PlayStation emulators

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PlayStation
Sony-1.png
Developer Sony
Type Home video game console
Generation Fifth generation
Release date 1994
Discontinued 2006
Successor PlayStation 2
Emulated

The PlayStation (frequently referred to in shorthand as the PS1) is a fifth generation console released by Sony Computer Entertainment on December 3, 1994 in Japan and September 9, 1995 in the US. It was retailed for $299.99. It had a R3000 CPU (which was used by NASA for a space craft to take pictures of Mars because of it's reliablity) at 33.8688 MHz with 2MB of RAM and 1MB of VRAM. It used a proprietary MDEC video compression unit, which is integrated into the CPU, allowing for playback of full motion video at a higher quality than other consoles of its generation. It actually had better stereo sound that other stereos at that time.

It was a commercial success, partly due to being relatively easy to program for compared to others at the time and because its CD-based media was cheaper than the competition.

Emulators

Name Platform(s) Version Plugins Libretro Core RIR Accuracy FLOSS Active Recommended
PC / x86
DuckStation Windows Linux macOS git High
Mednafen Windows Linux macOS FreeBSD 1.28.0-UNSTABLE High
XEBRA Windows v211031 High
PCSX-R-PGXP Windows Linux PGXP build (git) Plugin dependent
PCSX-R Windows Linux macOS Windows
macOS
Plugin dependent
ePSXe Windows Linux macOS 2.0.5 Plugin dependent
PSXACT Windows git High (WIP)
Rustation Windows Linux macOS git High
Avocado Windows Linux git Mid (WIP)
pSX Windows Linux 1.13 Mid
NO$PSX Windows 2.0 Mid
hpsx64 Windows v0351 (Alt) Mid (WIP)
MAME Windows Linux macOS FreeBSD 0.238 Mid (WIP)
ares Windows Linux macOS v126 ? ? ?
Connectix VGS Windows macOS 1.4.1 ?
Bleem! Windows 1.6b Low-Mid
SSSPSX Windows 0.0.34 Plugin dependent
Rustation NG Windows Linux macOS FreeBSD git ?
PCSX-Redux Windows Linux macOS git ? (WIP)
Mobile / ARM
DuckStation Android git

0.1-4568

High
Avocado Android git Mid (WIP)
Mednafen[N 1][N 2] Android iOS 1.28.0-UNSTABLE High
PCSX-ReARMed[N 1] Android iOS Linux Dragonbox Pyra r22
0.1 Pyra
Mid
ePSXe[N 3] Android 2.0.15 Mid
FPse[N 3] Android 11.225 Mid
XEBRA Android 21/07/09 High
Console
Official Sony Emulators
(POPS)
PlayStation 2 PSP
PlayStation 3 Vita
r13 (PS2)
6.60 (PSP)
4.82 (PS3)
2.60 (PSVita)
Mid-High
PCSX-ReARMed[N 1] Vita Nintendo 3DS Switch r22 Mid
Bleemcast Dreamcast ? Low-Mid
WiiSX Wii GameCube Beta 2.1 Low
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Only available on mobile as a libretro core (e.g. RetroArch).
  2. Needs a high-end phone/tablet to run at full speed.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Payware, recommended that you use patched versions.

