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Best Emulation Box

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Sorry if this has been posted, but searching for "emulation box" returned 1000 hits. I looked through a couple of pages, but I didn't see this topic. I did see a related topic, but it was more about which is better to build and configure, not to use.

 

I'm looking for opinions on the best all-in-one emulation box. It looks like the best choices today are either RetroPie or a modded Xbox. I actually recently bought a modded Xbox from someone local, and it's...a bit of a mess. Coinops 8 is pretty cool, but I don't much care for the way the entire Xbox is configured. There are several emulators, many of which overlap in their content. I also need to look into how to get ROMs onto it, as the GBA emulator he loaded has no GBA ROMs - only GBC ROMs.

 

I found this, and it's very appealing:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/163083927910?ul_noapp=true

 

But it's also $300. I know it says it's out of stock, but he said he could build one for me, when I'm ready to purchase. It looks like the mother lode of emulation, and it includes several systems I can't experience today. A couple of drawbacks, though: I'm stuck using Xbox controllers, which means either a new 3rd party piece of junk or a used 1st party controller. No USB, no classic controllers. Also, there is no HDMI for the Xbox. I have a component cable, and I'm concerned about lag when my TV converts from analog to digital.

 

On the other hand, a Raspberry Pi setup is cheaper and has USB ports, which opens up the opportunity to use many more types of controllers. The dude I bought my modded Xbox from said he thought that RetroPi is junk, but he didn't go into details. I know that my Ultimate Intellivision Flashback from ByteKnight, which I love, runs RetroPi. I've had no problems with it, other than the PITA that is FTPing ROMs to it.

 

I have an Nvidia Shield Portable today, and I hook that up to the TV via HDMI and use the Nvidia wireless controller with it. It actually works great. Drawbacks are that there are only so many emulators available for Android, there is limited space on the device (not all emulators can read from the micro SD card), and as it gets older, the non-replaceable battery doesn't hold a charge like it used to.

 

So, for those of you using some kind of emulation box, what are you using, and what do you recommend? I like what that "monster" Xbox has to offer in its varied emulators, but I don't care for the limitations of component video or an Xbox controller.

Edited by dgdgagdae

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The Shield Portable you already have is hard to beat for versatility and quality. I think the best "emulation box" is just a PC (Windows has the most options, but Linux and Mac are fine) with an Xbox 360 controller. I certainly wouldn't pay some numpty $300 for the honor of setting up stuff you can do yourself.

 

I'm more and more intrigued by the super low end nowadays. The RetroBit Super Retrocade can play a lot of games and is easy to set up, just dump ROMs on an SD card. It's not amazing to look at, but it's functional. Retropie can do more. Both are weaker than your Shield.

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If you plan on working with disk images and roms and don't mind some setup time, you can get superb Grade A emulation with Stella, Altirra, Vice, WinUAE, and mame. These work best on mid-range x86 PCs. Those little Nucs are good, and so are Shuttle XPC Cubes.

 

PCs are great for really getting into a vintage platform, what with all their amenities and versatility when it comes to managing documentation, multiple configurations, ease of adding disk images, and near infinite customization.

Edited by Keatah
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These work best on mid-range x86 PCs. Those little Nucs are good, and so are Shuttle XPC Cubes.

... and they work fine on crappy low end netbooks with Atom or Celeron processors, too. The Dell Inspiron 11 or HP Stream machines can be found for cheap on eBay.

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The dude I bought my modded Xbox from said he thought that RetroPi is junk, but he didn't go into details.

Haha typical hardcore Coinbox stan atttitude. These guys crack me up...it's sort of commendable, to be so dedicated to your machine....but it's also mid 2018 and there are really better options than ye ol Xbox for an emu box. I definitely wouldn't pay 300$ for one! :)

 

I've researched it thoroughly about a year ago and Xbox was also an option (though my main angle was CRT connectivity) but ended up with a Wii. It's more modern/powerful, lightweight, you can use SD cards, easy to mod, native Gamecube/Wii games, no faffing with HDDs and so on. Downside is, MAME stuff sucks on it for some reason. But, you'd probably want Wii U if you need HDMI (very similar deal as with Wii regarding the rest).

