PlayStation emulators

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The Sony PlayStation

The PlayStation (frequently referred to in shorthand as the PS1 or PSX) is a 5th generation console produced by Sony Computer Entertainment in 1994. It was a commercial success in part 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

PC
Name Operating System(s) Latest Version Plugins Libretro Core Increased IR Rendering Accuracy Recommended
Mednafen Multi-platform 1.23.0 UNSTABLE High
ePSXe Windows, Linux 1.9.25 Plugin dependent
PCSX-R Multi-platform SVN (Windows,OS X) Plugin dependent
XEBRA Windows 12/03/2015 Build High
pSX Windows, Linux 1.13 Mid
NO$PSX Windows 1.9 Mid
Console
Name Operating System(s) Latest Version Plugins Libretro Core Increased IR Rendering Accuracy Recommended
WiiSX Wii, GameCube 2.1 beta Low
POPS PSP/PS2/Vita 6.60/r13/2.60 Mid-High
Mobile
Name Operating System(s) Latest Version Plugins Libretro Core Increased IR Rendering Accuracy Recommended
Mednafen* Multi-platform 1.23.0 UNSTABLE High
PCSX-ReARMed* iOS, Android r22 Mid
ePSXe** Android 1.9.38 Mid
FPse** Android 0.11.173 Mid
XEBRA Android 07/18/2015 High

*Only available on mobile as a libretro core (e.g. RetroArch), mednafen needs a high-end phone/tablet to run at full speed.

**Payware, recommended that you use patched versions.

Comparisons

PC

  • Mednafen PSX is an emulator focused on accuracy. It is extremely compatible, outdoing even Sony's official PSone emulator in accuracy tests. Do note if you find an exception, though. It requires a very specific BIOS for each region. The minimum system requirement is a Core 2 Duo at 2 GHz clock. Mednafen itself is command line only and has no GUI. There are external GUI launchers available. Both RetroArch and BizHawk have cores based on this emulator. They're easier to use than the standalone emulator thanks to their GUIs.
  • ePSXe is a fairly standard plugin-based emulator. However, it's closed source, so it only gets updates from the main developers. These come sporadically, with some updates being spaced out by more than a year's time. This leads to it being relatively outdated compared to other PlayStation emulators. Since version 1.8.0, ePSXe has been available on Android as a premium (paid) app.
  • PCSX-R is actively developed and is open source. Like ePSXe, it is also a plugin-based emulator. It has several enhanced features that ePSXe lacks, as well as support for superior plugins, such as LilyPad. Post any issues you find on their issue tracker. The Windows version is largely unmaintained and lacks some newer features that the OS X/Linux versions have, but there is an unofficial build that fixes most of the problems you can encounter with it as well as adding support for internal overclocking.
  • PCSX-ReARMed is essentially the ARM version of PCSX-R, sharing a similar core, but optimized for portable handheld devices. Its biggest draw is its NEON software renderer, which is both fast and accurate, and has the ability to render at a higher resolution without resorting to HLE plugins.
  • XEBRA has very high compatibility. Games that require subchannel data are not supported, but most other games run flawlessly. Obtuse user interface as the developer is Japanese, so be prepared. XEBRA requires a BIOS, but an alternate build of it called ARBEX doesn't require one.
  • NO$PSX is a well-rounded emulator by the same author of NO$GBA. There are two versions of the emulator; standard users will want to use the cut-down gaming version. It offers decent compatibility with very low spec requirements – the programmer's philosophy is to deliver a working application out of the box. As of today, it's still being developed. PocketStation is emulated through NO$GBA.
  • PSXfin is a simple emulator with simple usage. It has a lot of compatibility issues[1]. It requires a BIOS for use, but compatibility with each one is inconsistent. Development has been halted and it remains closed source. It's really only useful for very old toasters.

For even further in-depth analysis of each emulator on a technical level, check out PS1 Tests.

It's generally recommended to use Mednafen or PCSX-R. Many use Mednafen for its accuracy at native resolution, and PCSX-R for 3D games (that don't use prerendered backgrounds) because of support for plugins which allow for better graphics quality than original hardware. Unfortunately the best plugins for increasing internal resolution and shader support (Pete OpenGL2 v2.9 and Edgbla gpuBladesoft v1.42a) are closed source and haven't been updated for years.

Consoles

  • POPS (short for PlayStation On PSP System) is the name of the program for the PSP made by Sony for their PSone Classics releases. It utilizes EBOOTs, a form of binary file for PSP, instead of bin/cue/etc, which can be made using a converter if desired. Compatibility is very high due to it being made by Sony and the PSP containing a CPU that is very similar to the one found in the PlayStation. This makes it so it isn't purely an emulator, although it does emulate the PS1s GPU. It includes support for multi-disc games (within the one EBOOT). Only native PS1 resolution is supported, with games being stretched as the user wishes to fit the screen. POPS is also available on the PlayStation 2, although compatibility is not as high.
  • PS2PSXe is another PS1 emulator for the PS2. However, this one is unofficial. Compatibility is very low. It is generally recommended to disc swap for the PS2, which in turn will utilize the built-in PS1 hardware available in every PS2. Double swapping (using the same method as a real PS1) is required for PS2s with model numbers SCPH-100xx - SCPH-390xx.
  • PlayStation 3 has a built-in software emulator with high compatibility, as it is used for PSone Classics releases on the system as well as actual PS1 discs.
  • WiiSX is a port of PCSX to the Wii. Compatibility is fairly low due to the weak power of the Wii. This plus the lack of updates to the emulator makes it generally not worth using.

Emulation issues

Left showing native resolution and unblended dithering. Right showing HD and no dithering.
Example of jittering in PS1 games, which is more noticeable when emulating at higher internal resolutions. (Click to play)

Several problems occur when running PS1 games, and they become more noticeable at resolutions higher than native internal resolution when using plugins which can increase it like Edgbla's GpuBladesoft, Pete's OpenGL2 and GSDX. Though they're still apparent at native, the low resolution's aliasing and blurriness kills almost any visibility, hiding the issues.

Jittering polygons are caused by low-precision fixed-point (to the native resolution) math. Plugins can attempt to fix this (GTE Accuracy), but it often creates holes in seams.

The PS1 hardware didn't have a z-buffer. The lack of a z-buffer causes things like polygons popping over others. Tekken character limbs are a good example to see that. It's theoretically possible to implement z-buffer in PS1 emulators/GPU plugins.[2]

No texture perspective correction causes distortion to texture angles at certain viewing angles, notably at the bottom near the camera. This could be mitigated with modern texture filtering methods along with perspective-correct texture mapping if implemented into PS1 emulators/GPU plugins.

Resources

  • PlayStation DataCenter - Tons of PS1 related things. Emulator files like plugins, game manuals, game configurations, and many tutorials are just some of things you'll find here.

References