Gaming Console on a Stick to Feature Dual Raspberry Pi Chips

RP2040s on a TV
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Pimoroni makes a slew of exciting screens, boards and kits based on Raspberry Pi's Pico controller or the RP2040 chip that powers it. The Sheffield-based electronics company's next big project: a gaming console with the stick-like form factor of a Chromecast, two different RP2040 chips and the ability to boot directly into the Python REPL command line.

Pimoroni Founders Jon Williamson and Paul Beech disclosed the upcoming product, which they said will likely be named the DV or "Digital Video" Stick, on this past week's episode of the Tom's Hardware Pi Cast, our weekly show about all things Raspberry Pi. 

"This stick product, this HDMI thing is the most fun thing we've got going on at the moment," Williamson said. 

The stick will have a built-in HDMI port that allows it to plug directly into a TV or monitor, along with a USB port you can use to connect a wired peripheral. But it will also have Bluetooth connectivity so you can pair a wireless controller or keyboard with it.

If you use it as a gaming console, the DV Stick will be able to play the same games that run on Pimoroni's PicoSystem handheld. Launched in 2021, the PicoSystem already has a few community-made games for it, but also provides tools so you can develop your own in C++, MicroPython or CircuitPython. The PicoSystem uses a single RP2040 for processing and outputs to a 240 x 240, 1.54-inch display. Pimoroni has not specified a maximum resolution for the DV Stick, but since it is designed to connect to a TV, we would expect it to reach at least 1080p.

Pimoroni is also working on a way for you to run the MicroPython REPL directly on the DV stick so you can boot to a prompt (with no other OS than the device's firmware) and start writing and executing code directly at the prompt. This type of experience is reminiscent of the UI from many 1980s computers such as the ZX Spectrum, Atari 400 and Commodore 64. On those, the system booted to a prompt where you could enter BASIC programs. 

The company also said that people could use the DV Stick for information display. For example, if you wanted to put a schedule on a screen where everyone could see it, you could write a simple program using the company's Picographics Micropython library and attach the device to a display. 

The dual RP2040 chips on the DV Stick will allow it to have one CPU that does the software processing and another that just drives the display. Each of the chips has its own PS RAM chip, which means that there will be more memory than the 264K that comes standard with RP2040 chips / Raspberry Pi Picos.

"Each of the chips has a PS RAM chip for the frame buffer and, on VSync they swap," Williamson said. "So we have an analog mux that basically swaps the chips between the two so the application processor writes into the frame buffer in one RAM chip then, when VSync occurs in the display, it hands that RAM chip over to the display processor which hands its RAM chip back to the application processor so the display outputs on the screen."

Driving an HDMI display with just one RP2040 processor would leave you without a ton of application performance, Williams noted, because the video encoding takes so many CPU cycles.  

There's no definitive release date or pricing for the DV Stick, which may be called something else when it launches. The product is working on a breadboard but there's no functioning prototype yet, so we don't have any photos of it in the article. However, Williamson and Beech said that the product should be ready within a few weeks. Whenever it comes out, they are hoping that makers will find new and exciting ways to use it.

"It's a bit of a weird one, but we kind of like the concept so much that we didn't concern ourselves too much with what it's useful for," Williams said. "We just threw everything that sounded fun on it and thought we'd see what happens."

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch is Tom's Hardware's editor-in-chief. When he's not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you'll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.
  • bit_user
    How much RAM does each chip have? The decision to use 2x seems weird to me:
    Only seems to help things that aren't fast enough to be usable/good on 1, but still fast enough to be usable/good on 2. That's actually a fairly narrow window, in computational terms, since it operates on more of an exponential scale.
    Adds cost, pushing the solution ever closer to a full 2 GB Pi v4. Might've been more interesting just to fit one of those in a stick @ reduced clock speeds.Aside from retro and super old emulated games, I don't imagine a lot of demand for gaming on this. It's one thing to live with lots of limitations, when you're tied to a handheld form factor, but as soon as you have a monitor-pluggable device I think small size becomes an unnecessary liability and rarely worth the performance tradeoffs.

    That said, I have no sense of the gaming scene for these things, so feel free to correct me if I'm way off base.
  • DotNetMaster777
    Good idea
  • frogr
    Two frame buffers can prevent video tearing while updating the frame and also doubles the "bandwidth"" to the frame buffer
  • bit_user
    frogr said:
    Two frame buffers can prevent video tearing while updating the frame
    I understand that, but you don't necessarily need two microcontrollers to do double-buffering, depending on how much external DRAM they have.
  • theguyuk
    In the old days a z80 often provided graphics in arcades machines so nothing new there. You could just add a Bluetooth controller to your old smartphone. Each time you upgrade your smartphone you get a new handheld...