 

Then I moved onto RPi, needed something portable, and it has dedicated RGB options. MAME works much better than on Wii. People run PSX/N64, even Dreamcast on it, though for me it's not powerful enough for that.

 

Overall you need to ask yourself what level of emulation are you happy with? RPi/Wii can handle anything up to, and mostly including 16 bit (there may be slowdowns in some SNES games, depending what settings you use to deal with lag).

 

For anything more the only option is a mini PC (what I'm building at the moment). Dependng on what your level of tolerance is for glitching and inaccuracy you could probably run PS2/Dreamcast on something i5 based with a moderate GPU, so it's possible to do it for that silly 300 bucks Xbox budget. Personally, I just want MAME and 16-bit so for me i3+any GPU is fine.

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If you plan on working with disk images and roms and don't mind some setup time, you can get superb Grade A emulation with Stella, Altirra, Vice, WinUAE, and mame. These work best on mid-range x86 PCs. Those little Nucs are good, and so are Shuttle XPC Cubes.

 

PCs are great for really getting into a vintage platform, what with all their amenities and versatility when it comes to managing documentation, multiple configurations, ease of adding disk images, and near infinite customization.

I was also thinking about the NUC may be the ultimate emulation box, though I don't have much experience with emus. Lately as I pile up consoles on shelves in my office I think how nice and uncluttered my life would be if I just built an emulation PC, but I dunno. Still struggling with the idea of playing games with generic controllers. I have a PS4 Hori Fighting Commander and it'd be perfect for anything that doesn't use analog sticks, but I dunno.

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I was also thinking about the NUC may be the ultimate emulation box, though I don't have much experience with emus. Lately as I pile up consoles on shelves in my office I think how nice and uncluttered my life would be if I just built an emulation PC, but I dunno. Still struggling with the idea of playing games with generic controllers. I have a PS4 Hori Fighting Commander and it'd be perfect for anything that doesn't use analog sticks, but I dunno.

 

Ikea Besta unit.

 

Base unit, different colors.

https://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/70299879/

 

Then attach doors, drawers, shelves, whatever you like

https://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/categories/departments/living_room/12152/

 

Have those consoles and controllers out of sight, out of mind when they aren't in use.

Edited by keepdreamin
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Ikea Besta unit.

 

Base unit, different colors.

https://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/70299879/

 

Then attach doors, drawers, shelves, whatever you like

https://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/categories/departments/living_room/12152/

 

Have those consoles and controllers out of sight, out of mind when they aren't in use.

 

Hey that's pretty cool. Wish I would've known about it, because I'd have gotten one of those instead of this cube organizer.

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Hey that's pretty cool. Wish I would've known about it, because I'd have gotten one of those instead of this cube organizer.

 

The BESTA system can be customized anyway you like. There's different sized doors of varying material (glass, gloss, matte, grain etc..). Drawers, shelving, shelve inserts, side units etc...

 

Also, that cube organizer you linked looks exactly like Ikea's Kallax system. They start with a 4x4 and offer larger and larger combos.

Edited by keepdreamin
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The RPi has some input lag, for pretty much everything. I remember playing shmups in MAME on x86 machines and never ran into this issue.

 

Perception is a funny old thing.

 

Everything has input lag - RPi, Wii, Xbox, x86 and even some original hardware like SNES: https://forums.libretro.com/t/an-input-lag-investigation/4407

Obviously, the degrees of it vary and so the original will have the the lowest value, followed by a powerful PC and the rest. It's not exactly news. That does not mean the other solutions should be discredited because the frame difference is often very small, even on an RPi. It all depends on a multitude of factors though and personal tolerance.

 

Then of course is your choice of controllers and display, both which may add substantial amounts of lag. So, in an extreme scenario some Beefy PC with crappy LCD and wireless controller can theoretically have more lag than my wired RPi hooked to a CRT.

