A quest to conquer an ever growing backlog of games.

A Better Way to Play your PlayStation?

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The PlayStation Dilemma

As an avid fan and collector for the original PlayStation, I’ve always had a dream of being able to own all of my favorite games from when I was younger. Unfortunately, many of the best games on the system are crazy expensive, especially if you’re trying to acquire the North American or even European versions.

So I had a thought. What if I tried to import some of those games? I mean, typically the original Japanese versions of these games are a fraction of the price. The only problem is, I don’t read, nor do I speak, Japanese. It is true, I could just emulate the games, but I love the idea of owning the original article and being able to ogle over those booklets and the fancy cover art!

Now, when it came to cartridge based systems, this wasn’t too much of an issue. With clone consoles out there like the Retron5 and Retro Freak, you could just import the carts, download a translation patch (or create your own), load it up on the console, and it just worked! Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for disc based consoles. Of course, there is the Polymega, but that’s expensive in and of itself, and who knows if it’ll actually hit the market in a real way. Then there’s the option of modding my childhood console using a mod chip, which would allow me to run backups, but that would also require me to have a stack of re-writable CDs and a CD burner. Of which I have neither. Plus, the idea of having a binder of “backup” discs floating around doesn’t really sit well with me.

The PlayStation Solution

So, now I find myself between a rock and a hard place. I refuse to pay the exorbitant prices for some of these games, and I refuse to download them from the shady corners of the internet. And although I could go down the mod chip route, it’s really a last resort for me. There had to be a better solution, so I set out to find it.

That’s when I ran across the concept of an Optical Disc Drive Emulator (ODE). Similar to how a clone console would emulate the functionality of an original console, but instead of emulating the entire system whole hog, it instead focuses on emulating one singular part. The disc drive. You know, that part that reads the data from the disk! This would not only allow me to backup my games in one place, and apply rom hacks/translation patches to them (if needed or wanted), I wouldn’t have to deal with a silly amount of CD-Rs! The possibilities are endless! I could start importing PS1 games, just like I do with the SNES and NES!

The PSIO and XStation

Luckily for me, and for every other PlayStation enthusiast, there’s two ODE products on the market for our beloved console. Well, two that I know of at least. The XStation and the PSIO. In the end both have similar functionality, and only really differ in their installation and possible compatibility. Choosing between them really comes down to your needs and your skill level (or your willingness to pay someone). Once installed however, they act similarly to any other flashcart on the market. Meaning you just load up an SD card with your favorite backups, and you’re good to go! Well, there are a couple of caveats with one of the devices, but we’ll get into that in a bit.

On one hand, you have the PSIO, which if you want to keep your original disc drive intact, this might be the option for you. The neat thing about this little device is that it plugs right into the Parallel Port on the back of your PS1. Meaning your disc drive is intact and you can play your disc based games just like you could on an unmodified PS1. As long as your disc drive still reliably reads CDs that is. The downfall is, it’s only compatible with consoles that have that port. That and although the PSIO is installed externally, it still requires an internal mod that isn’t quite as reversible as the XStation since at least one trace needs to be cut on the PS1s motherboard. Finally, and this is more of a nit-picky thing, but you need to patch each and every backup you want to place on the SD card with a special PSIO patch in order for it to work. Not terrible by any stretch, but it is an extra step that makes it feel a little less user friendly.

On the other hand, and this is the device I’m leaning toward, you have the XStation, which if you could care less about your original disc drive and want a fully integrated solution, then this might be the one for you! The cool thing is, the XStation truly does replace that disc drive and although the internal mod required to get it to work is a bit more complicated to perform, it is 100% reversible. That and it seems to have better compatibility with the entire PlayStation library. Also, it doesn’t require you to patch your games before you can play them. Of course, both of these products are constantly being updated so that could change in the future. The only true downfall to this device is that you’ll no longer be able to play your physical discs on the console. But that isn’t that big of an issue since you could always just hook up your PS2 or PS3 and play them there.

So, Which One Then?!

That’s the true question isn’t it? Which one should I actually try out? Well, since I do have a PS2 and I haven’t had the greatest luck with the disc drive in my original Playstation for many years, I think I’ll opt in to try out the XStation! 

I like the idea of a reversible mod. One that wholly integrates into the system and gives a stock hardware feel, at least on the outside. Plus, there are a few additional accessories out there that’ll make the XStation look even more like the disc drive it’s trying to emulate, like a 3D printed cover that replicates the look of the original drive. That and it has cross-compatibility with another cool PS1 project, the MemCard Pro, an FPGA driven memory card that uses SD cards for a near infinite number of save slots! Well, maybe not infinite, but definitely more than I could ever imagine filling up.

So, would you be interested in replacing your old and rundown PS1 disc drive with an ODE solution? If so, which would you want to try?

If you’re interested in checking either of them out, you can visit their product page on Castlemania Games (XStation), and ps-io.com (PSIO)