Nintendo has announced that it will release a new adapter for the Game Boy Advance SP and Nintendo DS. Tentatively named Play-Yan, the adapter will let the handhelds play back MPEG-4 video and MP3 audio files from SD memory cards.
- Japanese language product.
- For Gameboy Advance SP and Nintendo DS only (NOT Gameboy Advance)
- Playback MPEG4 videos and MP3 music from SD memory cards
- Maximum resolution NDS: 256 x 192 pixels
- Maximum resolution GBA: 240 x 160 pixels
- Does not support SD-Video in extra fine mode (320x240/30fps)
- Supports VBR and allows playback of MP3 files with bit rates of 32-320kbps
- Only available through Nintendo's web site in Japan starting from spring 2005
Play-Yan is a peripheral designed for use with the Game Boy Advance line of portables. Taking the shape of a Game Boy Advance cartridge that accepts SD memory cards, the device includes a built-in MPEG decoder allowing for hardware playback of ASF (MPEG4) movies and MP3 music clips. Previous attempts at Game Boy Advance video have used software decoding solutions, resulting in lower quality, lower color clips.
Play-Yan works with the GBA SP, the DS the Game Boy Player and the standard GBA. We tested it on all four platforms and found it to work without problem. We had some trouble with the standard Game Boy Advance's screen being too dark to clearly see video. Video playback through a television highlights compression artifacts, so the Game Boy Player is probably not the best way to use the device. As Nintendo originally announced, Play-Yan is mainly meant for the GBA-SP and the DS.
Although only available via direct purchase from Nintendo Japan's e-commerce site, Play-Yan has all the makings of a full retail product, including a box and manual. Nintendo even made a stick-figure character to personalize the device! We're sure this cute, nameless guy (or is his name Play-Yan?) will appear in future Nintendo games.
The slot for SD cards is located on the right-side of the Play-Yan cartridge. Play-Yan accepts full-sized SD cards, although we had no problem using a mini SD card with an adapter. As a slight annoyance with the setup, to actually transfer movies and music to Play-Yan, you have to physically remove the SD card from Play-Yan and plug it into your computer's SD card slot, which means turning off power and pulling out the Play-Yan cartridge first. This is particularly annoying on the DS, as the startup time is a bit longer.
The front of the Play-Yan cartridge has a port. This port is for directly plugging headphones into the device. If there are no headphones plugged into Play-Yan, sound is output through the regular Game Boy Advance or DS sound channels, emerging from the system speakers or through headphones that are connected to the system's main headphone port. Sound through the main system is tinny and scratchy, as if the system is struggling to output the sound; it's best to play sound directly through Play-Yan. And in case you were wondering, you can't output sound simultaneously through Play-Yan and the Game Boy headphone port.
One thousand yen extra gets you, in addition to the Play-Yan cartridge, a mini CD containing "Media Stage for Nintendo," a version of Panasonic's multimedia compression software that can be used to produce videos at Play-Yan specifications from the movie files stored on your PC. We found installing Media Stage to be simple even on a non-Japanese version of Windows XP. We had to go into the Windows control panel to switch our default language option to Japanese in order to get the software to actually run, though. If you find yourself having problems we'd suggest trying this.
The Media Stage software is a bit difficult to use. Upon startup, the software automatically outputs to the screen all media files that are in a set of directories that you've specified in advance. If a directory has a number of subdirectories each containing media files, the individual files are output directly to the screen, making for somewhat of a mess if you have a lot of media files. A full Windows Explorer style interface and browser would have been nicer.
Media Stage seems like it's meant exclusively for producing videos. We couldn't make it rip music from CD, nor could we do much with audio and image files aside from playing them back on the computer. As far as movie files go, we were able to get the software to detect Windows Media and standard AVI files, but not Quicktime files.
To compress a file for play on Play-Yan, you simply select the file and select "Compact" (the third option down on the right control panel shown in the below screenshot). You can select from a number of target platforms, including a variety of cell phones, with just one option for Play-Yan. Play-Yan itself has three video rates: high quality, standard and high compression. Before you start compressing, the software gives an accurate estimate of the amount of space into which it will compress the file.
We found compression times to be a bit slow. On a Pentium 4 3.2GHz machine, it took about three minutes to compress a three minute high-quality AVI file to the highest Play-Yan setting (480kbps, 240x176, 30fps). The resulting file size was 12,664KB. Reducing the quality to the standard setting (352kbps, 240x176, 30.0fps), and the file size was reduced to 9,632KB with compression taking just about the same amount of time. Reducing quality further to the lowest setting (224kbps, 240x176, 15fps) and the file size was reduced to 6,408KB with a two minutes and ten seconds compression time.
These settings translate to low to reasonable video quality when clips are played back on a Play-Yan hooked up to a DS or GBA-SP. We noticed clear artifacts even in the highest quality setting, mostly on videos with high brightness. However, both the highest quality and standard quality settings make for reasonable viewing, especially with darker footage. Lowest quality is a bit harder to look at thanks to the drop in frame rate, but we've found ourselves putting up with worse on the iRiver color 320 series player, so if you want to fit a lot on a small SD card, the lowest setting could be your thing.
Actually getting videos up and running on Play-Yan is much simpler than it is on Sony's PSP. You can copy your movie files to any location on the SD card. After starting up Play-Yan, a startup menu asks you to select between viewing movies and listening to music. Select the movie option and Play-Yan scans the SD card, including sub-directories, and displays all ASF movie files in index form. We didn't have to worry about any sort of naming convention, neither for directories nor for movie files.
