Spawned from a failed collaboration between Sony and Nintendo, Sony's PlayStation line has since emerged as the one of the dominant console gaming platforms. The PSX has a long and storied history and a library of gaming classics. And it's possible to experience some of those groundbreaking classics today with the help of desktop emulators. Read on for our picks of some of the best emulators of the PlayStation 1, 2 and the handheld PSP. (Image Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc.)
First, if you're in the U.S., be aware of some legal points of order: Emulators aren't illegal, and game owners can create archival backup copies of their games. However, it is illegal to download or distribute ROMs and disc image files from the internet, even if you legally own a copy of the game. You have to own the game and make the copy yourself. A similar consideration is in place for the console BIOS, which some emulators need to run: it's illegal to distribute the console BIOS. Though it's possible to dump the console BIOS onto a memory card, downloading or distributing the BIOS file is illegal and may void your warranty. (Image Credit: Shutterstock)
When it comes to multi-purpose emulators that also do PSX emulation, check out Mednafen, an all-in-one emulation program that covers a variety of systems, such as the NES, PSX, the Sega Genesis, and the Game Boy Advance. Of course, while it is a pretty versatile emulator, Mednafen does come with a few caveats. For PSX emulation, you'll need to rip your own PSX BIOS files. Additionally, Mednafen, at its core, is a command line program, so you'll probably also want to get your hands on a good GUI front end, such as MedGUI Reloaded, for a more user friendly experience. Properly set up though, Mednafen is versatile emulator with a ton of options (and support for other consoles is a great plus).
Another good all-in-one emulator program is RetroArch, an open-source multi-platform emulator available on Windows, Linux, and Android. RetroArch already comes with its own front end GUI, and allows users to download a wide variety of emulation cores for a variety of consoles and handhelds. (And the PSX cores, are, in fact, powered by Mednafen.) RetroArch includes some nice extra features such as NetPlay support, and support for custom shaders, resolutions, refresh rates, save states and more. RetroArch still needs PlayStation BIOS files for emulation, so that's still going to be a major hurdle for some users, but as a fairly easy, one-stop emulator, it's a great grab.
An emulator that can trace its descent from the old PSemu prrogram, EPSXE is an excellent emulator that features a plugin system from its ancestor, allowing users to pick and choose between different methods of GPU, sound, and CD-ROM emulation optimized for your hardware. The emulator's options allow for compatibility with a lot of games after a little tweaking. EPSXE requires a Playstation BIOS to function, which is something to consider if you don't have the means to dump one. Compatible with a large library of games, and with loads of plugins to work with, EPSXE is a bit of a hassle to set up, as you will need to look up the best plugins for your configuration, but that's also a strength.
Tool-assisted speedruns exploit emulation software features such as frame-by-frame advancement, save states, luck manipulation, and input recording to clock the fastest (or most tactically or technically satisfying) playthroughs of a game. A popular choice on the PC for tool-assisted speedrunning of PSX games is BizHawk, a multi-purpose emulator whose PSX emulation is powered by Mednafen. BizHawk comes with a slew of TAS tools for recording runs and inputs, RAM watching, save states, rewinds and more. You'll still need a PSX BIOS dump, and Bizhawk also has an installer of prerequisites before you load up the core program itself.
When it comes to Playstation 2 emulation, PCSX2 is one of the most popular choices. Users can opt for straight up emulation of the classic system, or use a plugin system to add performance enhancements. This gives you the ability to create different combinations of plugins to get the best performance, or to apply a variety of graphics enhancements such as 4k resolutions, anti-aliasing, and texture filtering. PCSX2 has fairly good compatibility with the library of games growing every day, and an active community that can help you out.
Playstation 3 emulation was once considered a near impossibility. Enter the team behind RPCS3, which has been plugging away since 2012 and has managed to create a credible, functional PS3 emulator that's shown desktop emulation is not only possible, but achievable. RPCS3 boasts full compatibility with more than 440 games (defined as playable from start to finish); unlike other emulators, RPCS3 users will have less of a hassle getting their hands on firmware, as they can download the files straight from the Playstation.com portal. The main hassle is going to be dumping games from the specially formatted Blu-Ray discs used for the PS3.