12 September 2018

Pandora’s Box – Just What Does “Real” Mean Anymore?

I am just a copy of a copy of a copy
Everything I say has come before
Assembled into something into something into something
I don’t know for certain anymore

– “Copy of A”, Nine Inch Nails

When it comes to items for sale on the marketplace, it’s often pretty easy to tell when you are looking at something that’s counterfeit. It’s a lot less easy to figure out when you’re dealing with an item like the Pandora’s Box. So let’s get the absolutelty obvious out of the way right now:

Every single one of these Pandora’s Box items, regardless of who makes or sells it, is 100% bootleg and counterfeit in every single way. However, for the purposes of this post (and your sanity), I want to establish a few ground rules here:

  • A Pandora’s Box manufactured by 3A Game will be considered “legitimate” or “real”.
  • A Pandora’s Box manufactured by anyone else will be considered a “bootleg”, “fake” or “clone”.
  • A Pandora’s Box by any other name (Pandora’s Key, Pandora’s Treasure, Arcade Game System, etc…) is also a bootleg, fake or clone.

With these guidelines in mind, we can now attempt to approach a bigger question: How can we tell when we’re looking at a real Pandora’s Box instead of a clone? We’ll answer that in this post.

Real vs. Fake – Why Does it Matter?

In the end, what matters most is that you are happy with your purchase and you are happy with your play experiences. If you’re happy with what you are getting with a clone, please by all means don’t let me or anyone else make you feel otherwise.

For those of you who are possibly looking into getting one of these arcade game boxes, you’ll want to arm yourself with as much information as possible to try to ensure you get an item that is worth your time and money. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what you can do to give yourself a better chance of getting what you want.

Typically, the original Pandora’s Boxes have had the best experiences, especially in the single core CPU era from 2013-2016. Fewer duplicates in your game list, better chance of having properly configured controls and aspect ratio, that sort of thing. With the release of the Pandora’s Box 5 in 2016, 3A Game distanced themselves from the clones and bootlegs by including a faster quad-core ARM CPU along with more RAM on their boards. This meant that not only were more games possibly playable, it also meant that those that previously struggled would play better as well. The bootleggers cloned the Pandora’s Box 5 as closely as they could while still keeping to a single core. Some of the games newly added to the Pandora’s Box 5 would have such a hard time running on the originals that it was very clear which box you should be using. What happens if there’s a game on your Pandora’s Box 5 that isn’t set up properly? Well, thanks to the security built into it, you are unable to do anything about it. This is where the clones have some advantage as most of them are relatively open and you can replace the software being used with something like OpenPB4 which is kind of like a Retropie-like installation for Pandora’s Box 4 clones and fakes which would allow you to run better emulators, fix screen tearing issues and choose the ROMs you want. There are also some hacked images out there for some boxes that keep the same software but fix certain things about them. Annoyed with the strange music playing in the options menu? Perhaps that mp3 is replaced with silence on one of the hacked images.

However, things have changed quite a bit since the initial release of the Pandora’s Box 5 with the launch of Android based PB clones. These also are leveraging quad-core processors and Android-based emulators and allow you to install all the games you might want on them while remaining quite hackable. You can sideload any Android APKs you want on your box without an issue, from emulators to Android games to Netflix making them quite a decent option for an integrated gaming/media system. With Pandora’s Box 6 being released less than a month ago in an attempt to level the playing field with these Android boxes, your decision about going with a clone or the real thing becomes a bit… murky. I don’t currently have experience with these new Android-based clones so I can’t comment on them too much at this point but looking at them on YouTube, you can see there’s some new features and good work that’s gone into them and they also attempt to replicate the Pandora’s Box interface. 1

Distinguishing the Real From the Fake

Look At The Advertisement

So let’s talk about ways to figure out if the Pandora’s Box you are looking at is the real deal or a clone. First thing’s first though, it all starts from how they are advertised. One of the big tell-tale signs is the number of games included. 3A Game has released the following Pandora’s Boxes officially and keep an eye on the number of games included in each:

  • Just Another Pandora’s Box/Pandora’s Box – 310 Games (Rare)
  • Pandora’s Box 2 – 400 Games (Rare)
  • Pandora’s Box 3 – 520 Games (Rare)
  • Pandora’s Box 4 – 645 Games
  • Pandora’s Box 4S – 680 Games
  • Pandora’s Box 4S+ – 815 Games
  • Pandora’s Box 5 – 960 Games
  • Pandora’s Box 6 – 1300 Games (Brand New)

Ad for an Android-based Quad Core clone on Amazon.