 

The only way to have near-lagless setup is to get original hardware (good luck with MAME) and a CRT. After that, it's all a question of trade-offs and these are very relative.

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RPi 3, for me, was borderline unplayable on a host of systems, including those that aren't exactly challenging to emulate. Even SNES games and Genesis games were very obviously laggy compared to real hardware on the same TV (via OSSC). On a PC that can be mitigated, I'm sure, but the Pi is not great. The SNES Classic is much less laggy, at least with the built-in emulator. I haven't tried Retroarch on that system.

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On a PC that can be mitigated, I'm sure, but the Pi is not great.

Getting 4 frames of input lag with NES and 5-6 with SNES, like we do on Windows 10, is actually quite good and not trivial to improve. RetroPie is only 1 frame slower, but if we could make it match RetroArch on Windows 10 that would be awesome.

 

 

https://forums.libretro.com/t/an-input-lag-investigation/4407

 

Like I said, perception is a funny old thing. I followed enough of these hardcore enthusiasts debates to attest to that (I recommend the 24bit audiophile ones, most fun). Numerous biases present do not help at all, the invested-$ one and groupthink/elitist factors weighing the heaviest.

 

And if you, or anybody else can show me in a blind test that 1-2 frames of lag make a difference to you and it really affects your scores, then fair enough. The rest of us, who stay within a reasonable lag zone, would still just shrug and go back to playing.

 

Then of course you have the little niggles, like comparing a cheap multi-emu solution to a real hardware or a 10-15 times more expensive PC. And we are still talking 1, 2 maybe 3 frames of lag, even on SNES Mini/Classic. Unobservable difference to most people. Well, I did mention trade-offs earlier, for RPi the slightly weaker performance is mitigated by cheap price, portability, huge community, lots of documentation and so on. That matters to some.

 

Anyway, I've done one of these pointless exchanges not long ago (Retron thread) so I will say my bye-byes here. My final advice to OP is to think about it carefuly - while the lag definitely matters it's not as bad as some obsessives paint it, and the danger is it's easy to go down a deep rabbit hole with this.

Ultimately, if you have the funds and ability, I definitely recommend building a mini-PC. Or even buying a cheap laptop, though that is more limiting. But, other solutions are totally viable too.

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Perception is a funny old thing.

 

Everything has input lag - RPi, Wii, Xbox, x86 and even some original hardware like SNES: https://forums.libretro.com/t/an-input-lag-investigation/4407

Obviously, the degrees of it vary and so the original will have the the lowest value, followed by a powerful PC and the rest. It's not exactly news. That does not mean the other solutions should be discredited because the frame difference is often very small, even on an RPi. It all depends on a multitude of factors though and personal tolerance.

 

Then of course is your choice of controllers and display, both which may add substantial amounts of lag. So, in an extreme scenario some Beefy PC with crappy LCD and wireless controller can theoretically have more lag than my wired RPi hooked to a CRT.

 

The only way to have near-lagless setup is to get original hardware (good luck with MAME) and a CRT. After that, it's all a question of trade-offs and these are very relative.

 

 

Funny has nothing to do with it. The RPi has more frames of lag than all that other stuff you listed. Perception isn't involved, it's just how it is. The difference isn't small, it is very noticeable, like derFunkenstein mentioned. It's worse than my consoles through a Framemeister with fast LCD (which it self introduces 20ms, before the display has anything to say). Worse than a SNES classic edition with fast LCD, which itself felt comparable to SNES hardware through the Framemeister. Way worse than original hardware+OSSC+fast LCD (RPi3 has been played on this same TV, whose input lag is just 1/2 a frame behind a CRT). Worse than my old softmodded xbox. More lag than playing arcade games on an old PC. which felt immediately responsive..

