The MiSTer FPGA project is an amazing way to experience lag-free recreations of classic consoles and arcade boards, lag-free, on both modern and analog displays. This video shows how a took a new product called the MiSTerCade and interfaced the MiSTer into a real arcade machine. It was a lot of fun and I hope you all enjoy watching the progress!
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Parts I used in my MiniMiSTerCade:
Custom Control Panel: https://www.harumancustoms.com/
Mean Well RT-65 Arcade PSU: https://amzn.to/2ZXdn9y
TPLink WiFi Module: https://amzn.to/3lAoeyC
USB Hub: https://amzn.to/3bsAvSD
USB Extension: https://amzn.to/3aFCeVu
Modding tools / compressed air: https://www.amazon.com/shop/retrorgb?listId=3MCQEXC1RJ0BC
Arcade Stick: https://focusattack.com/suzo-happ-8-way-competition-joystick-blue/
Replacement JAMMA harness: http://ebay.us/M8SxnC
RGB-Pi JAMMA: https://www.rgb-pi.com/#jamma
Antonio’s JAMMA Adapter: https://www.antoniovillena.es/store/product/jamma-adapter/
For more info and a different perspective, check out Scarlett Sprites MiSTerCade Video:
Here’s the full script, for reference:
At the moment, you can easily connect the MiSTer to flat-panels, VGA monitors, RGB monitors and even the S-Video and component inputs of consumer-grade CRT’s. These methods work great, but there was one gaming experience missing: Arcade machines. While yes, there are ways to connect RGB devices to arcade monitors, there hasn’t been a complete JAMMA solution for the MiSTer…until now.
This MiSTer project’s open source FPGA cores and corresponding hardware, has slowly been changing the retro gaming world. I’ll have another video soon dedicated to exactly what MiSTer is, but I wanted to take the time to show off a project I’ve been working on, utilizing a brand new piece of hardware designed by Porkchop Express, that he’s calling the MiSTerCade.
Essentially, it’s like the IO board used in other MiSTer setups, but it integrates the controls, as well as audio and video outputs to a JAMMA interface. This video isn’t a deep dive into all the features, but instead will focus on how I integrated it into my arcade setup, as I think my experience might be similar to most other people’s. So, let’s take a look!
Since I live in a tiny NYC apartment, I don’t have space for a full-sized arcade machine…but my friends at Brooklyn Video Games found me a few mini emulation machines with CRT’s. I already did a video about how I converted one to a real Neo Geo arcade and I’ll be referencing that a bit, since they’re pretty much the same design.
I originally modded the second one for use with an RGB-PI JAMMA and added basic stuff like a coin button that lights up and two more buttons on the control panel. It worked really well in this configuration and the RGB-Pi was very easy to set up and configure. I wish it was compatible with the faster Pi4, but overall it provided an excellent software emulation experience.
I also upgraded the speaker in this machine, like I did with the MiniMVS. That was such a huge quality upgrade for the Neo Geo and it’s easy to tell why – The original speaker in this was cheap and flimsy. This one is great quality.
I wanted to make a few changes before switching to the MiSTerCade and the first was the control panel! These mini arcades are too small for even two kids to sit comfortable in front of it, let alone two adults, so like with the MiniMVS, I had Haruman Customs make me a new control panel with a standard 6-button layout. I basically just lined that up to the original and drilled the holes to match. I’m sure there was a more precise way to do it, but it lined up perfectly, so I’m calling it a win.
Next, I wanted to re-use the player 1 and 2 start buttons from the original control panel, so I added those to the front like I did with the MiniMVS. I probably could have done a better job getting them exactly even, but it was starting to snow and I just needed to get it done. It’s certainly close enough for me, but I’m sure the comment section will be filled with pedantic remarks about using calipers. That’s fine, have at it.
After it was all drilled, I used compressed air to clean the whole thing out. And I gotta say, this was pretty much the first time I was happy to have a mask handy! I got through this whole project without breathing in any dust or wood shavings!
