11 votes

I want an emulation box for my TV. What options best fit my needs?

Note: I wasn't sure whether to post this in ~games or ~tech, so if it needs to be moved, feel free to put it where it belongs!

I've been playing my Playstation Classic a lot, and it's made me want to setup a full emulation box for my TV. I started looking into options and quickly got in over my head, so I'm hoping you fine folks can help me sort this out.

Caveat: I am somewhat techy, but not nearly to the same level as the average Tildes user.

Here is a rundown for what I'm going for:

  • Systems: I want to be able to emulate up through the Dreamcast with no slowdown (or, at least, no slowdown as a result of my hardware--if it's natural to the original console or a limitation of the emulator, that's fine).

  • Input: I want to use a wireless controller for input. Ideally six face buttons and four shoulders, so that it can easily stand in for almost all common controller layouts.

  • Graphics: If possible, I'd like to be able to enhance the eye candy a bit with things like upscaling, increasing the internal resolution, and shaders. This would be nice to have, but is not a necessity. Running at fullspeed in the original with no enhancements is the target minimum, though.

  • Footprint: Something up to the size of, well, a retro game console. I don't want a full PC next to my TV, but it doesn't have to be the size of a credit card either.

  • Budget: Let's go with under $400 USD? Given the cost of a Raspberry Pi that seems like overkill, but I know the Pi can't do all the way up to N64/Dreamcast, and I'm not sure how much more power those need. That price limit is flexible if I'm being unreasonable with my expectations.

With all that in mind, here are my questions:

  1. What hardware best suits my needs? I am not interested in building my own and am seeking pre-built solutions.

  2. What controller is best? I'd prefer to have a one-size-fits-all solution, rather than swapping them out. Six face buttons would help make the Genesis, Saturn, and N64 feel more natural, but I suspect that might be hard to come by?

  3. It looks like Retroarch is definitely the way to go for easy setup, but there seem to be a lot of different standalone options (e.g. Lakka, RetroPie, Recalbox). Which one should I go with? I should add that I really only care about ease of use and simplicity. I do not need something flashy, and the less friction in both setup and use, the better.

  4. Any other tips, pieces of advice, or resources? I don't have a lot of experience with emulation, so a lot of this is uncharted territory for me, hence my uncertainty and need for guidance.

6 comments

  1. vili Link
    Have you looked at Nvidia Shield? It's an Android TV based media box that is powerful enough to run many emulators. Do research it a bit though, as the Dreamcast emulation in particular seems to...

    Have you looked at Nvidia Shield? It's an Android TV based media box that is powerful enough to run many emulators. Do research it a bit though, as the Dreamcast emulation in particular seems to have some issues on Android.

    Now, I don't actually own a Shield myself, but it's something that I have been looking at for a while as a solution to replace my ageing htpc.

    The Shield would be within your budget and there is a version with a controller as well. I'm pretty sure you can also use other controllers, including USB based retro controllers - the system is marketed as a gamer's media box. You can also use it to stream games from your PC and from Nvidia's own online library.

    That said, it is my understanding that when you move into emulating sixth generation console systems like Dreamcast, PS2, GameCube and Xbox, you really need a gaming PC. If you already have one, or a powerful enough laptop, you could in theory use those to run the emulator and stream the game to the Shield and your TV. That of course isn't as straightforward as running something directly from a box under your TV. Streaming also causes some lag, and probably requires using a wired home network, rather than wifi. But then, buying a Shield is more straightforward than building a small gaming PC. You win some, you lose some.

    Anyway, take a look at the Shield. It may be what you are looking for. Or not.

    8 votes
  2. Amarok Link
    The cheapest solution I can think of is using an Nvidia Shield. I bought one just for this purpose (and 4k/x265 video playback). I wrote a bit about that in this older comment. The only thing I'm...

    The cheapest solution I can think of is using an Nvidia Shield. I bought one just for this purpose (and 4k/x265 video playback). I wrote a bit about that in this older comment.

