin Galaxies or other record keepers.

 

Some people scoff at unlicensed solutions which required pirated roms, which, despite the gaming community turning a blind eye or even supporting such activities, is illegal. It's why people collect legitamized mini arcades running noac or licensed arm ports, because even though it's inferior to original hardware, it is sold legally with the blessings of the rights holders.

 

And I for one am glad to see emulation getting legitamized, even if it means having a less than ideal setup such as cart dumper paired with emulator. Vintage electronics and games, which were licensed at the time they were sold, come with a legally binding, non-revocable, transferrable first sale doctrine. This means that it is legal to obtain and play the games off physical media. The Retron77 creates a single archival copy of the software, which is deleted immediately as soon as the cartridge is removed or power disconnected.

 

Hence, the device is compliant with copyright law as it has a legal purpose (playing physical games) and cannot be used, in stock configuration, to create illegal backups. If a user downloads copyrighted ROMs and loads them on the SD card, or hacks the firmware to allow making illegal backups, then the user is responsible for any infringement caused by the device, not Hyperkin. Out of the box, it plays legally aquired cartrige ROMs.

 

So while the solution may be imperfect or inelegantcompared to say a full fledged fpga console, it serves it's purpose while complying with legal requirements.

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I fully get what you are saying, but all I am saying is that there are people out there that scoff at "non official" emulation and think it is somehow automatically inferior and lesser quality when in fact the unofficial emulation is much better.

Look at the NES and SNES minis for example, even though both are official and do an acceptable job for the vast majority of people they are in fact very much inferior to the best quality PC emulators of those systems. Mesen and Higan are are much better emulators while Nintendos Minis are basically on par with a Raspberry Pi which many of the emulation haters look down upon as if it is some sort scourge.

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Nintendos Minis are basically on par with a Raspberry Pi which many of the emulation haters look down upon as if it is some sort scourge.

 

 

I realize this is a tangential point, but the SNES classic has been tested to have significantly lower input latency than a Pi running SNES emulation, so closer to the original hardware in that respect. This, along with the included first party SNES controllers and replica case, make the classic the superior solution of the two in my view.

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Some good number of years ago I explained to my girlfriend that they were making all these old arcade games so that they could be played at home, with the correct sounds, the correct graphics, the correct gameplay. The same code that was running in arcade machines. The real deal, you know, and she was all excited. Then her face turned sour and asked if this was on the PC. Had to say yes. And she lost all interest.

 

So again, PC stigma. To avoid sounding like a nichegeek I didn't further the discussion.

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I fully get what you are saying, but all I am saying is that there are people out there that scoff at "non official" emulation and think it is somehow automatically inferior and lesser quality when in fact the unofficial emulation is much better.

Look at the NES and SNES minis for example, even though both are official and do an acceptable job for the vast majority of people they are in fact very much inferior to the best quality PC emulators of those systems. Mesen and Higan are are much better emulators while Nintendos Minis are basically on par with a Raspberry Pi which many of the emulation haters look down upon as if it is some sort scourge.

I've answered that already. Much of the unofficial solutions are a legal quagmire. The emulator itself may be legal, as is playing homebrew or pd roms on it. However the act of obtaining copyrighted roms, for the most part, is illegal, unless you dump it youself from a cartrifge you legally own (retron, etc).

 

When you buy a licensed emulation of a copyrighted rom from a storefront, where all required legal fees and negotiations have been fulfilled, you are playing an official product. It doesn't matter the form factor, refurbing a vintage arcade machine, original cart from a secondhand store, tv plug-n-play, micro arcade / handheld, or digital download in a game console or smart device, you are buying a product that is 100% official, and is yours to play and enjoy.

 

An SD card full of roms shoved into a Raspberry Pi is not a legitamate source for aquiring a license, neither are the bootleg Famicom plug-n-plays that used to proliferate shopping malls circa 2005. Collectors don't want unofficial merchandise. Gamers might be less picky. Some don't care about legal restrictions, others do.

 

But when an old arcade game like Donkey Kong gets relicensed for the first time since 1981, it is big news. Pacman, not so much, as it's been done to death over the years. But for true Nintendo enthusiasts tired of the endless NES Donkey Kong Virtual Console rehashes, access to the original Donkey Kong Arcade game in a sanctioned digital store is huge. You know what would be even better? A licensed tabletop Donkey Kong reissue!

 

But I'll take what I can get. I've supported sanctioned emulation solutions. NES / SNES classic mini, Nintendo Virtual Console spanning 3 systems, My Arcade Namco noac 6" arcade cabs, Namco Museum compilations, Namco plug-n-plays, and hardware projects as well. AVS / NT Mini, UltraHDMI N64, Game Cube dongle, etc. So I'll be damned if I'm not excited about Donkry Kong coming to Switch. And dK Jr. And Mario Bros Arcade. Possibly Ice Climbers as well.VS arcade games. Not sure about Popeye as it may be a licensing nightmare.