Comparisons

PC

DuckStation (compatibility)
Quickly became a top contender on the basis that it has high compatibility and a built-in GUI. Its stated goal is to be "as accurate as possible while maintaining performance suitable for low-end devices," as well as long-term maintainability on the developers' part. While PCSX-R has long dethroned ePSXe in features, DuckStation is the first to actually address all the shortcomings of plugin-based offerings thus far, as all of its features are available out-of-the-box, and no configuration is necessary to get games running outside of obtaining the original system firmware. The graphics emulation core has modern enhancements built-in like PGXP, upscaling, texture filtering, hardware (D3D11, OpenGL, Vulkan) and software rendering (both of which have true colour (24-bit) support). It also natively supports MAME's Compressed Hunks of Data (CHD) format, which shrinks the size of CDs losslessly while also storing them under a single file. An Android version is also available, but is not yet feature complete. The unofficial libretro core is Retroachievements compatible.
Mednafen
Is focused on accuracy, which makes it very compatible, and it's been known to outperform Sony's official PSone emulator in accuracy tests. However, there are a few hurdles to using it; it requires a very specific BIOS for each region, and the program itself interfaces from a shell only; it has no GUI. You can still drag-and-drop cue files onto the executable to load games, and the program will log errors to a text file called stdout whenever a crash happens. External GUI launchers are available.
Beetle PSX
This fork by the RetroArch developers has several experimental modifications and enhancements that aren't present in the standalone version, including a widescreen hack, CPU overclocking for smoother framerates, and increasing the internal resolution up to 8x. Increasing the resolution carries a heavy performance cost, however, since graphics are rendered in software; an alternative core exists for hardware rendering. See this 2018 guide for setting up Beetle HW in RetroArch.
PCSX-Reloaded
An open-source plugin-based emulator based on PCSX-df, itself based on PCSX. It is no longer recommended, as DuckStation has all of the same benefits of PCSX-R without needing to use forks or old plugins.
PCSX-ReARMed
An ARM fork whose biggest draw is its NEON software renderer, which is both fast and accurate and can render at higher resolutions without resorting to HLE plugins. Was given the seal of approval by Sony after being used in the official PlayStation Classic emulation box.
ePSXe
Despite having widespread name recognition, it is unfortunately not an emulator we recommend using on PC anymore. The source code is closed, meaning development is beholden to the original developers. Updates have brought it on-par with PCSX-R, but that isn't enough. They are also selling a paid Android port.
XEBRA
An emulator made in Japan that has high compatibility. The UI is in English but, because it's not the developer's native language, some of the naming conventions may seem weird compared to other emulators (for example, the BIOS is referred to as OSROM). Luckily, there's a guide that helps explains how each option works. Games that require subchannel data are not supported, but most other games run flawlessly.
NO$PSX
Has two versions, but standard users will want to use the cut-down gaming version. Made in the same style as NO$GBA, where it handles the PocketStation, it offers decent compatibility with very low spec requirements – the programmer's philosophy is to deliver a working application out of the box.
PSXfin
A simpler emulator with a lot of compatibility issues.[1] Development has been halted and it remains closed-source. It's really only useful for very old toasters.
Avocado
Was slated to become an open-source full-system emulator like DuckStation, with the caveat being that it could load games without a BIOS. That never panned out, as development has largely stopped.
MAME
By nature of supporting arcade systems similar to the PlayStation, MAME's "Sony PlayStation" driver (psj) is considered "preliminary" but it works; it can boot to the BIOS and launch games but expect bugs, especially between hardware revisions. The MAME project as a whole remains active, but there's no incentive for any of its developers to work on the PS1 driver.
PCSX2
Support for a hardware feature has been merged into the main project that allows the same backward compatibility with PS1 games. However, one thing to note is that backward compatibility in the original PS2 hardware didn't even cover all the games in the PS1 library, and these limitations carry forward to PCSX2's emulation.

Consoles

  • POPS (short for PlayStation On PSP System) is Sony's official PSone Classics emulator for their PlayStation Store releases. It utilizes EBOOTs, a form of binary file for PSP, instead of bin/cue disc dumps, which can be made using a converter if desired. Compatibility is very high due to similar hardware design; although the GPU is emulated, the CPU is close to the PS1 and would naturally speed up performance on its own. It includes support for multi-disc games (within the one EBOOT). Only the native PS1 resolution is supported, with games being stretched to fit the screen as the user wishes.
  • PCSX-ReARMed is only available on mobile as a libretro core (e.g. RetroArch). It is available to run on various handheld consoles with fairly strong specs like the Sony PlayStation Vita, Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Switch. This emulator in the libretro build initially used the P.E.Op.S. graphics plugin (reasonably accurate, but slow) in mid-2010's to 2019; now it uses a port of PCSX4ALL's Unai renderer, which is less accurate, but much faster (eg. 10-20fps faster). The CHD compression format, that shrinks disc images into more manageable sizes, has been enabled on this emulator on 3DS, and these images will load and run much faster than '.bin/.cue' files - greatly reducing framerate dips, i.e. in FMVs & loading zones.
  • PS2PSXe is an unofficial PS1 emulator for the PS2. However, compatibility is very low. Double disc swapping (using the same method as a real PS1) is required for PS2s with model numbers SCPH-100xx - SCPH-390xx.
  • The PlayStation 3 has a built-in software emulator with very high compatibility, which is used for PSone Classics releases on the PlayStation Store as well as for handling PlayStation discs.
  • WiiSX is a port of PCSX to the Wii. Compatibility is fairly low due to the weak power of the Wii and the differing hardware designs that make PowerPC requirements a little stronger. It's generally not worth using since it doesn't get updated.

Emulation issues

Rendering Quirks

Left: Native resolution and unblended dithering.
Right: Higher internal resolution and no dithering.
Jittering in games can stick out more when using higher internal resolutions. This full-color GIF may require you to view its page to see the animation.

The PlayStation takes shortcuts when rendering as a result of making most of the hardware available, and this can cause some quirks that become even more noticeable when the internal resolution increases.

Polygons may jitter as a result of low-precision fixed-point (to the native resolution) math, but this is mostly unnoticeable at native resolutions. Emulators that have the ability to increase the internal resolution have attempted to fix this.

There is no z-buffer in the hardware. This can cause things like polygons to pop over others; the limbs on Tekken characters are a good example of this. It is theoretically possible to implement this, but it wouldn't be accurate to the hardware.[2]

When perspective correction isn't applied to textures, certain viewing angles can make them distorted, more so when an object is near the edge of the camera up close. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins is particularly infamous for texture distortion, most noticeably in the training level where floor textures appear wavy at oblique angles; developers typically mitigate this by adding polygons to walls, floors, and other scenery, though at the cost of filling the PlayStation's geometry rate. This has been solved in at least one emulator.

