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 [TUTO] How to build a pincab

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MessageSujet: [TUTO] How to build a pincab   Jeu 14 Mar 2019 - 9:15

~ How to build your Pincab ~

So, young Padawan, you want to craft your pincab, but you don't have a clue on how to do that ??? At school, you were playing chess and petanque. To you, computing is for antisocial foureyes and electronics for wackadoodle geniuses ? Anyway, you'd like to posess the pincab you saw on Youtube while wandering around. No problemo, you are at the right spot, Pincab Passion is gonna take you by the hand and lead you to the end of the adventure ! By the way : pincab means « pinball cabinet »

Let me introduce myself: I am zedrummer (aka zed) on Pincab Passion. I am not working in electronics nor computing, but I have been coding since I was 8 (I am 45). I have already crafted a MAMEcab, a first pincab for my father and at the time of writing this tutorial (october 2018) I am on another one…

I'm gonna be helped by the whole staff of Pincab Passion, to try to cover the whole subject from different points of view.
Anyway, I won't be fully comprehensive, but you will surely find the other answers around here on PP

Let me first thank @peskopat for his excellent advice on formatting this text to be the easiest to read  !

Warning : the choices we made in this tutorial are perhaps different than yours, but in the DIY world (aka « Do It Yourself », aka the world of people wanting to craft their own objects rather than buying them), there is no "I am right", your choices, even aesthetic, will always be the good ones as far as they fit to your gusts (and your budget). Even if, sometimes, there are... nonstandard choices, let's say.

Now, there is a lot to read, but this tuto was written so as to be read chronologically as your crafting progress, so it is not mandatory to wholly read it now. But the big part about equipment choices is necessary. In return, as it is the most comprehensive possible, you're gonna save the time you won't spend in looking for other tutorials.
This is long as the DIY interest is to fully know how to craft and repair, so you really need to understand what you do.

Colors explained :
-          a yellow text is a warning as you already know
-          a blue text is a existancial question
-          a green text presents a general knowledge about pincab, electronics, computing, etc...
-          a dark blue text is less important, you may ignore it
-          I try to draw your attention on the subject of the paragraph by writing it red

Warning : Crafting a pincab is time-consuming, really, once you have started, your 100% focused on that. How to make it more convenient? How to make it more beautiful? How to make it cheaper? How to organize these fu... cables so that the inner pincab is not like a huge spaghetti pot? (How to convince your wife to accept such a huge and expensive piece of furniture in your little flat?)
All these questions will torture you even more that the crafting itself! And the crafting is longer than you can guess at first, it's like in a house, what takes you most of your time, it's the finishes. Assembling the cabinet and fixing the screens and the PC, it's only a matter of 2 or 3 hours, but adding toys (you'll see later what it is about) and buttons, it is a pain in the ass when it comes to connecting and organizing.
So don't even think about showing your pincab to your mates at the aperitif you organized for next friday!

Existential question : Is it exactly as a real pinball?
No! The pincab experts will tell you that there is a huge gap between them, the feeling has nothing to do with real pinball and it is quite true (even if we always try to get closer thanks to the toys), but it is still very fun and, above all, you have as many pinball as you want in a single cabinet!

Existential question : What does it cost?
Money being the crux of everything, you got to know that it is quite expensive. Apart from some recycling geniuses, you'd better expect to spend at least 1200€/1300$/1000£/90000₽. And it will depend on a lot of hardware and software choices. We are going to focus on that on the first part of this text. Being reasonable (and apart from the time, food and beverage you and your friends will spend on it), if you buy everything, it may cost up to 2500€/2800$/2100£/190000₽.

In the beginning of this tuto, I will give you advice on what you must (should) buy, and there will be a lot of links throughout the text, so you may miss some equipment later on. Don't worry, when all the equipment explanation is over, I will recap in a comprehensive shopping list. It will be purple as this text

So let's start about the hardware choices.

I/ Screen choices :

1/ The major choice (because it will have implications on all the other choices) is called the playfield screen./div>

Playfield (PF) : In a real pinball, this is part of the cabinet where the ball rolls among a lot of mecanical elements and you try not to let it reach the bottom

Here is the main difference with a real flipper: in your pincab, you will replace it by a TV screen.

As it is a crucial choice, let's see precisely the selection criteria.

First of all, you got to know that a 16:9 screen is not exactly at the right proportion of a real pinball playfield, to be closed to reality (, we should choose a 2:1 (ie 18:9). We now see 21:9 screens that are way too long (and way too expensive), but nothing in between, so let's stick to our 16:9.