 

But to sit there and argue "unofficial / piracy is better" when affordable legal solutions exist, I'm not buying it. And I will continue to support legal and licensed ports of old ip when I can, irregardless of whether I can still "emulate for free" like the filthy pirate I am. But when I do play my curated collections of ill-gotten ROMs, I prefer to play them on authentic hardware using real flash carts. It's just how I roll... :ahoy:

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...and speaking of Higan, here is byuu’s take on FPGA vs emulation:

 

https://byuu.org/articles/what-is-emulation/

Yep. I remember this being posted in the Super NT / FPGA / Zimba 3000 thread. So much butthurt and animosity between the emulation and fpga camps. Both communities coexist and share findings. Why can't we just all be friends and accept they sre two very different sides of the same coin?
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I realize this is a tangential point, but the SNES classic has been tested to have significantly lower input latency than a Pi running SNES emulation, so closer to the original hardware in that respect. This, along with the included first party SNES controllers and replica case, make the classic the superior solution of the two in my view.

Actually tests have been done showing it has slightly more input latency than a Pi, there is a giant thread on input lag over on the Retroarch forums. They are very close but compared to a proper PC and settings they are much higher.

On a side note, contrary to popular belief real hardware has some input latency, Brunnis' testing showed that some SNES games have as much as 4 frames of lag using real hardware on a CRT.

 

@Kosmic Stardust, I'm not talking about legal versus illegal, I am only talking from a pure user experience and the quality of it in terms of raw gameplay, nothing more.

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I realize this is a tangential point, but the SNES classic has been tested to have significantly lower input latency than a Pi running SNES emulation, so closer to the original hardware in that respect. This, along with the included first party SNES controllers and replica case, make the classic the superior solution of the two in my view.

 

R-Pi isn't a good benchmark platform. It's cheap. It's underpowered for the task. It's like a Ferrari with a minispare.

 

 

I fully get what you are saying, but all I am saying is that there are people out there that scoff at "non official" emulation and think it is somehow automatically inferior and lesser quality when in fact the unofficial emulation is much better.

Look at the NES and SNES minis for example, even though both are official and do an acceptable job for the vast majority of people they are in fact very much inferior to the best quality PC emulators of those systems. Mesen and Higan are are much better emulators while Nintendos Minis are basically on par with a Raspberry Pi which many of the emulation haters look down upon as if it is some sort scourge.

 

Official emulation is done for love of profit. Development stops when "good enough" is achieved.

Unofficial emulation is done for love of the hobby. Development is ongoing and doesn't stop.

 

I'm an SE lover and I still look down on the R-Pi. I love to hate it. It's a alright for some systems and some custom mini-barcade type setups. But the true SE enthusiast is going to use much more capable hardware.

Edited by Keatah
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On a side note, contrary to popular belief real hardware has some input latency, Brunnis' testing showed that some SNES games have as much as 4 frames of lag using real hardware on a CRT.

 

Emulation haters automatically by default normalize the genuine console to zero lag in all discussions, all games. Whatever the true measured lag is, one scanline, 4 frames, whatever it may be, is set to zero and all software emulation compared against that - preferably on less-than-ideal hardware, like an R-Pi.

 

Just as bad as the flat earthers.

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But when an old arcade game like Donkey Kong gets relicensed for the first time since 1981, it is big news. Pacman, not so much, as it's been done to death over the years. But for true Nintendo enthusiasts tired of the endless NES Donkey Kong Virtual Console rehashes, access to the original Donkey Kong Arcade game in a sanctioned digital store is huge. You know what would be even better? A licensed tabletop Donkey Kong reissue!

 

They're easily amused.

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Yep. I remember this being posted in the Super NT / FPGA / Zimba 3000 thread. So much butthurt and animosity between the emulation and fpga camps. Both communities coexist and share findings. Why can't we just all be friends and accept they are two very different sides of the same coin?

 

..BECAUSE!

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Actually tests have been done showing it has slightly more input latency than a Pi, there is a giant thread on input lag over on the Retroarch forums. They are very close but compared to a proper PC and settings they are much higher.

 

 

Yep, that’s the thread I’m referring to, relevant parts bolded below:

 

 

We can see that the SNES Mini with it’s default emulator (Canoe) is pretty fast. A real SNES on a CRT would achieve ~3.3 frames in our test case and the SNES Mini achieves ~4.6 frames if we remove the Samsung TV’s input lag. That’s just ~1.3 frames (~22 ms) behind the real thing. That’s pretty awesome and a job well done by Nintendo, especially given the low computational performance of the Mini’s hardware. The real problem for most people will be that their TV’s add quite a lot of input lag on top of this.