 

If responsive gameplay is your goal, the RPi isn't near the top of the options list. Simply because you're fine with the RPi results, doesn't mean others are discredited when they talk about the lag. Insulting others as obsessive or hardcore simply because they haven't toed the line with your cheap option, will get you nowhere, other than actually sounding more pompous and stubborn than the people you're trying to insult. I've been involved with emulation in some form since the mid to late 90's. Old PCs by todays standards, softmodded consoles, portable PSP etc.. keep going. The RPi with a fast display is still more lag than a lot of other devices I've used over the years. You have to drop to the likes of the Neo Geo X to find something worse.

Edited by keepdreamin
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The best emulation box is a PC. It doesn't have to be a huge one--you can build a tiny, small form factor rig that is far more powerful than any console or Pi solution.

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The best emulation box is a PC. It doesn't have to be a huge one--you can build a tiny, small form factor rig that is far more powerful than any console or Pi solution.

 

This is simply fact. The standard x86 machines have long been the basis on which 99% of emulators are originally built. Like I said, I've messed with emulation off and on with standard PCs since the Genecyst and SNES9x days of the late 90's. Lag was never an issue (unless it was rarely emulator specific, something like SSF for the Saturn. That had nothing to due with hardware or displays), but contrary to that - people have been mentioning lag with the RPi since day one that thing hit the scene. Even with fast displays it's still noticeable, just look around at all the Pi threads on the net mentioning custom settings, driver tweaks, all of which don't improve all that much and often wind up causing more problems.

 

A PC emulator box can be as complicated or simple as you want it to be. If you want to run modern stuff like Dolphin in high res, you'll want some more recent gear. If the goal is 16bit and older, you can get away with a 15+ year old PC off craigslist. The NUC is a nice option, but if you feel like throwing stuff together yourself, there's plenty of smallish Media Center PC cases you can toss whatever hardware together with.

Edited by keepdreamin
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Also, using a CRT with the Pi to me sounds like buying a slow car and tearing out the soundproofing to try and make it a bit lighter and faster. You're just attempting to cover up with a band aid, instead of correcting the root issue, being you should have got a faster ride to begin with.

 

I'm using a 6series TCL4K set now, for everything retro+modern, with lag around 17ms. That number is measured at the center of the screen. Like CRTs, LCDs start drawing at the top and finish on the bottom. A measurement at the top will be less than the middle, which is less than the bottom. The fastest a CRT can be is 16.67ms (1 frame), measured at the very bottom as the final line is drawn. So if you were to take a comparable measurement mid screen (like they do for HDTVs), a CRT would clock in at just over 8ms in mid frame draw.

 

That means my current set is just 9-10 ms behind a CRT (someone please correct me if my math is off). That's damn quick. Plugging my RPi3 up to this display, I can easily feel the lag. It's very noticeable. I plug up an OSSC with original hardware to this display and it's night and day. It feels just as responsive as using a CRT, I can't tell that 9-10ms difference at all.

 

So what does that mean with emulation? I remember playing shmups on a PC with a CRT monitor, no apparent lag. I plug an x86 device to this set, I don't feel any lag. PC is the clear answer for the ultimate rom box.

Edited by keepdreamin

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I had some success with a Dreamcast back in the early 2000's. It took a shit ton of effort, the right version of Nero but I made some good emu disks for it. 2600, 5200, and Colecovision. I hacked an atari compatible 9 pin Dsub connector into a controller so I could plug in regular joysticks. It was no way the best but it was fun to get it all to work.

I have an original XBOX that boots and works, but have not gotten around to modding it nor do I have the time. Wish I could find a disk image for it for free or cheap.

 

$300? no way.

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The thing about old Xbox is that you have to crack it. Maybe it's gotten easier, but when I did mine, I had to have Splinter Cell, a certain kind of trick memory card, and the blood of a young chicken or somesuch. Once you have the encryption key, everything gets way simpler, but it's still less plug-n-play than most people want to do, FTP over a network.

 

The Wii is easy to softmod and runs emulators well, too. As I recall it's about at Retropie difficulty. I should work up my old Wii ... but with so many other better solutions, what's the point?

