Pandora’s Box – Discord Chat

I just opened up a Discord server for discussion about the Pandora’s Boxes and similar devices that anyone can join. Just started so not much going on yet but if you read this blog, I think it may be helpful for you. I’m hoping that it can be a central place for people to get help if they need it, talk about games they’ve added to their PB6 and talk about what we might like in the future, that sort of thing.

Feel free to join up: https://discord.gg/ZM2b2zd

Pandora’s Box 6 – Deep Dive, Part 1

This is going to be a series of posts taking a deeper look at how the Pandora’s Box 6 works and investigating what may help us break it open and get past some of the limitations we currently have with it. I don’t know how much time I have to devote to this task and I’m not sure how deep I’ll be able to get into it, but let’s poke around to see what we can find out.

Just so that you are aware, I am no hardcore hacker but I’ll be doing the best that I can while showing you what I’ve found and how, so this may be interesting to some regardless.

Superficial Looks

Before we attempt our deep dive, let’s attempt to get some information about what we’ve got the simplest way possible – just looking at the disk drives and seeing what we can find out. Let’s first take a look at the udisk – the external USB drive that comes with the Pandora’s Box 6 that you will need to copy the games onto and where you will add games of your own.

The UDisk

The udisk is a 16GB external USB drive that is formatted in FAT32 and looks like this:

Root directory of the Pandora’s Box 6 udisk. Pretty straightforward.

There’s not really all that much here for us. The movies and roms directories are where you will be copying the arcade ROMs and their accompanying videos when you receive the download links from 3A (as they will no longer give you preloaded games anymore). The romsp folder is for holding the default PS1 games that come with the unit (and pushed as if they were the original arcade versions). Inside, you’ll find a few games in .bin/.cue form, most of which are actually missing their soundtracks. You’ll find two identical copies of the PlayStation SCPH-1001 BIOS, both under the name bios.bin and scph1001.bin. A folder called mv contains movies that will play in the front end for these games specifically.

The list of PlayStation games included on the UDisk. Nothing too exciting.

Back in the root directory, we’ve got three more subdirectories which the Pandora’s Box 6 uses to check for games the user has added.

  • roms_fba – ROMs for the Final Burn Alpha emulator, version 0.2.97.36.
  • roms_mame – ROMs for the MAME emulator, version 0.106.
  • roms_playstation – ROMs for the currently unknown PlayStation emulator.

You’ll also find files that list what games the FBA and MAME emulators support… which isn’t entirely truthful as far as I can tell. The Final Burn Alpha game list shows all the various console emulators it normally supports as well as the standard arcade games, but so far, I’ve been unable to get any of the console games to load beyond just showing up in the Pandora’s Box 6 menu. There are also README files in both English and Chinese. That’s all that appears on the UDisk, so let’s create an image of the boot SD card and see what we’ve got there.

The Boot SD Card

I’m going to take the disk image I made of the SD card and I’m going to open it up in ISOBuster which is my tool of choice for poking around these backup image files.

First, we see that the SD card consists of two partitions, a partition containing a FAT16 partition and a partition containing a Linux EXT3 file system. This is pretty common for just about any sort of single board computer, like the Raspberry Pi, but unlike the Pi, it looks like the Fat16 partition does not contain the files you would normally expect to see that are required for booting up the board, such as a kernel. Instead, we see 9 files called boot and are numbered from 1 through 9.

Notice something odd here?

Each file appears to contain data that we can’t easily read, perhaps even some encrypted archives. Unfortunately, there are no magic bytes that match these so there’s no easy way to tell what this data is. I’ve got a slightly educated guess after seeing some of the similar partitions on other Pandora’s Box 4 clones. Looking at the file sizes of them, we see a pattern emerge. Boot1, boot4 and boot7 all are the same size. And if we look at the other files, we do see the same pattern (boot2, boot5, boot8 and finally boot3, boot6 and boot9). I am guessing here that these groupings are based upon the three different resolutions that the Pandora’s Box 6 can boot up in, which matches up to what I’ve seen on other clones. It also appears that the Pandora’s Box 6 supports three different languages – English, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. So here’s what I think these files are for:

  • boot1, boot4 and boot7 – likely files supporting booting in 1280×720 in English, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.
  • boot2, boot5 and boot8 – likely files supporting booting in 1024×768 in English, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.
  • boot3, boot6 and boot9 – likely files supporting booting in 640×480 in English, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.

When comparing files with the same size, they actually did have a lot of differences between them, so it’s not just 3 copies of the same file, which supports our language theory. If we take a look at the Pandora’s Box 5’s FAT partition, we see just two files present – boot1 and boot2, both of which have the same file size as the 1280×720 boot files. The Pandora’s Box 5 only supports 1280×720, however, and I’m not sure why there are two files here and not just one, but so far, I feel like we’re going down the right path here.