It takes a couple of seconds for Play-Yan to start playing a movie, but going back to the index screen is instantaneous. Once you've started watching, there isn't much you can do with the video. The device has multiple brightness settings, but we found only the default setting to actually be viewable. Audio can be easily adjusted as you watch, and with a good pair of ear phones, we found the audio level to be comfortable, but just a bit too quiet. We found scan controls to be a too slow -- adjustable speeds would be preferred, especially for longer videos.
Outside of movies, the Play-Yan is also meant to serve as a first party MP3 upgrade for the GBASP and DS. As mentioned in our previous writeup, the compact size of the Game Boy Advance SP and the low requirements of music playback make the Play-Yan into a natural fit as a music player. Now that we have the device, we were able to put it to the test on a number of different songs of far greater variety than the Peach Sound Selection soundtrack Nintendo offered in our December demo.
As Play-Yan is compatible with standard MP3 files, we simply copied over our files as we saw fit. Play-Yan displayed the files separated into their individual directories. According to the Play-Yan manual, the system can display up to 90 directories or songs at a time, which is plenty (unless you have an absurd amount of music and an absurdly huge SD card). There doesn't seem to be any support for play lists.
We tried a number of music files and file sizes, ranging from 128kbps encoding to VBR encoding, with file sizes up to sixteen megabytes, and Play-Yan had no problem playing the files back. As with the PSP, Play-Yan reads files quickly off the SD card, so songs that span multiple tracks have only a slight pause between playback; there's still a notable pause, but it's shorter than we've come to expect from hard disk music players.
While the Play-Yan interface, featuring the cute stick man character, is fun to watch, the music interface overall leaves a bit to be desired. Scanning is too slow, and you can't scan from one track into the previous track, which would be a nice feature for songs that span multiple tracks. Play-Yan allows for just the bare minimum forms of playback, including shuffle of songs in a current directory and repeat play of a single track and of a single directory. There's no A-B repeat, despite the presence of extra buttons for such a feature.
Despite interface problems, sound quality makes Play-Yan work great as a music player. While volume doesn't go as high as we'd have liked, Play-Yan does have a terrific bass boost feature than can be adjusted to various levels of bass. Sound quality and playback, while not having the clarity of higher end devices, is impressive considering that it's coming from a tiny Game Boy Advance SP.
Play-Yan has one added bit of functionality that Nintendo unveiled this past week: free games! While the Game Boy Advance is capable of full games, it's possible to download miniature game files to your SD card and play the games directly on the Play-Yan video index screen. Judging by the Insect, first mini game, which takes up 630Kilobytes of space on the SD card, the games are limited to basic gameplay, but in case you don't have an actual Game Boy Advance or DS game with you, they could be fun little ways to pass the time. Ninteno promises more games every week.
To see Play-Yan in motion, including movies, music and mini-games, download the following video. This was captured off the Game Boy Player, so sound quality isn't as high as it would be with headphones plugged directly into Play-Yan.
Windows Media (9026K)
Having used Play-Yan for music and movie playback, we're overall impressed with the product. While movie clarity isn't anywhere near that of the PSP, it's passable, especially in comparison to the lower end media/music player hybrid devices like the color iRiver. MP3 playback benefits from the GBA-SP's small size and the Play-Yan's quality sound output; we could picture ourselves using the Game Boy Advance SP as an audio player if Nintendo or Panasonic would release a remote control.
Sadly, the same can't be said of the DS, which, like the PSP, is too big and heavy to be held in your pocket as an audio playback device. If you have a bag to carry it around in, a DS coupled with Play-Yan could make for a cool MP3 player, although the lack of remote control means you'd have to take the system out of your bag every time you want to switch songs. The DS also requires that you go through the system startup screen when starting up Play-Yan, which can be annoying.
The success of Play-Yan will depend on how Nintendo pushes it at retail. Currently, the device is only available in Japan, only via Nintendo's e-commerce shop, and at an unfriendly price tag. If Nintendo drops the price, fixes some of the interface issues, and gives Play-Yan a full retail push, the Game Boy line could go beyond just games.
You can buy GBA Flash Memory Cards in following on-line stores:
EZ-Flash III 3
- new generation ezflash cart but is it better? 2 separate memory banks and good software.
- ezfa cartridge and ez flash advance linker are popular for being the first RTC set.
- newcomer in the flash market with ok software, g6 PDA soft and card with nand and nor mem.
GBA Movie Player
- designed for playing movies, mp3 and ebooks but can be used to play nes roms and small gb games.
GBA Super Card
- new Compact Flash adapter for GBA and Nintendo DS similar to movie player but can play GBA roms.
GBA X-ROM Flash
- xrom - cheapest 512Mb set that has RTC, Cheats Codes, nes, snes, gb/gbc pce and PogoShell support.
- original MP3 and MPEG4 player for GBA SP and NDS with support for small games playing.
GBA QBus QBoy
- 2in1 flash writer that doubles as game pad and QBoy software that allows download gba roms free.
XG-Flash 2 Turbo 2005
- external miniature USB writer model for XG2T cards. Makes XGflash Nintendo DS compatible.
- great design with rtc, super memory stick for save game management and good linker / writer.