The Evangelist

Worldwide Technology News

In the world of portable gaming, there are two main contenders: The Nintendo DS and Sony's PSP (Playstation Portable). Both of these portable consoles are designed to run commercial, proprietary games that usually have to be approved by the maker of the portable (especially in the case of Nintendo). In addition, the game studios have to pay royalties to be able to develop games. In addition, there are many other restrictions that may be put on the game studios such as how many cartridges they are alloted, how few copies they must produce, and whether or not they can sell the game on other systems simultaneously. This effectively eliminates the production of indie games for these portable consoles (except for underground development not supported by Nintendo or Sony) as well as the availability of emulators.

The same is not true, however, for the little-known portables that run open source software and thrive on indie and homebrew games.

Released on November 10, 2005, the GamePark Holdings GP2X is a Linux-based portable console with media playback capability. The GP2X spawned a great deal of homebrew games and could run emulators to play games from numerous other consoles. As of August 31, 2008, 60,000 GP2X units have been sold. The GP2X is still being sold in Korea as an aid for those wishing to learn the English language; however, a successor has been released and has taken the spotlight in most markets.

The GamePark Holdings GP2X Wiz should be first available this November. The Wiz is, like its predecessor, Linux-based and open source. A brochure for the console states that new commercial games will be released for the console on a monthly basis as well. The price advertised for the Wiz is around $180 USD per unit, a reasonable price for the capabilities of the console.

Despite the fact that the Wiz is considerably more powerful, the current specs for the consoles indicate that it will be slimmer than the original GP2X. The Wiz features an OLED screen instead of an LCD screen, which means that the response time will be better on the Wiz and that the screen will have a better viewing angle. The Wiz has built-in flash memory for storage and can also take SD cards for additional storage

Perhaps even more amazingly, it is planned that the Wiz will have Flash Player 7 at the time of its launch, brining a more rich web experience to the console.

The Wiz, unlike the GP2X, has competition this time around.

The Pandora, manufactured by OpenPandora, aims to be a higher-end console than the Wiz. At $330 USD, it carries considerably more expense as well, but this is understandable for what you get. The Pandora was designed with constant feedback from the GP32X community, and therefore reflects more what the gamers want than what the company that makes the device wants. It runs a derivative of the Linux distribution Ångström and includes a number of PDA qualities in addition to traditional gaming abilities.

Pandora will be a platform for homebrew games as well as emulators. With its greater power, the developers of the Pandora believe it can emulate the Playstation and any older consoles including the Amiga, Atari Jaguar, and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (NES, otherwise known as the Super Famicom). With a full keyboard, the console should also be able to emulate consoles such as the Commodore 64 with full capabilites. The console, with its poweful GPU, may even be able to emulate some Nintendo 64 games; however, it is not clear what exactly will be possible yet.

Because the console uses Linux, it will be able to accept Debian packages for the little-endian ARM architecture, which could lead to other software for the system as well and quite a bit of expansion. Being open-source, the possibilities are greatly expanded.

OpenPandora has already started taking pre-orders. Additional features of the Pandora include wireless 802.11b/g capabilities, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, a rechargeable battery, two Secure Digital High Capacity ports and more.

The open-source handheld console market is surprisingly large with two competing products. At any rate, one can only hope that this competition will encourage further developments in the industry and keep this little niche going.


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