Many of us use our HTPC media centers for gaming and in some cases use emulators to play classic games from other systems. The emulators themselves are usually designed for Windows and do not look great on a machine under your living room TV set. An emulator front-end is a piece of software that sits in front of both your emulators and game sets and gives your machine the look and ease of use of the latest games consoles. The front-ends themselves do not have the ability to play the games but provide custom menu’s and box art for your game libraries. when you select a game it will then call on an emulator to run it and the game files themselves are all out of view of the user. In this post we look at the top 5 emulator front-ends and the pros and cons of each. Whether your HTPC media centre is built solely for gaming or you want a front-end as an addition to your media centre software there is something for you. The artical lists the very best emulator frontends for Windows.
Top 5 Emulator Front-ends for your HTPC Media Center
So which is the best emulator frontend?
5. Attract Mode
Attract mode is a great looking easy to use emulator front-end. It is really designed for use with Arcade emulators but will support any emulators that can be launched from a command line. The standard interface displays a list of your games on the right hand side of the screen and an image of an arcade on the left. Attract mode displays videos of your games as you scroll through them on the arcade screen. The arcade theme can been changed and there are a number of options available to you. Attract Mode is one of the easier emulator front-ends to use but only makes number 5 on our list due to the fact that it is aimed at the arcade niche.
4. Kodi / XBMC
Kodi or XMBC as it was previously known is a media centre solution rather than an emulator front-end but offers plugins that support the launching of games and system emulators. For those of you who want to use their HTPC media centres for both media and games this could be the option for you. With Kodi you configure a “Games” option on the main menu and from here all of your games and rom sets will be displayed. This uses the addon called Rom Collection Browser. Kodi will also pull down all of the box art for your game collection. Kodi offers a great solution for those wanting an all round solution but does not offer the look and features of some of the dedicated emulator front-ends. The menu is not as seamless and on some occasions you get glimpses of the emulators running behind the front-end software. [Read: How to Play Games on Kodi]
MGalaxy is a decent emulator frontend for those who want simplicy. It doesn’t look anywhere near as good as our top 2 but it does exactly what it says on the tin. It is quick and easy to configure and navigating both your system emulators and rom collection is simple. MGalaxy has a retro feel and allows you to add and display box art and video clips for your games. It’s simple menu system makes it extremely easy to navigate the menus and launch games using only a game controller (there is no need for a keyboard). MGalaxy will give you a great platform to launch your games from and is a great addition to any HTPC media centre. Simple but functional.
Hyperspin is one of the original emulator frontends and because of this comes packed with features. As the name suggests it operates on a series of large wheels, firstly to select the game system you want to use and then secondly the game to launch. It gives you that retro arcade feel and plays sounds from the different systems as you navigate the menus. This is the true favourite of the classic gamer but the retro styling does put you off if you prefer the modern feel. Hyperspin is a great emulator frontend but the main reason that it falls short of the top spot is the complexity of the configuration. Setting up emulators and rom sets requires the editing text files. Hyperspin does provide tools to create these for you but you cannot get completely away from the text editor. Hyperspin allows you to add your own box art and video clips but you have to source these yourself. Hyperspin is one of the oldest emulator frontends but is still one of the best today.
1. LaunchBox / Big Box
And now for our number one and best emulator frontend. This award goes to the LaunchBox / Big Box applications. There are two listed here as LaunchBox is the desktop emulator frontend designed for use with a keyboard and mouse and Big Box is designed for the HTPC media centre and to be controlled by a remote or game controller. The best for Launchbox is the XBOX 360 Wireless Gaming Receiver with an XBOX 360 Wireless Controller. Launch Box / Big Box is the top emulator frontend because it leads the way in almost all areas. Firstly the look. It is one of the cleanest looking frontends out there and gives your media centre the look and feel of one of the latest games consoles. It provides box art for all of your games / roms, video clips and a text game overview. These can all be downloaded automatically when you setup a new rom collection. LaunchBox perfectly customises your screen for the desktop environment and Big Box beats all other HTPC media centre designs. You can see this in our Launchbox review video below.
Download Launchbox now at our Launchbox/Big Box review page. Full feature list and screenshots.
Best Game Controllers to be used with Emulator Frontends
Secondly it is by far the easiest emulator frontend to setup. All emulators and rom collects are configured using a GUI and each emulator and collection can be configured in less than a minute. Finally it is one of the most feature rich emulator frontend products supporting all emulators, dosbox, Steam and Origin. Most HTPC media centre users like to have Kodi as their software install due to it’s unparalled media playing capabilities but Big Box comes with its own Kodi pluggin. Have your media centre boot into Kodi to handle your movies and music but have a menu item to switch to Big Box for gaming. LaunchBox is free but if you want to unlock the Big Box features there is a small $20 one off fee which is well worth the purchase.