Wednesday, May 13, 2009

GP2X Wiz Review: Ready To Rock

Here it is, kids. The GP2X Wiz. My sources tell me that the final production units have left Korea and are ready to be shipped to you. UPDATE: While writing this article, I was notified that the Wiz shipment has already arrived at Play-Asia.

The GP2X Wiz is a hand-held game console, personal digital assistant, handheld organizer, and portable media player all rolled into one. It's like a light-weight pocket-sized open-source PSP with a touch screen. Or maybe it is a single-screen Linux-based DS. Actually, if you've been following this scene for a while you'd know that it's a sleeker, lighter, smaller, and faster GP2X with a better screen.

Additionally, if you've been following my posts leading up to this GP2X Wiz review (or maybe the GP32 and GP2X scenes), you may know that I have a slant toward homebrew development. I am interested in writing and porting games, emulators, and applications to handheld game consoles. That's why I've been drawn to the Gamepark Holdings systems in the past, and the Wiz is no exception.

The GP2X Wiz is the latest and greatest in a line of open handheld consoles. It runs Linux, which should tell you, right off, that it's open for hacking. Unlike traditional console manufacturers like Sony or Nintendo, Gamepark Holdings (aka GPH) encourages consumer creativity by making development tools available to anyone that would like to try their hand at writing software for their system. They make it easy to write and port games by basing much of their programming interface on SDL.

Many of the people reading this are already familiar with systems from "Gamepark Holdings" (and "Gamepark" before them) like the GP32 and the GP2X. When the GP32 came out, it was an awesome device. The best hackers and developers came together to create a great community and library of homebrew games, applications, and emulators. This community carried the GP32 through several hardware iterations and ultimately to it's successor, the GP2X. The GP2X was based on a new CPU, ran Linux, and (in later iterations) supported stylus input. The growing community remained largely intact through the transition from GP32 to GP2X even though the system architectures were very different and source code was largely incompatible.

Ultimately, the GP2X scene flourished while systems like the Tapwave Zodiac came and went. Even against giants like the PSP and DS around, the GP2X scene proved that there was a place for truly open game consoles. Now the scene is ready for its next rightful successor, the GP2X Wiz. This time around though, the successor won't have to displace developer's prior work. This time, the source code is almost entirely portable from the GP2X to the Wiz, so we get the vast library of the GP2X with the extra speed, portability, and sharpness of the new Wiz.

Let's go over some details. The Wiz is based around a 533MHz ARM9 CPU (which seems to be overclockable maybe even past 700MHz, but don't hold me to that) and 3D video hardware thanks to MagicEyes' Pollux. It uses SDHC for storage in addition to it's 1Gb of built-in flash memory. The screen is a beautiful 2.8 inch AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) display. All this stuff weighs in at just under 140g which, combined with it being just 121mm wide, 61mm tall, and 18mm deep) makes the Wiz a perfect addition to your pocket or backpack.

Developing (writing code) for the GP2X Wiz has been a breeze. I'm actually fairly impressed that GPH was able to use the same binary format on the Wiz that the GP2X used. That allowed me to use the same compiler, toolchain, and libraries that I had for developing on the GP2X (which was from the Open2X project). The only real change that I made was specifying the use of shared libraries instead of statically linking libraries as I had done with the GP2X.

To be honest, I really like the little thing. It seems to be put together way better than the GP32 or the GP2X. It seems really solid like a commercial game console should. I say this because there were things about the previous GP32 and GP2X that seemed cheaply made. The screen looks great. Heck, the whole machine looks great.

I must say that the system is small! To me, overall, this is a positive. Though, there are some drawbacks of having a small machine. Obviously, with a smaller handheld comes a smaller screen. Whatever this screen lacks in size, it makes up in clarity, though. The AMOLED is pretty. I don't know if it's the best machine for watching portable movies. Your laptop or portable DVD player should be better, but really if you want to have some anime ready for whenever you find yourself sitting around waiting for something, this is great for that. Another thing the miniturization brings is the potential for cramped hands. I noticed this a bit during some of my sessions with the Wiz. I don't know if this is a real concern, though. To me, it's just another side-effect of size reduction.