In terms of what you’ll find out there in places like eBay and Amazon, Pandora’s Box, Pandora’s Box 2 and Pandora’s Box 3 are relatively rare, so for our purposes, you can forget they exist. That leaves us with the 4, 4S, 4S+, 5 and 6. Generally speaking, the pirates and clones are all focusing on being more attractive to consumers than the original and they do that by always adding more games than the originals. So if you are looking through Amazon or Kijiji and you see a Pandora’s Box that has a different number of games than 645, 680, 815, 960 or 1300 games, you are looking at a clone without a doubt. I’ve yet to see any clone or bootleg that uses the same number of games as the originals. With regards to the Android quad-core clones, I haven’t seen them advertise anything less than 1388 games. 2 So as long as the seller is being honest about the number of games included in what they are selling, you should already have a good idea of what you are looking at.

Before the Purchase

Part of what makes figuring out if you are looking at the real deal or a clone is that if you are buying one of the twin arcade stick formats that is really popular right now, almost all of them, both clone and real, are in a million different types of cases with different looking stick art, number of buttons and layout. Even 3A Game offers many different choices for your purchase. For the most part, you can absolutely ignore almost anything a player would see when playing on one of these as criteria.

The one big exception here is the back panel of the stick, the place where you plug in your HDMI and power cables. So far, every clone Pandora’s Box has been just a smallish circuit board screwed into the bottom of whatever box it is in and the box will have the holes for your various parts molded into the box itself. With a real Pandora’s Box, the circuit board is fully enclosed in a plastic casing and instead of having holes molded into the plastic in the shape of the various cables, there’s just a large rectangular slot that the Pandora’s Box slides into. So the side of the legit Pandora’s Box is exposed with the various ports open for use. 3

The back panel of an arcade stick with a legit Pandora's Box 5 installed. Notice the exposed blue side of the PB5's case?

The back panel of an arcade stick housing a Pandora's Box clone. No exposed plastic case means it's a fake.

So always look at the back of the box and take a look at those ports before buying. Molded port openings mean fake and just a visible plastic box means real here.

While In Use

For the most part, the user interfaces on most of the Pandora’s Boxes and clones are very similar. Of course, the very first thing you will want to check out is the number of games available in the list. Make sure it matches the number of games you are expecting from the list above. 4

If your box is not one of the newest Android-based quad-core PB clones, one of the best things you can try is running NBA JAM. NBA JAM was added to the Pandora’s Box 5 and ran smoothly due to its quad-core processor and likely will run well on any PB clone that also comes with a quad-core processor. Older clones that are still on single core processors will have a very hard time running it properly. Mortal Kombat is also another potential title to look at, however it was added to the Pandora’s Box 4S+ despite being too slow to run it as well. If both games run well, you know you either have a Pandora’s Box 5, Pandora’s Box 6 or one of the newer Android-based clones.

Another dead giveaway.

The ability to save states in your games is a feature that to this point is only present on the Android-based clones so that’s one dead giveaway. If there is any advertisement mentioning adding your own games means that it’s likely an Android-based clone as well… or you found yourself a legit Pandora’s Box 6 which is the first in the series to support it.

In Conclusion…

I feel that between the advertisement listing the number of games, a physical inspection of the case and trying it out with known heavier games like NBA JAM, you should now be able to look at anything claiming to be a Pandora’s Box and be able to figure out what you are looking at.

But if you really, really want to make sure that you have the real deal, you can always buy directly from the original source and skip all the uncertainty entirely.

  1. <p>I'll get my hands on one sometime and do a review of it at some point in the future.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:1" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  2. <p>The clone that I bought had 1299 games and while yes, that’s close to the Pandora’s Box 6, it was made during the time of the Pandora’s Box 5, so over 300 more games than the original and of course, “more” always means “better”, right?&#160;<a href="#fnref1:2" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  3. <p>This is much more easily explained with images, eh?&#160;<a href="#fnref1:3" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  4. <p>I’ve been told that it’s very possible that both the Pandora’s Box 4 series and clones can possibly not show all the games at first. I would suggest that you immediately force the box back to factory settings and then check the number of games found.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:4" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>