In just eight years, Analogue has transformed itself from a maker of wildly expensive bespoke Neo Geo consoles to a retro gaming giant. Capitalizing on the buzz around Nintendo's Classic Mini NES and the following mini console craze, the Seattle-based company has created premium high-definition consoles based on the NES, SNES and Genesis, all of which have been extremely well received. Today, it's announcing its most ambitious project to date: the Analogue Pocket.
The Pocket is a roughly Game Boy-shaped console that can play any Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance game, with support for Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket Color and Atari Lynx coming through add-on adapters. The system has a few more buttons than you'd expect from a Game Boy: There's a D-Pad, four face buttons, two shoulder buttons nestled on either side of the cartridge slot and a trio of small system buttons. All of the controls are remappable to individual users' tastes. Elsewhere, there are stereo speakers, a headphone jack and a lithium-ion battery that charges over USB-C.
A lot of attention appears to have gone into the Pocket's display. Analogue CEO and co-founder Christopher Taber told Engadget that, while many all-in-one retro portables use displays that have been around for 15 to 20 years, the Pocket's "modern and sophisticated" panel only began being manufactured in 2018.
More specifically, it's a 3.5-inch, 615-PPI LTPS LCD panel running at 1,600 x 1,440, which is handily exactly 10 times the resolution of the original Game Boy's display on each axis. The resolution choice means you can get a pixel-perfect, full-screen rendition of Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Gear games. Atari Lynx titles can also scale perfectly to take up the full height of the display; although the aspect ratio of that console means there will be black space at the sides. For the Game Boy Advance and Neo Geo Pocket Color, there's no way to neatly multiply the resolution, but Analogue will offer its usual suite of display options across every system, letting you tailor how they look.
For Game Boy Advance titles, the more modern display coupled with scaling and filtering could improve the notoriously muddy and hard-to-make-out character models. But all cartridges should benefit from the Pocket's superior panel, color reproduction and brightness. Analogue describes the display as having "pro level color accuracy, dynamic range and brightness," calling it the most advanced ever in a video game system. The company isn't sharing all the technical specifications of the display just yet, but the dimensions and resolution are the same as the premium panels found in Valve's $999 Index VR headset.
Rounding out the hardware is an optional dock, which will use Analogue's renowned in-house scaling tech to put handheld games on your TV with "no loss in quality," according to Taber. It will feature HDMI, two USB inputs for wired controllers and Bluetooth for connecting wireless controllers from companies like 8BitDo. The dock is scheduled to launch alongside the Pocket, but the company isn't revealing the price yet.
There are countless Game Boy knockoffs and retro handhelds out there, but the Pocket is different. While all-in-one consoles typically run games through software emulation, Analogue's party trick is and has always been its use of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA). The company develops its machines by examining the original hardware and circuitry of a console, and then coding an FPGA core to mimic it. Many months (if not years) later, the result is an accurate machine that can play cartridge media directly as if it were original hardware.
Although Analogue pioneered the use of FPGA for gaming, a healthy community of developers has sprung up in recent years, writing code for subsidized development boards. Where the Pocket diverges from Analogue's other devices is that it has two FPGA chips. The first the Pocket uses to support the various systems and games, while the second is a blank slate for others to work with.
Taber said the company will "be providing resources and putting together a lot of cool stuff" for the FPGA community to create cores for the Pocket. That includes access to the company's proprietary scalers and hardware, including the cartridge slot to allow for accessories.
The limit to what the spare FPGA can achieve "comes down to how skilled the developers are," according to Taber. It's worth setting some expectations, though: Mimicking even an NES is not easy, and with every generation the complexity of consoles increases. Even making the leap from NES to SNES adds orders of magnitude more transistors and paths to suss out. There's no reason, though, that someone proficient enough couldn't do what Analogue did with its hardware emulation of the Neo Geo, SNES or Genesis using the Pocket's FPGA, and build a simple adapter to plug in the carts.