Now that the controls were in, I unbolted and removed the RGB-Pi, then decided what I wanted to do with the JAMMA harness. Awhile back, my friend Jose suggested I pick up a few new JAMMA harnesses, as a poorly made one could cause a lot of issues. I totally trust his judgment, but I wanted to at least see if I could salvage this one. Also, I planned on removing every wire I wouldn’t absolutely need and I didn’t want to cut up the brand new harness. So, I’ll save that one for next time.
I connected the MiSTerCade to test it out and immediately ran into problems, but not one problem was the fault of the MiSTerCade. So, I felt it was actually really important to discuss all of the issues that I had, just cause it seems like things that most other people might stumble across, when they install the MiSTerCade and the very first problem I found was that none of the USB ports worked. And, the entire front controls are run through the USB bus, so they didn’t work either.
I assumed the problem was the crappy power circuit that came with these mini arcade machines, as the original emulation boards didn’t need much power. I also planned on occasionally using this for real arcade boards, so I figured the best thing to do was just add an arcade power supply. There seemed to be enough space to work with, so I didn’t have to move the chassis like I did with the MiniMVS. Also, the MiSTerCade seemed lighter than the meanwell arcade PSU, so I decided to put the MiSTer on the side and mount the PSU directly to the wood, using it’s existing two mounting holes.
I think they sell mounting brackets for these, which I definitely would have used if I wanted to mount it on the side, but it seems really solid mounted to the bottom.
The moment the new power supply was installed, everything started working perfectly, so let that be a lesson to you: Before you install your MiSTerCade, make sure you have a good, working power supply. I mean, you should actually make sure that the arcade machine is in full working order before you install it anyway, but specifically, if you have an aging power supply, maybe recap, or replace it…and at the very least, make sure that the five volts line is truly outputting five volts. You could check this with just a cheap multimeter and anything that’s 5.00v, or slightly above should be okay.
The next issue I ran into was an obvious one: Sometimes the buttons or control stick wouldn’t register presses. Everyone who’s ever worked on an arcade machine knows exactly what this is: The old, low quality micro switches were dying! Just to double check, I cut the signal line and manually tapped it to ground: As suspected, the MiSTerCade was working just fine.
I then ordered all new buttons, a new stick and all new, quality microswitches. I almost cheaped out and kept the old stick, since the store I used was out of black, but I’m actually glad I didn’t – The old one was terrible and the blue color ended up looking pretty cool!
Also, I generally prefer sanwa stuff, but I wanted the old-school look and ended up buying the exact same type I used for the MiniMVS! They’ve been working really well and even though Beast also prefer’s Sanwa, even he thought they were okay when we shot the Neo Geo video.
I then carefully re-soldered all the existing wires to the new buttons. I removed the player 2 stick wires and moved the player 2 button wires over to the player one 4, 5 and 6 buttons. I tried my best to route everything as neatly as possible, using a wire sleeve, paying attention to length and making sure nothing was caught or pinched.
I then cleaned up the JAMMA wiring as best I could, mounted the MiSTerCade and crimped buttons 4 and 5 with dupont connectors so they’ll easily plug into the CPS hardness on the board.
Now, I didn’t show this process, because I’m not a professional modder and I didn’t want people misinterpreting my mediocre soldering techniques as some kind of installation guide or tutorial video, but, let’s check out the finished product.
The MiSTerCade fits perfectly on the side and it’s light enough to probably only need two screws to hold it in. I wanted to be cautious and use four feet to mount it and I believe PorkChop will be including feet and spacers with the purchase.
I think the wiring came out as good as I could get it and everything is toggled right from the main power switch. The original harness is still in decent condition, but I definitely would have benefitted from the length of a new one. I have JAMMA extension cables if I need em and this one is long enough to connect another board outside the console…although just barely. Here’s where the arcade PSU really comes in handy though: It has 5 volts to power the DE-10, twelve volts to power the MiSTerCade’s audio amp…and it even has negative five volts, so boards like Mortal Kombat can work properly!
I wanted to take advantage of some other MiSTer features, but I also didn’t want to drill any unnecessary holes in the wood, so I tried utilizing the existing vent holes. First, I purchased a small USB hub, that had a USB C pigtail connected. I had to trim a bit of the rubber to get it to fit through, and then needed another USB C to USB A extension cable for it to reach the main ports. I carefully ran everything as neatly as I could and made sure to get a shielded USB cable, since I knew it would be running under the power lines.