 

We can also see that the default RetroPie is painfully slow at 8 frames (7 if we remove the Samsung TV’s input lag). Remeber that 8 frames is what we achieve with this comparably fast TV (1 frame of input lag is pretty much as fast as TVs go currently) and a very fast input method. Most people will use standard USB gamepads with standard USB polling rates (125 Hz) and TV’s that add 2 or more frames of lag. The average RetroPie user running a stock setup on his TV might therefore have a total input lag of ~10 frames (167 ms). That’s definitely very noticeable and quite distracting. Please note that a game with less built-in lag than Super Mario World might reduce that figure by 1-2 frames, but it’s still not looking very good.

It’s interesting to see how the RetroPie setup reacts when we, one by one, apply the known input lag reducing settings. Combining them all, we can actually match the SNES Mini. However, this is slightly misleading, as there are a few drawbacks to using these settings. Using the Dispmanx video driver means you lose the ability to use shaders as well as the on screen text (for example when saving). The video_max_swapchain_images=2 setting is also very demanding and many SNES games will not run fullspeed with it enabled. You probably can use it together with the other input lag reducing settings for select 8-bit and 16-bit games, but it would be a bit cumbersome to setup and in that case I’d recommend switching to a more powerful platform (such as x86) instead. Choosing the middle ground of using the Dispmanx driver and disabling threaded video is certainly possible. This works perfectly for NES/SNES and will put you within a frame of the SNES Mini, given a fast enough input device.

 

So basically since you can’t realistically use all the performance optimizations on the Pi without slowing down the emulation, it still ends up behind the SNES classic.

Edited by Jstick

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@Kosmic Stardust, I'm not talking about legal versus illegal, I am only talking from a pure user experience and the quality of it in terms of raw gameplay, nothing more.

This is a big part of it. Collectors and many games want official stuff. They want a zero config, off the shelf, packaged solution that's ready to play. Raspberry Pis and any implementation of MAME in particular are pain in the ass to setup.

 

So what you are overlooking is most unofficial solutions get lost in the endless configuration options, or they're straight up bootleggarbage when/if a prepackaged, unlicensed solution appears. The commercial stuff is good quality and works. It's in between botique, hobbiest grade projects and pirate/cloned trash. Overall Nintendo tends to be on the high end of quality with the stuff they put out.

 

So again, I reiterate, most collectors and many gamers appreciate the professional package and ease of use that comes with commercially licensed products.

 

You can argue all you want that certain unofficial implementations of emulators may offer better accuracy or latency compared to licensed products. But tell me, can you just unbox a Raspberry Pi, plug it into a TV, and start playing? It doesn't work like that. You gotta burn an image to an SD card, hook up keyboard, do the command line thing, configure a usb controller, put ROMs on the thumb drive, etc... Can you unbox an NES Classic, plug into a TV, and start gaming? Yes. Nintendo Switch? Yes. A PC emulator? No. AVS? Super NT? Of course. Cute little mini arcade packages they sell at Walmart? Yep.

 

Porta Pi Arcade kit just arrived in the mail from retrobuiltgames? You've got a crapton of work ahead of you before you can finally press that vanity "insert coin" button in Donkey Kong and start jumping barrels... :P

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Porta Pi Arcade kit just arrived in the mail from retrobuiltgames? You've got a crapton of work ahead of you before you can finally press that vanity "insert coin" button in Donkey Kong and start jumping barrels... :P

 

You can configure it while you're in the porta-potti. Keep all the shit together. In one place, in the spirit of less mess.

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That's just it. Many are under the impression that FPGA is hardware re-creation. It is not. It's actually emulation or simulation (choose your semantics). Ask any FPGA developer.

 

FPGA, like SE, is simply the canvas upon which the developer paints the system.

 

 

I've seen a lot of comments about how an FPGA is simulation or emulation. I'm interested in hearing the reasoning behind these statements, because I don't agree with them. Well, let me be more specific, and say that in general I don't agree with these statements. In some cases I may be willing to concede the point.

Take the example of an FPGA design that is solely the result of reverse engineering and observation of a device's behavior in the presence of controlled stimuli. In this case, the device is a black box, and the FPGA designer can't see the actual circuitry inside of it. All he can do is observe how it behaves. Even though the FPGA may behave identically to the original device, there's no way of telling if the FPGA design is identical to the circuit design inside the device. For this particular FPGA design, I would be willing to call it circuit emulation.
Now take for example the FPGA design of the TIA chip in my Atari 2600 device. Since I was working from the actual Atari schematics for the TIA chip, I was able to implement the exact circuits in the FPGA. In this case, it is not circuit emulation. It is in fact a recreation of the TIA chip implemented with contemporary CMOS digital logic, and I will go as far as to say that it is as much a real TIA chip as any of the TIA chips that Atari produced over the years.
Anyway, to make a point here, an FPGA design that aims to recreate an existing device is not by default emulation or simulation. It really depends on how the FPGA designer implemented it.
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