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Over the past year that Retro Game Network has been online, many of us have been very intrigued by one of the latest community inventions, that allows you to load up an SD memory card with your favorite ROM images, and then play those images on actual hardware. The Atari 2600, NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64 and even the Sega Dreamcast have all had products either mass marketed, or at least made into the prototype stages. “PSIO” is a new addition to the list of devices allowing such a function, and while some people in the retro video game community thought that this was just a fantasy, it looks like the device, to be compatible with the original Sony PlayStation, is actually getting closer to becoming reality.

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“PSIO” (“Project PlayStation Input/Output”) is a cartridge board being developed in Australia that when plugged into your PlayStation’s parallel I/O port, will allow you to play backed up PS1 game titles that were extracted from the original CD-ROM, that have been stored on an SD card. At first, the project was actually slated to use a large hard drive for it’s storage medium, however due to an unknown issue, the original concept was ultimately changed to utilize SD cards instead.

Some of the features and compatibilities of this upcoming board, include being able to play games that are on multiple discs, a built-in cheat system (that is being compared to the GameShark), a HEX editor, as well as being able to listen to music with the device. (Albeit not using MP3 format due to the original PlayStation’s CPU limitations.) You will also be able to save your game progress without the need of a memory card. The people behind the new board have not fully given up on the idea of being able to play movies on the device, however they state that if the CPU can’t decode MP3, that decoding AVI or MP4 may not be physically possible.

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The board will be operated using a customized version of Sony’s “XMB” menu (Xross Media Bar), called “PSIO OS”. The XMB menus can be currently found on the Sony PS3 and PSP platforms. In addition, another function of the upcoming board is that it will also permit you to boot (as well as run code) that you have programmed from an SD card, on actual PlayStation hardware. It will also offer a USB port for a direct connection between your PS1 and your computer, which will assist with programming your own games if you so desire. These features alone, are more than likely going to make this new board a favorable tool for homebrew developers, both established as well as curious.

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Those of you that have a “SCPH-900x” series PlayStation or the re-designed “PSone”, will notice immediate concern with the device, considering that both of those models did not offer a parallel port at all. A special version of the PSIO is being planned for these versions of the console, in which the parallel input/output header connector will not be included on the circuit board. However in order to use this, the gamer will need to do a little bit of soldering work, manually connecting it directly to the PlayStation motherboard.

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The video that has been uploaded (shown at the end of this article) offers a quick demonstration of the device in action. During the loading sequence, you will see the 1997 game “Klonoa” being loaded up and ready to play, while taking advantage of it’s USB abilities. The video shows version 1.0 of the hardware, version 1.0A of the software, and is being run using an original PS1 model SCPH-5502. PSIO announces on the video’s introduction, that it is only an early prototype demonstration, and that it no way represents what the final product is to be.

For those that are curious about the “when and how much” aspects, the current plan is to have it available for sale sometime by the end of the year. Because the board is still in the prototype stages, there has not been any word on how much it will cost. We do know that international shipping will more than likely be offered, since the device is compatible with PAL, NTSC-U/C and NTSC-J regions. We will have more information and updates about this story as the news becomes available.

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And of course, as with all SD card devices that perform such a function, it bares repeating that you should only use the device for playing backup copies of CD-ROMs that you already own. Just a reminder that it’s considered illegal to load games on the device that you don’t physically own. (With the fact that the screen showed up during the demonstration, I thought it was fitting to just add that.)

Official PSIO Webpage: http://www.psio.com.au/

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IahKMYXEcM]