Now, let me address a couple things that seem to be of concern to people. First of all, "What's with the two dpads?" Well, I think that's a legitimate question. I say, though, that the jury is still out on this one. My take on it is that the "second dpad" (which is actually the four completely INDIVIDUAL A/B/X/Y buttons configured to look like a dpad) is a novel idea. When the DS came out, I thought it was gimicky, and I didn't understand why people would want an extra screen and a stylus. The same could be said for the Wii. Neither followed convention. The Wiz's controls are a step in an unknown direction. I think people will easily get used to using them as 4 individual buttons (just like a conventional controller). What I hope to see, though, are some interesting new games that use this "second dpad" in new novel ways.

Next on the list, interestingly enough, is the first (actual) dpad. There has been some (unwarranted as far as I can tell) concern in the community that there are problems with this controller. I actually wonder if these concerns were planted as an attempt to knock the Wiz down a notch or two. To me, there is no concern here, so let's just move on.

The final concern that I want to mention is the "diagonal tearing" issue that seems to be bothering some people. If you have watched any YouTube videos of the Wiz running games or emulators and have not noticed a diagonal going through the screen, then please don't concern yourself with this. I understand, though, that some people are bothered by things like this. I have noticed the diagonals, and, to be honest, it doesn't bother me. They do catch my eye sometimes, and I think the problem itself (from a technical point of view) is an odd and interesting issue.

It seems that the OLED screen that GPH uses is actually a 240x320 screen that is laid on its side to be viewed at 320x240. This is the same thing that was done with the GP32. I guess it's easier to find manufacturers of small portrait displays than landscape ones. Perhaps that is due to PDA's and cell phones driving much of the market. From what I can tell, using the 240x320 screen should not be a problem at all, but there is something diagonal that is noticable at times. I've been working with handheld systems for a long time, and I've seen what guys in these scenes are capable of. I really feel like this is an issue that will either be solved with a firmware update or in software (like either in the SDL libraries or the individual games). To me, this is more of a challenge than a problem.

As I was writing this, I just found out that there have been some changes in the GP2X Wiz production units that are now in stock at Play-Asia.com (as compared to the pre-release test unit that I have in my hands). The game Snake On Dope is no longer a built-in game presumably due to some copyright issues with the music. The Flash games, which are completely in Korean on the test unit, are now available in English. The list of built-in native games includes Animatch, Boomshine2x, Myriad, Square Tower Defense, Tail Tale, and Wiztern, while the list of flash games includes IQ games like "Addition and Minus", "Crisis Ladder", "Look For the Coin in the Saving Pocket", "Look For the Missing Number From the Order", and "Look For the Same Pictures". The "IQ" games are brain training games something along the lines of "Brain Age."

The GP2X Wiz is great. If you liked the GP32 or the GP2X, it's a no-brainer. If you had a GP32 or a GP2X and didn't like it, then you need to evaluate why and decide if the Wiz addresses any of your past problems (like maybe you disliked the joystick on your GP2X or the screen on your GP32). If you haven't had the chance to play with a GP32 or a GP2X, then I highly recommend leapfrogging those systems and give the Wiz a chance. It's obviously the latest and greatest in the line. Obviously everyone has their own opinions about what they like and dislike, but I don't see anything here that would be a negative surprise. I think that what you see is what you get. If you want a small, lightweight, open-source, home-brew, gaming-console/media-player, look no further. The Wiz is in stock and ready to ship. I hope you liked the Ready To Rock GP2X Wiz Review.

21 comments:

Danny X said...

sweet review bro ^_^ I wonder if you could run PSX on this badboy...it seems to be powerful enough ^_^ oh and I want to make or port pc games to this....windows to linx? do you think there is a way...im useing RPG maker VX....again kick ass review, hope GPH start selling the metal stickers ^_^

Robert said...

sure you can run psx on this badboy :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWvyDG7pdxMbut it the emu isn't optimized yet, so wait sometime and we'll see ;)

Flavor said...

Danny: I don't know much about RPG Maker. I mean, I know what it is, but I don't know any technical details. If it's open-source, it may be portable. Though, it seems like they have made it specific for systems (like the one you're using is for Windows). It would be tough to get it working on the Wiz. You may be able to use an emulator to get some version of RPG Maker (like maybe one for the GBA) to run in an emulator.