Taking a quick look at our EXT3 partition, we see what looks like a standard but stripped down version of the folder structure you would normally see on the main partition for any embedded Linux system.

Pretty standard set of files on the main Linux file system.

One thing that I would like to point out is the Linux partition’s name which appears to show the UUID partition label as well as where it was mounted to during development, which reveals that the main person responsible for creating these SD card images at 3A is likely named Zhang.

The Pandora’s Box 6 main partition UUID, apparently made by “zhang”.
The mysterious zhang appears again on the Pandora’s Box 5’s main partition name.

Just for funsies, let’s take a look at the same system partition on a Pandora’s Box 4s 1299 game clone and…

Uh… Mr. John Smith?

…and clearly, the bootleggers are taking the piss, so to speak.

In The Next Episode…

Now that we have taken a bird’s eye view of the Pandora’s Box 6 file systems, we’re going to start diving down into it to see what we can discover about how it works, the boot process and what fun scripts we might be able to find. Hope that you’re enjoying this so far and I’m looking to put out the next post within a week.

Pandora’s Box 9 – Feature Comparison against PB5 and PB6

So, the Pandora’s Box 9 clone is getting more widely sold and as such, there is more information about it than we had when we previously discovered it a few months ago. For those of you wondering if you should take the plunge on a Pandora’s Box 9, I’ve recreated a table of information that is found on some Chinese AliExpress pages and adding more detail and a better translation.

Feature Set3A Official Pandora’s Box 53A Official Pandora’s Box 6Clone Pandora’s Box 9
Game Quantity960 games1300 games + 3000 custom added1500 games
3D Game SupportNoYESNo
Game CustomizationNoCan add your own gamesNo
Screen Resolution1280×7201280×720
1024×768
640×480
1280×720
1024×768
640×480
Game Pause FuntionYES, during free playYES, during coin or free playYES, during free play
Game Sorting FunctionNoYESNo
Autofire FunctionNoYES, for games classified as shooting games.No

Hopefully, this will help anyone looking to decide on which Pandora’s Box to pick up.

The Pandora’s Box of Copyright

There’s been a really recent new development in the world of Chinese Pandora’s Box maker 3A Game. If you’ve made any attempt to purchase a Pandora’s Box 5 or 6 recently – say, in the last 2-3 months – you may have noticed something unexpected.

NOTE:Dear friends, due to the copyright reasons of the game, from now on, our Pandora Box 5 and Pandora Box 6 Arcade Version and Family Version (including console) series of U-disks no longer contain game files. If you purchased it and found no game files, You can contact the customer service staff to help you.
We feel sorry for any inconvenience caused to you. Thank you!

-3A Game Store ad on their Aliexpress store page.

This is… kind of odd and unexpected. China’s basically seen in the West as a lawless place where copyright is laughed at openly. Indeed, one of the biggest reasons why Pandora’s Box and their clones have been popular is because of it being a complete plug-and-play experience. There’s no need to dick around with not being sure if you have the proper version of ROMs when they are all provided by the company on it’s “U-Disk” USB sticks. Odder still is that all the Chinese companies creating clones and fakes don’t seem to be having any trouble and are throwing ROMs around with impunity, as you might expect.

It appears that 3A Game believes it can avoid any sort of legal liability by simply not putting the ROMs on the USB stick, but by sending customers a link to Google Drive that contains all the ROMs needed. Indeed, even their official YouTube channel features the above quote along with the link to the ROMs on Google Drive *directly* after it. I don’t know how they think that this is any better for them from a legal standpoint but at least it’s not *that* much more painful for the customers, I suppose.

The copyright warning as seen on 3A Game’s Aliexpress store page.

A Personal Theory

I’m going to preface this by saying that I know absolutely nothing at all about Chinese copyright law so this is a complete shot in the dark here.

I think that this is happening now partially because of the Chinese finally¬† lifting the ban on video game home consoles in 2015. I would not be shocked or surprised at all if 3A Game’s sudden change of heart was caused by those game companies now coming into the Chinese marketplace in the last few years and starting to exercise their newfound legal muscle. Why would anyone want to pay top dollar for the true original console and games when they can get them far cheaper on the black market? With Nintendo being the most traditionally litigious, I can easily see them arriving into the Chinese market with the WiiU or Switch and then going after these companies for including Vs. Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong on all their pirated multi-game arcade PCBs and game consoles.

It just seems odd to start doing it during Summer 2018.