As if to show Atari how it’s done when a real company develops a real product, Hyperkin announced today that they’re now taking pre-orders for their Retron77 console. The $69.99 retro-console is expected to start shipping to customers on July 7, 2018.
While the Retron77 doesn’t promise to usher in an era of newAtari games, it looks like it will be pretty awesome for a few important reasons:
- It actually exists,
- it’s shipping in less than a month,
- it’s reasonably inexpensive,
- 720p over HDMI,
- real cartridge slot for playing actual Atari 2600 cartridges,
- real controller ports for using your favorite vintage controller,
- and a nice-looking joystick that features an often-requested feature: an ambidextrous fire button!
I had heard rumors about a year ago that Retron77 would be an FPGA-based implementation of the Atari 2600, but it’s not stated in the product description on their website whether this is so, or if it will rely on emulation. If it does use emulation, it’s my hope that the system will prove to be hackable to emulate other systems, such as the Atari 5200 or 7800. But I would be more excited by a FPGA-based system due to the fidelity to the original hardware made possible by FPGA technology.
Other Retron consoles by Hyperkin have been spotty, with problems ranging from terrible controllers to poor emulation quality to violating open source software licenses, so it remains to be seen if the Retron77 will be worth buying. But their more recent offerings have been better, and they seem to have hit all the right notes with this one. I’m looking forward to having one that I can test with soon.
Either way, it is a real product, and will ship in less than a month, and for under $100. By contrast, the AtariBox may come out in about a year, for $300, with unknown developers lined up to release unknown new titles at launch.
Youtube videogamer Metal Jesus has posted a review of the Retron77, providing more details. The most important revelations:
- System plays the games via emulation, using Stella, which Hyperkin properly licensed for the product.
- Lag is minimal, nearly imperceptible.
- Retron 77 does have a SD card slot, as rumored.
- Not all games can be played via the cartridge slot (notably, Pitfall II) for some reason, but if you have a ROM you can put it on an SD card. However…
- Retron’s GUI for the SD card menu limits you to seeing only 20 ROMs, max. According to Hyperkin it’s a measure intended to curb piracy, and the feature is intended to allow users to play the occasional homebrew game. This explanation makes no sense, because homebrew games are also copyrighted (although many homebrew developers put their ROMs out for free download for the benefit of the community), and also available on cartridge in many cases (though per point 4, above, they may not play through the cartridge slot…) This is really limiting and annoying, and will be one of the first things hackers will want to fix. With a game catalog of over 700 games, it would be the preferred way to play games — particularly given the apparent failings of playing every game through the cartridge slot, not to mention the difficulty of getting 40 year old EEPROM carts to read. Update: I’ve read that Hyperkin have reversed course on the limit, and have decided to remove the restriction. Hooray!
- The joystick in the review unit broke, apparently it is fragile. But, Hyperkin say they are aware of this issue and already have a more robust version of this controller that will be included with the production model, and they will replace any that break.
- Metal Jesus echoes a sentiment expressed by many: that a multi-system Retron that covers Atari/Intellivision/Colecovision or early 8-bit computers would be a must-buy.
John Hancock’s review shows more extensive testing, reveals additional shortcomings: Grand Prix driving controller not supported, Harmony Cart and homebrew carts not supported (but this isn’t such a big deal, considering you can load ROMs onto the SD card).