I did a bit of searching, and there are things like http://easyrpg.sourceforge.net/ that may work out for you. It's really tough to say without just trying.

Kittens323 said...

Great review! Just makes me want one even more! Need to wait for my next damn paycheck though...

Danny X said...

Hey Flavor thanks for the help ^^ im going to go see the video Robert ^_^ I hope that people dont forget about the Wiz cause all i see online is people talk about Pandora ;_; makes me sad cause its times 2 the price of GP2X Wiz...i hope the Wiz can hold it down

K. Cowan said...

PSX support should be a breeze once its optimized. The emu was generally running at 15 fps (depending on the game) on the f200. With 2.7x the processor speed (15x the PSX) and now 3d acceleration (3.7x more poly/s than the PSX) I should hope it runs close to 100%. If that still doesn't work, we can always try the recompiling approach...

On a homebrew note, does anyone know what OpenGL library the Wiz is using? is it Vincent? When is the SDK going to be released? That 3D trailer on youtube had me drooling. Any info on the 3D sdk would be greatly appreciated.

Serhii said...

My Wiz has left Hong-Kong two days ago, can't wait to try it! Great review, thanks.
One really disturbing thing is gp2xwiz.com doesn't have truly english version, for example when I click on firmware upgrade banner, all text there is in korean and I have to use translate.google.com. Hope GPH will do something on that )

Godrigo said...

Can we please have a Tutorial How to Install Mame4all ? Cause it seems to run but then I get the Error Message telling me that there are no Games to be found

Nick said...

Godrigo, I had to make a "roms" subdirectory in the mame directory. It worked fine for me after that.

Godrigo said...

Tanks Nick...
Unfortunatelly Still not working for me :/

Nick said...

There's a new version up today (http://archive.gp2xwiz.de/cgi-bin/cfiles.cgi?0,0,0,0,73,22), hope it works better for you.

Are you using the proper romset for this? Mame4all uses a very old set (.37b ... something.)

Anonymous said...

I love the review. I'm obsessing over the Wiz while I'm waiting for mine to arrive. Its great that you respond to your comments.

I was wondering, Flavor, since you code for the GP2x, could you provide or would you know of, a very basic how-to for GP2x coding? like a simple outline to point us in the right direction?

I've done some basic coding, learned some C programming. any input would be appreciated.

Johnnie
Lehighton PA

Flavor said...

Hey Johnnie!
You know, I think that I would start with just some basic SDL (http://www.libsdl.org/) coding. If you make a SDL program that uses 320x240 resolution, it should be VERY easy to get it running on the Wiz. There are lots of people that develop for PC, Linux, etc. with SDL, and therefore there are many examples and tutorials around.

If you want to stick with free tools, I'd recommend getting and setting up the Code::Blocks environment (http://codeblocks.org/).

For GP2X/Wiz info, check here first http://wiki.gp2x.org/wiki/Main_Page . There's a section on that page about development, though some of the info may be a bit outdated. Check this out to get setup to build stuff for the GP2X/Wiz (http://wiki.gp2x.org/wiki/Installing_the_Open2x_toolchain).

I hope that helps. If it's not enough, head over to www.gp32x.com and post questions there.

Robert said...

The problem I have with this review, and the problem I have with most of what I've read about the GP2X, is that virtually all discussion is about the GP2X as a development platform for homebrew games.

The painful reality is that most homebrew games really suck. Sorry, but it's true. The best "homebrew" games are usually mods of commercial games like CounterStrike and MUGEN. We don't need another badly-coded Tetris clone.

So, realistically, most of the interest in this platform has to do with emulators and multimedia features. And that where my questions lie:

What emulators are supported on the GP2X? How functional are they compared to fully-developed x86 emulators? Given the layout I'm thinking SNES and Sega Genesis would be good targets.

What media formats does the media player support? Can it do H.264?

What formats does the comic book reader support? Will it do .CBR?

Will the e-book reader do PDF?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Flavor!
From the links you provided, I came across GLBASIC.

For everyone interested, you can use GLBASIC to code for many platforms, including the GP2x and the GP2x wiz. It also has a complete 3D engine that supports most common 3D model formats. AND linux is not required, you can use this on windows. for those unfamiliar with basic, its one of the easiest programing languages to learn.

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