- Jun 24, 2001
We make products to celebrate and explore the history of video games with the respect it deserves.
It doesn't support a single hand-held console I don't already have, but I just have to have one! Surprised no one is talking about it yet.
If you aren't familiar with the company Analogue, they started out making luxurious modern versions of retro consoles using hardware salvaged from original systems and arcade machines. They made hardwood Neo Geo consoles from arcade boards and that notorious $500 NES clone milled out of a block of aluminum... and a gold version ($$$!). Well, the built-in Hi-Def NES can make an original NES cost nearly that much but it's definitely not a mainstream product.
The Hi-Def NES / Analogue Nt already uses an FPGA to replicate the PPU (graphics chip) since the NES only has analog video on the board/chips, so they soon updated it to drop the salvaged parts and replicate all the logic on an FPGA (PPU *and* CPU). This dropped the price by $100 and enabled it to play Game Boy Color, Atari 7800, and 12+ other systems using "jailbreak firmware." I have to put that in quotes since the "jailbreak" came directly from their contract engineer, Kevin "Kevtris" Horton. Yeah, he's a nerd rock-star.
Since then they've been making more affordable FPGA consoles, like the $190 Super Nt (clone FPGA SNES) and Mega Sg (clone FPGA Genesis/Megadrive, Master System/Mark III, Game Gear, etc). Now, we get the $200 Analogue Pocket with clone FPGA Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Game Gear, Master System, Neo Geo Pocket, Neo Geo Pocket Color, Lynx, etc.
What's the big deal with FPGA compared to other clone consoles? Most multi-platform clones use emulation, but an FPGA can be used to replicate the exact transistors from the original chips on actual transistors in the FPGA (configurable, pre-existing "logic elements"). Because it doesn't re-interpret and adapt the code from the original game like an emulator it needs to be accurate enough to run the code natively. That means it needs to be EXTREMELY accurate. In many cases it's more accurate than original hardware. For example, Nintendo's own engineers didn't quite get things right when they reduced the Super Nintendo Entertainment System's three main chips down to two and eventually one. So called "1chip" consoles are known for having more in common with clones than original hardware, yet the Super Nt can replicate the quirks of each variant.
Because FPGAs can replicate the original hardware down to the transistor level, they can interface with original cartridges and execute directly, even utilizing various hardware accessories and co-processors. This really is distinct from emulation, regardless of how the Higane/BSNES author feels about it (sorry, Byuu ). More importantly, it enables functionality to further distinguish it from original hardware and non-FPGA clones. In contrast, the vast majority of compatible clone consoles are just legacy chips with all the original limitations, numerous incompatibilities, and often additional issues.
Other than the aforementioned My Mini and the RetroUSB AVS, the wave of HDMI NES clones are all just throwing a composite-only NOAC together with an HDMI converter which doesn't even properly support the console's resolution (they de-interlace non-interlaced 240p, destroying 60hz effects).
Yes, FPGA is distinct from emulation and enables us to get perfect digital video from extremely-accurate replicas of hardware while playing from our original cartridges, but they can do much more. For example, why stop at replicating the console? Replicate the cartridge and expansion hardware too! All the "jailbreak" firmware for NT Mini, Super Nt, Mega Sg, etc, let you dump cartridges and play them from the SD card. The Super Nt even replicates some of the extra hardware found in many SNES games so that they can be played from SD card as well. Neat!
Speaking of the "jailbreak," Analogue Pocket includes a second FPGA intended to be truly open for others to contribute additional "cores," enabling even more platforms and tricks. Hopefully we'll get ports of a bunch of open source FPGA cores from DE10 Nano. That's an FPGA development board which electronics enthusiasts have turned into an open-source FPGA console (MiSTer project). Analogue Pocket = MiSTer for the masses? I hope so.
Anyway, the Analogue Pocket obviously can't fit cartridges for everything. It does have a GB/GBC/GBA slot and they are promising cartridge adapters for the others. If that sounds unwieldy, don't forget about the microSD slot and past "jailbreaks." Yes, I'm still using quotes even though Kevtris never confirmed he was behind them for Super Nt and Mega Sg. We all know he did the Nt Mini and I found solid evidence that he did the Mega Sg so it stands to reason that he also did the Super Nt. Was there ever any doubt?
The screen seems to have the same 1440x1600 spec as Valve's Index (premium VR headset). This is an exact multiple of the original GB/GBC resolution for a perfect integer scale with no artifacts. Heck, there's a ton of room there for scaling tricks like simulating the gap between pixels on the original displays. It's very likely the same component Valve is using. The wider GBA will need to be letterboxed or, *shudder* stretched, of course, but if you stretch we can't be friends (heathen).
OK, so it's a hand-held, but I posted in console-gaming. Well, it will also have an optional dock that adds HDMI, USB, and Bluetooth controller support through USB-C. If you need more convincing that it belongs here, well, I'm sure you can play Master System games with a Sega Master Gear converter and the Game Gear cartridge adapter. No telling how many other home consoles will be added thanks to the open source FPGA core. Here's hoping for TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine. Heck, I'm surprised Analogue themselves didn't already announce an adapter and FPGA core for that considering the form factor of the TurboChip/HuCard games. They could charge another $200 and it still wouldn't cost what a TurboExpress or PC Engine GT hand-held often costs... BROKEN! The open-source cores do exist on MiSTer.
This is their first portable so I'm very interested to see how durable and repairable it is. Their past products have always struck me as extremely high-quality. Personally, I'm hoping to find a battery cell that can be easily replaced in the future if need be.
Other things to note:
Buttons are all mappable so if the GBA SP-style shoulder buttons or the placement of Start/Select bother you, you have two extra face buttons to map GB/C/A software as you see fit.
Yes, it has a link port... and a discrete headphone jack (take that, GBA SP!).
Audio is stereo even without headphones, despite limited separation distance.
Screen is 3.5" LTPS LCD (615ppi). A real looker!
Day 1 buy for me assuming the "limited availability" thing doesn't prove to be a problem. Hmm, maybe I shouldn't hit the Post button...