All the Graphics
PSX'ing in a Foreign Land|
By Thiravudh Khoman
Six months ago, what I knew about Sony Playstations could fill a thimble. To me, it was a simple toy - connect it to a TV as you would a VCR, stick in a CD as you would an audio CD player, and voilá, it worked. This was especially true if you acquired your Playstation ("PSX" for short) games in the same geographical area that you bought your PSX console. Unfortunately, things aren't quite so simple if you get transported to a "foreign land".
For some time now, video game consoles (at least the authentic ones) have been shipped with a form of "protection" that prevents games obtained in certain locales from being played on machines originating from other locales. Such was the case with the Sony Playstation as well, as I discovered when I tried to get my daughter's Thailand-bought PSX to work in the U.S.
Being a reasonably experienced computerist, I figured this would be child's play (sic) to remedy. Six months later, I'm much wiser but alas a bit poorer than I needed to be. For better or worse, though, "Dance, Dance Revolution 2nd Mix" (the nefarious dance game that is/used to be popular in Bangkok and is unavailable in the U.S.) is now playable on my daughter's PSX, and my daughter is playing with MY toys a bit less (yay!).
While this topic is probably of limited interest to hardcore computer folk, I figured I would write it up anyway for the sake of some poor soul who finds him/herself in the same predicament as I was in.
PAL vs NTSC
Attentive readers will no doubt catch onto the fact that Thailand and the U.S. use different television systems - i.e. PAL in Thailand and NTSC in the U.S. - not to mention different A/C voltages - i.e. 220 volts at 50 cycles in Thailand versus 110 volts at 60 cycles in the U.S. Not a problem. My Thailand-bought PSX was dual voltage and could handle the electrical differences without a problem when I tried it in the U.S.
The problem was that the picture came out in glorious black and white. Doing some research on the internet, I found out that the B&W; images were symptomatic of a PAL PSX being played on an NTSC TV. This was a surprise to me since my PSX was supposed to be an NTSC model (or so it was labelled), not PAL at all. I didn't think to verify this when I was in Thailand, since my multi-system TV at home could handle NTSC signals with aplomb anyway, and I simply assumed that the PSX was operating in NTSC mode.
The seemingly simplest solution would be to buy a multi-system TV here in the U.S. Unfortunately, all TV's sold through regular retail channels here are single system (i.e. NTSC only). Indeed, the only way to obtain a multi-system TV in the U.S. is to go through special importers who charge atrocious prices for such items (around US$500 for 21"-ers).
A similar alternative is to get a multi-system VCR that can convert the signal from PAL to NTSC, and then connect the PSX to the TV through the VCR. Again, such items are only available from said importers and the price is hardly much cheaper.
Yet another option was to try and find a "black box" signal converter, one that could convert a PAL signal into NTSC. Scouring the internet, I found a handful of inexpensive converters that could convert NTSC to PAL, but very few from PAL to NTSC, and those that I found were quite pricey, around US$200 and up. Given that I had never used such a device before, this was a very risky option, not to mention expensive. I was willing to spend $50 at most; anything above that and I may as well buy a new U.S. PSX instead.
No Way (Play)Station
Not surprisingly, I eventually gave up on trying to make my Thai, seemingly-PAL PSX play on a U.S NTSC-only TV. It was just too costly. The only alternative open to me now was to buy a new U.S. PSX instead. The cost of these are currently about US$100, give or take about US$10. Actually, given that the Playstation 2 is due out soon, I had hoped it would be cheaper.
But wait a minute. During my internet research, I discovered that PSX CD's bought in different parts of the world are only playable on machines bought in that part of the world. Sony chose to embed a "regional code" into the boot sector of the CD which the hardware checks when it is turned on. If the regional code on the CD doesn't match that of the hardware, the CD won't play. Bottom line: if I bought a U.S. PSX, I wouldn't be able to play the PSX CD's that I brought from Thailand. Whoops. What fool said that this was child's play?
Granted, there are many places in the U.S. that rent PSX games à la Blockbuster videos, but one would be limited to what games were available here only - and A LOT of the Japanese games available in Thailand are NOT available here. No, some way would have to be devised to play our Thailand CD's.
The de rigeur method of playing what are referred to in PSX vernacular as "imports and backups" is to add a "mod" device. (Note: "Imports" are authentic PSX CD's obtained from other regions and can be distinguished by their black undersides. "Backups" are copies of games, normally written with a CD writer onto plain CD-R's with silver bottoms.) From what I've been able to glean, there are three types of "mod" devices"
Do You Know What I Did Last Summer?
Okay, so what did I finally do? After asking around at a few local video game stores, I found out that some older model PSX's were available for sale (used, of course). Apparently, a major video rental chain that rents video tapes/players, as well as video games/players, had offloaded their PSX game machines, presumably in anticipation of getting the new PSX2's. The asking price was US$70 but at least I could use the mod plug which I preferred over the mod chip.
I then ordered one of the mod plugs over the internet and found to my consternation that it wouldn't work. After a few emails were sent asking for help and more than a week passed without an answer, not to mention a daily stream of lame excuses to my daughter why I couldn't get her PSX to work with the new magic plug, I broke down and revisited one of the more knowledgeable game stores and picked up an Action Replay, testing it there and then. It worked - FINALLY - and the cost to me was that of a 2nd mod plug; or as us Thais are apt to say: "ka ngo" (i.e. "the cost of being stupid"). I'm still trying to get a refund on the first mod plug.
(While this may sound like a reason NOT not buy stuff over internet, I'd like to underline the fact that I've experienced NO major problems buying over the internet in the past 4-5 years. Quite the contrary, the only credit card problems I've had was with an international grade hotel in Bangkok, where I got - or apparently got - scammed twice. Of course, it wasn't the hotel but rather a rogue employee. Fortunately, I didn't lose any money.)
If I had to redo this over again, what would I do differently? Well, first, I'd make sure I got a PSX (real or clone) from Thailand that was dual voltage and TRULY NTSC functional. Next, I'd make sure the machine was properly mod'ed and/or had a parallel port equipped with a mod plug. I'd also bring "Dance, Dance Revolution, 2nd Remix" along with a few dance pads because, oh man, them Yanks don't know what they're missing!