So let's see the criteria one by one (click on the title for details):

  • Vision angle:
  • Vertical retrace:
  • Size (matters?):
  • Resolution:
  • Auto-on mode:
  • VESA mounting:

For the playfield, you should buy a HDMI <-> HDMI cable, as sound is transfered via HDMI cables and you may need that for the mecanical sounds of your pincab. If you chose a 4K TV, be careful to buy a high-end cable to be able to transfer the high quantity of data without any loss. For instance, I bought this cable

Warning : I will give a lot of links to webpages where I bought all the stuff needed. They may be available only in France so you'll need to find the equivalent in your country.

2/ Now that we know for the playfield screen, let's choose the backglass screen.

Backglass (BG) : In a pinball, the high part of the cabinet contains a rectangular Plexiglas with an image behind which some LEDs are flashing according to the action in the playfield, this is the backglass.

We use a screen for that too, as this image is different for every pinball game. For the definition, there is a difference of opinion, some says full HD is needed, I argue that this is only for a still image with flashes, you can easily buy a second hand 720p (or 1080i), it is perfect and you won't see the difference. You can find that for 50€/55$/40£/3500₽.
It is easier if there is a VESA mounting on the BG too.
And for the cable, you may choose between a HDMI <-> HDMI or HDMI <-> DVI ou DVI <-> DVI cable according to what is available on your screen and the video card.

Existential question : New or used?
All along this tuto, I will talk about used stuff, because it is an easy way to save money on devices when it deserves to take the risk. We may think that everything may be used , but there is always a risk of being cheated. When you buy used devices, you'd better see them and check they work before buying, but if you buy through internet, be sure to check that you may be refunded in case of a failure.

So let's get back to our BG. There's no table of correspondence between the size of the PF and that of the BG, but looking at these pinball machines:

we can see that we want the upper part of the cabinet to be larger that the lower part. Using Pythagorean theorem and the fact that the screen ratio is 16:9, we can fill a table like this (with all values in inches):

If you want to compute these dimensions for different diagonal measurements, the 2 formulas are height = 9 x diagonal / 18.358 and width = 16 x diagonal / 18.358

So now, if your PF is 40 inches, as we turn it in portrait orientation, it's its height that set the PF width, i.e. 19.610 inches. Then our BG width should be greater than that, for example a 27-inch screen with its 23.533-inch width should fit.

3/ Now, let's see how to display the score. For that, real pinball machines have a DMD, and we have several choices to copy it.

DMD : For « Dot Matrix Display », this is the way to display the score, but several animations and even some mini-games. The different choices are here shown in increasing order of awesomeness:

  • 2-screen configuration:
  • 3-screens configuration:
  • 2-screens + pin2DMD configuration:

We can easily find old 15/17/19-inch screens as second hand for almost nothing or even for free at a waste collection sites (if the agent is kind enough to let you go with it). If the screen has a VESA mounting, it is better.
For the Pin2DMD configuration, you'll have to buy a controller card, the dot matrix panels, it's about 80€/90$/60£/5900₽ if you are OK to spend some time on extra wiring and setting. But it deserves it: with a Pin2DMD, you reduce the size of the upper cabinet as it just fits to the BG and Pin2DMD size. In 3-screen config, there is just a layer of the DMD screen that is used, so the remainig of the screen is unused space that extend the height of the upper cabinet. And once again, the Pin2DMD is cloning the real pinball machine display, so...

If you go for a 3-screen config, don't forget to buy a cable to connect the DMD to the PC, a simple VGA <-> VGA cable should be enough.

You now have chosen the displays, there is just a last choice to make to perfectly determine what PC configuration you need: what pinball emulators/simulators you will install.

II/ Choosing the simulators

There are several simulators available for PC and they require different configurations. The 3 main ones are Visual Pinball, Future Pinball and Pinball FX.
How do these emulators work? They are just pinball table editors where we can set bumpers, flippers, ramps, textures, sounds, lights, reactions when the player do something, EVEN WHEN HE/SHE NUDGES (crazy, no?). Anybody can make a table, it is just a tedious work, then the program make it work following more or less the laws of physics.

1/ VP et VPX (Visual Pinball – Visual Pinball X) :
Actively updated, this is the one that get the closest to real pinball machines. In return, you need a high end PC.

2/ FP (Future Pinball)

Most of the tables on VP-VPX are based on FP ones. It is no more maintained, but the number of tables available makes it a good choice and it works on low end PC. The program and the tables are free.

3/ PBFX2 et PBFX3 (Pinball FX2 – Pinball FX3)

It is much more a video game than a simulator as it associates pinball and arcade. The program is free, but the tables must be bought. It works with a low end PC too.

The only one that require a high end PC is VPX, but it deserves it as you can get really close to the feeling of a real pinball and the updates are  making it even better.
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