An emulation box is an unofficial term for a device built with the specific purpose of running emulators. They generally consist of overpriced locked-down ARM microcomputers and some are more so just "collector's items". They should be avoided as other readily available devices (i.e. computers, mobile devices, game consoles) may provide better performance.
|NES Classic Edition / Famicom Classic Mini||Nintendo||Nintendo Entertainment System||$59.99||Kachikachi||Official Nintendo product designed to only emulate the NES. Includes 30 games.|
|SNES Classic Edition / Super Famicom Mini||Nintendo||Nintendo SNES||$79.99||Canoe||Official Nintendo product designed to only emulate the SNES. Includes 21 games. Uses the exact same hardware (motherboard, SoC and all) as the NES Classic, but with a different firmware.|
|Sega Genesis Mini||Sega||Sega Genesis||$79.99||m2engage||Official SEGA product designed to only emulate the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Includes 42 games. Interestingly, it has the same specs as the (S)NESC. The emulator used was develop by M2, who are best known for handling emulation of various re-releases of games including several Sega ports and the Genesis Virtual Console on the Wii.|
|PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 Mini||Konami||PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16||$99.99||?||Official Konami product. Includes 57 games (58 in Japan) and has about an equal mix of American and Japanese exclusives. The casing and branding has the same regional differences as the original (Japan is the original white PC Engine, Europe is the Core Grafx revision, and the USA is the TurboGrafx-16). The emulator used was develop by M2, the same company that did the Sega Genesis Mini and other console ports. Releases March 19, 2020 exclusively on Amazon, pre-order is now open.|
|PlayStation Classic||Sony||Sony PlayStation||PCSX-ReARMed||Official Sony product designed to only emulate the PS1. Includes 20 games.|
|NEOGEO Mini||SNK||Neo Geo||modified version of NJEMU||Offical SNK product designed to only emulate the NEOGEO. Includes 40 games.|
|CAPCOM Home Arcade||Capcom||CPS1 & CPS2||~$254||FinalBurn Alpha||Offical CAPCOM product designed to emulate CPS1 and CPS2 arcade games. Includes 16 games.|
|Polymega||Playmaji||Multi-system||$299.99-$499.99 (Deluxe bundle)||Mednafen, Mesen, Kega Fusion, and MAME||Modular system. First emulation box with CD support and one of the few to run on a Intel processor instead of ARM. Emulates PS1, Saturn, Genesis, Sega CD, 32X, TG-16/CD, Neo Geo CD, NES, SNES (only disc-based systems are supported out of the box, cartridge-based systems requires a separate add-on for each system).|
|Retron5||Hyperkin||Multi-system||$159.99||RetroArch, Snes9x, and Genesis Plus GX||Emulates NES/GBC/GBA/Genesis/SNES and includes cart readers for those systems.|
|Sega Genesis Flashback||AtGames||Sega Genesis||$79.99||?||Produced under license from Sega. Emulates the Master System and the Sega Genesis. It also has a cartridge port that can load original cartridges to some degree. Very disappointing and the ensuing outcry has led Sega to drop their planned further partnership with AtGames for their actual Sega Genesis Mini.|
|Arcade1Up Home Arcade||Arcade1Up||Arcade||$200-$500 (Depends on the game)||MAME, FinalBurn Alpha, RetroArch, and MOO (their own commercial emulator)||Officially licensed recreations of selected arcade cabinets. Emulates whatever arcade cabinet they can get the license for. Many have criticized its short height (about 3/4 the size of a normal cabinet), lack of a CRT monitor nor any filters for it, and minor inaccuracies compared to the original. Many hobbyist have even went as far as to replace the main motherboard with a Raspberry Pi just to use MAME instead.|
Some of those products have attracted the ire of parts of the emulator community over issues not necessarily related to the product's quality, but ones related to open source emulators. In some cases, it's because negotiations with open source emulator and/or frontend developers fell through and the company used a "lesser" option as a replacement. In others, an arrangement was reached, contracts and money were exchanged only for the project maintainers to turn out not to have gathered the complete consent of all contributors, some parts are licensed as a strictly non-commercial license, and similar issues. Sometimes, it might have to do with an incomplete source code release from companies that have to abide by GPLv3 obligations. And of course, the company might be acting malicious towards emulator developers.
Since the problem with these is primarily a meta problem that doesn't have much to do with the product's actual quality, and is a controversial subject even within emulator developer circles, this section is about listing some of those cases.
- Capcom Home Arcade: Capcom has licensed (with compensation) FinalBurnAlpha from the project's maintainer, however this has lead to some controversy and outrage by fellow FBA developers (who didn't agree with this move, and eventually made their own fork) and MAME developers (where some of FBA's code comes from), as FB Alpha's license isn't cleared to allow for commercial use and many of those developers think the FBA's license is an ugly mess of contradicting licenses that should not exist.
- Retron5 (Hyperkin): Is using RetroArch, Snes9x, Nestopia, VBA-M and Genesis Plus GX. While they did release their source code, the latter four have a non-commercial license. Retroarch's source code used was partial, and had DRM going against GPLv3 obligations.
Outside of the emulation community, some people have complained that some of these products are lacking or disappointing. This is either due to poor performance, high prices, or the selection of games determined to be "worthy" of being preloaded to the system. The issue of not having certain games is mainly due to either licencing fees or the original developer's company not existing anymore. These limitations have caused many to modify their systems just to be able to get more use out of it.
If you still want some kind of "emulation box", but don't want to be limited by any consumer product, you can make one yourself! These other SoCs are relatively cheaper and offer more than first-party boxes:
- Nvidia Shield TV (Android TV box fast enough for 2D & 3D emulation of many consoles)
- LattaPanda (Windows 10 computer with integrated Arduino. Fast enough for Saturn emulation.)
- ODROID (Decent speeds for Saturn emulation)
- Raspberry Pi (Eg. Lakka. It recommended to use the Raspberry Pi 3 or higher for decent performance.)
It is best if you use some kind of frontend to run the emulators as it will provide more convenience.
- FPGA - Devices that make use of programmable chips instead of ARM processors.
- Game Console Clones (TheGameConsole.com)