Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review | LameStation

Hey folkey-folks! Carter here. Again. Back from the labs with another review! This time, one of the few DIY consoles you can actually buy on the market. Our verdict: It's pretty sweet. Keep reading for more deets.

As always, a big thanks to the Lamestation folks, who shipped me a review model. They'll be starting a Kickstarter soon for an revised and updated edition of this gadget, so make sure to be on the lookout for that. You can check 'em out here:


Review - The LameStation Console

So what is the humorously-named Lamestation? It's a handheld game console, for starters. But it's also so much more. It's powered by an arduino microprocessor, meaning you can program it to run a variety of premade applications (not just games) and even write your own programs!

Now a quick note on this model: This version of the Lamestation is actually scheduled for revision soon. The new model planned will be preassembled (the first one you had to build yourself) smaller and more ergonomic, like other handheld consoles, and will feature a rechargeable battery instead of the older version's AA battery holder. I'll be posting a link to the Kickstarter for the Lamestation upgrade version when it goes live. (Which is hopefuly soon!)

My model came very quickly and was preassembled, which, like I said, isn't how they come for most. But they had a couple premade ones lying around, so that helped make the review easier.

My review package included:

-1x Lamestation Console

-1x Serial-to-USB Cable

-1x DC Power Wall Plug

There isn't a lot, but you don't need a lot to have fun with this thing. The good stuff's all inside the console.

The Hardware:

Lamestation is, at its core, a game console. Running a Parallax Propeller microcontroller, it allows you to program it with an IDE not too different from Arduino. And like an Arduino board, the Lamestation features female headers for the different inputs and outputs of the microcontroller, allowing you to hook up the console to external electronic projects as well.

The Lamestation itself is a rather chunky console. Square, with rounded edges, it fits into the contours of your hands fairly well, but what really makes it bulky is the thickness. The Lamestation is actually a circuit board connected to a clear piece of acryllic on the back by four legs. Protruding from the front of the main board is the LCD screen, and on the back you'll find the battery holder.

It's not so thick that it's uncomfortable to hold, but it does give it a bit more of a hefty weight to it. But if you use the DC power plug, it should help cut down on the weight. And I hate to be negative at all, because it's an amazing system. It's just a little bulky. But I know that's because it's a DIY kit, and most people will need the space to insert and solder the parts together.

I won't speak much on the DIY aspect, since mine came preassembled, but you will need a soldering iron and steady hand to put the console together.

The console has a variety of inputs that include the joystick, A, B, and Reset buttons, volume and screen contrast slider... oh, and the power switch. As for the ports, you have your serial port, DC power, and headphone jack.

The serial port, used for programming the Lamestation, was amusing to see. I hadn't looked at one of those in quite some time, and it seems like an interesting choice for the console. But maybe it's what the chip uses for programming. Anyway, the cable provided with the console for programming is Serial-to-USB, meaning you can plug it right into any ol' computer and it'll work. (Once certain items have been installed. But more on that later.)

The contrast slider is also a nice touch, and definitely helpful. Not every game looks the same under the same contrast level, so it was definitely nice to be able to change that for the best viewing experience.

The last parts you'll see on the board are the LEDs, the speaker, and GPIO headers. The LEDs are fairly simple; one shows code-writing progress and status, and the the other is controllable by the user. The speaker, while slightly tinny, does its job well; although there aren't that many programs yet that have sound included.

The GPIO pins are similar to what you'd find on any single-board microcontroller. You've got spots for 5V and 3.3V power, GND, IO, and more. This makes it possible to write programs that actively monitor, control, and interface with your electronic projects.

The Software:

The Lamestation is programmed via the PropellerIDE, a programming enviroment created just for writing SPIN code, the code that controls the Parallax Propeller chips. This enviroment is very friendly and fairly easy to learn. Even if you don't want to write you own code, the process for uploading prewritten programs to your Lamestation is very simple: Just open the correct .spin file, click compile, and either run- or write- that program to the Lamestation.

The Lamestation SDK that you download from the website contains all the different demos, apps, games, and resources to program your Lamestation. Some of the demos are more complete than others, and some are rather broken. But they're all (for the most part) still in development, so give the Lamestation community time, and they'll keep working on them.

The Lamestation site provides a bunch of documentation on how to program in the Propeller language, SPIN. I dabbled with it slightly, and from what I've seen, it's a very clear and concise syntax to follow. They'll teach you the basics, from lighting up the LEDs to drawing out images on the screen. It's very fun.

There are a whole slew of games that come with the Lamestation SDK. Ranging from Frappy Bird, (what could that possibly be a clone of?) to a maze-crawling game, to Pikemanz (a very broken Pokemon varient) to much more. There's a lot to explore and play around with.

There's also an experimental sound synth app you can run. It's interesting. There's also a few graphics-demoing programs as well.

And that about wraps up my review. Did I convince you guys to pick up the console? Or wait for the revised model and nab that instead? If you simply can't wait, head to the >store< to pick up a Gen 1 Lamestation. Or bookmark this article for when the Gen 2 model is released!

Write for you later,


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