Can I Hack A Playstation Classic?

By Les Pounder. Posted

In the late 1990s, Sony released the original PlayStation upon a generation nurtured by Sega and Nintendo. CD-based games with sprawling levels, full-motion video, and high-quality audio became the norm. But, fast- forward to 2018 and Sony released its own mini retro nostalgia console, following the success of the NES and SNES consoles. Alas, supplies of PlayStation Classic exceeded demand, and in 2019 it was put on offer as clearance. And that begs the question, “Can we hack it?”

GENERAL CONSTRUCTION

The all-ABS plastic chassis is made from a firm plastic that can be worked with hand/power tools. The top and bottom of the case are held together with five cross-head screws that tap directly into plastic struts.

With the bottom of the case exposed, we can see that there are a further four cross-head screws which need to be removed to enable the circuit board to be released. These screws also hold a large metal cover to the board. The cover is our heat-sink, connecting directly to the CPU via a 2 mm-thick thermal pad. Take care to remove the heat sink without damaging the pad, as it is needed to keep the CPU cool.

The main circuit board for the PlayStation Classic is well-made and provides lots of power for emulation

ELECTRONICS

The single circuit board is powered by a MediaTek ARM (MT8167A) system on a chip (SoC), with a quad-core ARM Cortex-A35 CPU running at 1.5GHz. This is partnered with 1GB of DDR3 RAM and a PowerVR GPU. Storage is provided by 16GB of flash memory, enough to house the games and the operating system. This is a typical configuration for tablet devices, something this chipset is designed to work with.

The USB ports can be used to connect flash storage, externally or internally via soldering for a clean look

Power comes in the form of a micro USB port, so 5V is the norm, and we can solder connections to the port for powering projects. This also means that the board can be powered from a USB battery for portable hacks.

In our tests, the unit used 180mA on average at idle; when gaming, this rose to 320mA during a brief bout of Tekken 3 for testing... yes, testing.

Around the perimeter of the board are large ground planes that will enable us to find good spots to connect our projects to ground. The two USB ports have easy access for hacks, and can be used for the included joypads, or for USB drives – more later.

HACKABILITY

But can we hack this? Well, yes! Cosmetically, we can remove the board from the PlayStation chassis and insert it into a 3D-printed case, with a small HDMI screen, and break out the USB ports. Adding a USB battery would enable the kit to be used on the move.

But, electronically, this is really just a single-board computer similar to the Raspberry Pi. It’s running a version of Linux, and so it is just a computer. The two game controller USB ports are the gateway to fun. Using some software called BleemSync, it is possible to adapt the operating system on the device and run your own games from a USB drive plugged into port two. BleemSync also provides a neat interface via a web browser and a direct USB connection to your computer.

Attaching a USB drive to the internal USB port connectors means that we can hide USB drives full of games!

If you would like to add some extra tech, then the 5 V and handy GND planes mean that we can add an Arduino, or other microcontroller, to control NeoPixels and many other types of LEDs.

When the PlayStation Classic came out, it was overpriced and featured an underwhelming game selection. But, as something that we can hack, the PlayStation Classic offers a conveniently sized chassis into which we can add our tech, hack the existing software, and enhance the product to meet our needs. Right now, this is being sold off with drastic price cuts – it was £15.99 in Amazon’s recent sale.

At this price, it’s a great option for a hacking platform, whether you’re looking to build a DIY handheld gaming rig or something more adventurous.

ROM PROBLEMS

Game emulation is a legal grey area, but the common points to note are that if you are downloading the games, collectively known as ‘ROMs’, from the internet, then you are breaking the law, and opening yourself up to possible viruses and malware. If you are using your own game CDs/cartridges to create backups, known as ‘dumps’, then this is still illegal.

The whole ROMs debate has raged for many years and across many systems, and it will continue to rage for many years to come.

Some games are ‘abandonware’, and the creators/publishers have disappeared into the mists of time. But the majority of games have a publisher or owner who can claim copyright theft. Nintendo recently issued take-down notices to a number of websites hosting games for Nintendo consoles as old as the NES.

To blur the lines of this issue even further, in recent months there have even been legally dumped ROMs on archive.org which can be downloaded for use or played directly in the browser. Before engaging in this activity, it would be prudent to review the laws for your country.

We at HackSpace magazine do not condone software piracy or copyright theft.

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