    The only thing I'm a bit grey on is the horsepower and the controllers. The original Xbox could emulate all of that and even some PS1 games (on a Pentium III) so I have to believe that the Shield's got enough horsepower to handle at least PS1/Xbox games, and any generation preceding them. A quick search seems to support that, it can do N64/Dreamcast. The maturity of the emulator itself has a lot to do with that, though. Android has RetroArch and lots of other emulators all sitting free in the app store, so setting them up was easy, but you may run into some issues with some emulators under RetroArch - it's a newish open source project and still has some work ahead to catch up to the standalone emulators for some systems. It'll get there, though, it's a far better concept than standalone emulators. It's just young.

    I'm not sure how many controllers the Shield can handle - I only have the one that came with it. I like the controller - smallish, heavy, durable, comfortable, and with a built in headphone jack. Nvidia's FAQ says it can handle four controllers at once, but that's just the Android bluetooth connection and native Android games. The emulators have to support multiple controllers themselves for it to work. Most of them did on the original xbox emulators. I haven't tested it on Shield myself yet, and I see some grumbling about it on the forums so it's not as simple as it looks.

    The Shield TV model includes a remote and a controller for around $120-$140 depending on which model year you get. I haven't tested it myself but I expect it'll talk to any modern bluetooth controller, one of the things that attracted me to the Shield is that it's a fairly open and generic Android box. Nvidia hasn't locked it down at all, I can dig in and tinker with anything I like.

    4 votes
  3. [2]
    ivy Link
    If you're willing to be flexible on what consoles you can emulate, the Wii has a thriving emulation and homebrew community. The modding process requires no hardware changes and the emulators are...

    If you're willing to be flexible on what consoles you can emulate, the Wii has a thriving emulation and homebrew community. The modding process requires no hardware changes and the emulators are well kept.

    2 votes
    1. Whom (edited ) Link Parent
      Not particularly relevant to OP, but for anyone scrolling through it's worth mentioning that the Wii can output native 240p, meaning that in the realm of easily-accessible emulation options, the...

      Not particularly relevant to OP, but for anyone scrolling through it's worth mentioning that the Wii can output native 240p, meaning that in the realm of easily-accessible emulation options, the Wii will get you the most authentic visuals on a CRT and you can say snooty shit about scanlines like all the cool kids for a fraction of the price.

      2 votes
  4. ericskiff Link
    The retropie distro (and if you want to go looking for a torrent, there are a number of images complete with ROMs and additional art and setup done) really makes emulation fun and easy. It gets...

    The retropie distro (and if you want to go looking for a torrent, there are a number of images complete with ROMs and additional art and setup done) really makes emulation fun and easy.
    It gets very close to what you're asking for, but Dreamcast is not there. We play a lot of PS1 games (Tekken, Tony hawk 2, Castlevania) and some Mario kart 64 on it though, and anything older us just flawless.

    I've built dozens of these to give to friends, and built 3 custom arcade rigs with it.

    For $70 (all in for pi 3b+, case, wired SNES style controllers, SD card and power supply) it's totally worth it to see if it scratches your itch! If not you can upgrade to something beefier

    1 vote
  5. Gyrfalcon Link
    There are some ARM boards that are more powerful than a Pi typically is, something like an Odroid or Pine64 product may work, and there may be something more appropriate out there. Those boards do...

    There are some ARM boards that are more powerful than a Pi typically is, something like an Odroid or Pine64 product may work, and there may be something more appropriate out there. Those boards do typically have less software support than a Pi; I suppose that's what the Pi gets for being first.

    If you want to go for something in the x86 PC space, I have seen some people have good success with the AMD Ryzen APUs, particularly the 2200g. You could go with a something like this, and have plenty of performance. This type of build can go up almost to Wii U performance, and the Youtube channel I linked to has lots of emulation content if you want to check that out. That said, this option is expensive as it doesn't come with controllers, and would be a bit bigger in your setup.

    Another x86 option would be to pick up some kind of used office PC and throw an older graphics card in it. Depending on your area, this can be done for under $200 USD, but would blow your size requirement away completely.

    1 vote