Many PlayStation games dither to varying degrees due to having a low color depth. On most TVs, this dithering would blend in order to make new colors and smooth gradients. Plugin-based emulators usually have graphical plugins that use a 32-bit color depth, which removes dithering, while software-rendered plugins and emulators tend to retain it. While higher color depth can be considered an enhancement, since it results in less noise and smooth gradients, some think of dithering as seen on real hardware as added shading and texture, especially on untextured polygons. The emulators that use software rendering and can increase the internal resolution are capable of retaining dithering for the shading and texturing aspect, and it's made more subtle by shrinking the artifacts.

Less-notable games using special peripherals

ZXE-D: Legend of Plasmalite requires the use of a special peripheral to play the game. It is a robot that has connectable parts and plugs into the memory card slot, which is then replicated in the game. No emulator has ever focused on it, probably due to a number of reasons:

  • It's not a common game.
  • No third-party controller and memory card connector has gotten support by emulators the same way that Nintendo's official GameCube controller adapter has.
  • To emulate this purely in software means it has to be reverse engineered, which can take a bit of time.

CD format

PS1 games use the CD-ROM XA (eXtended Architecture) format which is based on CDi and allows developers to use both CD-ROM and CD-DA (audio) tracks on the same disc.[3]

Certain image formats and CD dumping methods don't support this format correctly and end up with the CD-DA tracks missing or corrupted, hence no audio. The ISO format in particular only stores the content of a CD-ROM filesystem and cannot store CD-DA tracks at all so it's generally a very bad idea to use ISO for PS1 games (even though it should work for games which are single track). Even running an ISO file based on a PS1 game (i.e. Ridge Racer, Tomb Raider 1-2) with CD-DA audio may often cause an emulator such as ePSXe and other peers to freeze and/or hang up, especially during loading of a saved data or in-game levels and transactions.

  • However, a mounted image (Using Daemon Tools), running from a CD-ROM or using the Mooby2 plugin can solve these CD-DA problems. The mds/mdf format is good for backing up the CD-DA audio-equipped PS1 games, although the best Image format for any PS1 game is the cue/bin format, the reason being that almost all of the burning programs can read it and the relevant patching programs (i.e. PPF-O-Matic) are designed for that format. Clone CD images in img/ccd format provide another ideal option as it has virtually the same structure as cue/bin format (The img file is the same data as a bin file at the hex level), although the available burning programs are largely not able to read Clone CD's format. ISObuster and ImgBurn are good tools for some of the aforementioned notes.[4]
  • The European regional versions of many PS1 games tended to have a copy protection embedded, so they could cause problems with backing up images in that these game backups could cause hangs or show a black screen infinitely in a typical emulator. A basic way to avoid that problem is to try the US regional versions. Another way is to patch it using a .sbi file which contains the protection information needed to run the game.
The perfect solution possible, at least for the ePSXe emulator (and perhaps other similar plugins-based emulators) would be (No virtual drive mounting needed):
1. Use Mooby2 2.8 cdrom plugin, uncheck 'subchannel reading' in the settings of that plugin.
(Just in case: also make sure 'repeat all cdda' is checked, and 'cdda volume' is set to something like 50 or 60. Or else you won't hear anything.)
2. Launch the game with File -> Run CDrom (browse, find and select your cd image as the window pops up.)
Recommended to use Eternal 1.41 sound plugin with default settings along with this. SaPu CDRom Plugin v.1.0/1.3 is good if running official CDs (Especially works well with Daemon Tools Lite or Alcohol 120% when mounting an image).
  • If running ePSXe or a similar emulator on an old Windows OS (Eg. 9x, ME, 2000, XP), use ForceASPI to initialize the ASPI layer (For your disc drive) and a plugin like P.E.Op.S. CDR Version 1.4 plugin or similar. Then set the plugin to "W2K/XP IOCTL scsi commands" before running your PS1 CD's.


Accessories

Densha De Go! Controller

Also available for the Nintendo 64, Densha De Go! is a Japan-only train simulator released by Taito that is compatible with an optional special controller.[5] No emulator is known to support it.

Resources

References

  1. http://psx.silvanthalas.com/psx.html
  2. Plugin info, news. / Information about the plugin, news. (gpuBladeSoft discussion). forum.emu-russia (2011-09-16)
  3. List of PlayStation games with CD-DA (From deprecated Wikipedia article - dated 11/27/2016)
  4. ECM And APE Guide. www.epforums.org (2011-Feb-16; Last edited: 2017-Jan-15)
  5. Densha de Go! gameplay with controller - Playstation PS1. Youtube (2017-05-05)