 

And now, to open up this Toshiba Chromebook 2 I just got from eBay, to see what can be done to it. I think it's the older one with a soldered SSD, but we shall see.

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I've made it so I no longer need to stockpile physical retail retro games, but I'll be the first to admit I could have built the greatest emulator rig ever. With all the money spent on upscalers, SCART cables, switchers, controllers, original hardware, Everdrives, SD cards, Optical Drive Emulators, etc... Most of that could have EASILY been handled by a really nice PC setup, and for a lot less.

Edited by keepdreamin
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Can someone tell me where the Rpi3 has the most noticeable lag? Zero agenda here.. I'd just like to check it out myself and see if it's something I'd notice immediately or am I just unable to tell. :)

 

My "emulation box"s I like to keep around if you don't count handheld emulation on the PSP, DS, GBA, etc, are a handful of Xbox's (my original choice many years ago), a Wii, an Rpi3, and..

 

Yes, the best is a friggin good PC with HDMI out (I use a wireless xbox 360 pad), I made mine out of recycled hardware after upgrading, but it is still pretty powerful (core i7, 16 gigs ram, and a decent GPU) and the advantage is it can run most emulators at full speed without an issue whether it's Higan, Sega Saturn, PS2, or even the more demanding Mame games that would run pretty sluggishly on a lower-spec'd system. It also serves as an obvious media box playing any format, local or streaming without issue. Works great man.. if you have an extra PC lying around, make the space and shove that thing next to your TV! :lol:

Edited by NE146

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Can someone tell me where the Rpi3 has the most noticeable lag? Zero agenda here.. I'd just like to check it out myself and see if it's something I'd notice immediately or am I just unable to tell. :)

 

 

The lag is present in any of the normal retroarch emulator cores for it, SNES, Genesis, MAME etc.. On the same display: try it up against an original SNES with an OSSC or Framemeister. Try it against a SNES classic mini. Try it against a PC with SNES emulator. You should be able to tell the difference.

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I still use XBOX for the ultimate easy multicart for all 8/16-bit systems. You can find them for about 20 bucks, and a couple hours of labor and you're up and running.

 

Pros:

* Everything is very fast, controllable with one XBOX controller, and everything is mapped for that controller. All emulators (XPORT, etc.) use the same controller layout.

* I can pull all my ROMs from a network share on my PC, so I don't have to upgrade the hard drive if I don't want. Even SegaCD, TurboCD, etc. pull ISO/MP3 over the network with no lag.

* You can reset it from the controller (IGR) if you need to. The SD card doesn't get corrupted after using it 2-3 times like the Pi.

* Works in SD or HD with the right cables. You can convert to HDMI with a cheap box.

* All the emulators work great in 720p, pixel-perfectly if you want, and if you want filters, they use ~0% CPU.

* The emulators are *still* updated occasionally, even after 18 years. Most don't need it, though.

* There are tons of themes for all the emulators, but I don't use them at all- NO themes. Just super-quick access to everything like a multi-cart on a real console (but better, no SD cards).

* They run about $20, and soft or hard modding them is super easy. If you can't figure it out, find a tech friend to do it for you.

* Tons of 2001-2006 games, which are cheap to collect.

 

Cons:

* No 240p, if you want that. The Wii has 240p, but RetroArch is a pain in the ass with video settings and pretty much everything. Very poor UI design and it locks up constantly or has to be screwed with whenever switching "cores". When you do get it set up it does look nice on a CRT, though.

* You should remove the clock capacitor because it will eat up the board if left too long.

 

I have never used the big Coin-ops distributions, so I can't speak to that. The video in the above auction looks like a customized XBMC theme with all the emulators. You are paying $280 labor for that, which may be worth it to you if you just want plug/play.

 

The RPi is slower and buggy to me in my testing. Some people swear by it- I've never seen it work as well as my XBOX. The controller mapping, slow UI, etc. is a deal-killer.

Edited by R.Cade

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