Now I have a USB hub on the outside for my wifi dongle, USB keyboard…and of course for player 2, 3 and 4 controls. I debated adding db15 connectors to the front of the unit like with the MiniMVS…and the MiSTerCade is built to handle two-player control setups, but since it would essentially just be converting db-15 to super low lag USB anyway, I figured I might as well just use USB!
The last thing I wanted to add was a way to break out the HDMI port from the DE-10, so I could stream and capture while gaming on the machine itself. I decided on a micro HDMI extension cable, as it’s the smallest HDMI connector out there. It was too big to fit through the vent holes…but I shaved a tiny bit of rubber off the sides with a razor blade and managed to work it in. The extension was just too short though, so I ended up using one of those HDMI extensions you get with a Fire or Roku stick. There’s a bit of tension on it, but I don’t think there’s enough to cause any issues.
My last concern was that using extensions would somehow affect the ability to send full 1080p out…but as you can see here, it works fine and I’m able to have a fully functional output!
There were two more mods that I originally planned on doing, but decided to hold off.
First, I have all the capacitors needed to recap this chassis, but unlike the MiniMVS, this one looks like it’s in really great condition! I’ll probably still do it if I ever have free time in the future, but nothing’s leaking and the picture quality’s good.
The only other thing I planned on adding was an external control for audio that Porkchop designed…but I don’t need it at all. Check this out…enter the MiSTer’s menu, hit left and you can adjust volume controls right here. It works great and I have absolutely no complaints at all.
Using it was exactly as you’d expect – once you enter the game, it feels exactly like you’re playing on an arcade machine. Having a CRT and quality arcade controls really allows for an authentic experience. With the controller inputs being tested at around one millisecond or less, this can definitely be used for competitions and players can be confident there’s no lag to worry about. I think the dream scenario for me would be to have three cabs, one for each orientation of games. That’s a lot of money and a bit of overkill, but hey, it’s my dream, so let me have it!
Another thing I surprisingly found myself using the MiSTerCade for was console games! While I’d never enjoy playing something like Zelda or Sonic on an arcade machine, console-exclusive fighters and beat em ups felt right at home here! I even found myself wanting to play some arcade games that don’t have MiSTer cores yet…so I just fired up the console version. There’s even some MSU-MD Genesis hacks that add real arcade music to the already decent port!
In fact, I bet even the Sega Master System version of Space Harrier would be fun to play in this environment…in 3D. More on that in another video though!
Conclusion and alternatives
So, anybody that follows my channel already knows that I love the MiSTer project and the MiSTerCade is an excellent way to interface it to arcade machines. There are other alternatives available, if you need them though.
As I mentioned earlier, you can get something like a SCART to JAMMA to convert the RGBs levels to something an arcade board would use. You’d then have to find a solution for the controls though.
There’s also a board by Antonio Villena that I believe works similar, but already includes the controller adapter built in. Basically connect this to your arcade machine and to a standard MiSTer setup and it should work.
There’s also a new solution being teased that’s an ITX form factor with a JAMMA output. I think each of these choices should cover most people’s setups and as far as audio and video performance is concerned, they should all be really similar. Hopefully the others have equally as low controller latency though.
Overall, I thought the MiSTerCade was great and my biggest issues with the prototype are already solved: The production version will have seven USB ports instead of three, and it’ll include the User I/O port.
The only other feature I thought would have been cool, is adding a JAMMA input and a switch. This way, people could leave it mounted in their arcade machine at all times, but if they want to play original boards, they can just connect it directly to this using a JAMMA extension cable. I see that more as a premium option for future revisions and not so much as a missing feature though.
If you’d like more information on the MiSTerCade, I strongly suggest checking out Scarlett Sprites first look video, as well as the official documentation. There’s a ton of settings and customizations available, but I didn’t want to dig in deep here, as many things have already changed between the prototype and final version. I’ll definitely be following up with this project though, so keep an eye on the website for more information.