A Plug and Play Solution for Arcade Monitors
Review by Kevin Steele
A MAME-Friendly Video Card
Okay, so you've either decided to build a MAME cab and you're going to do it up right with a new, authentic arcade monitor, or you just got a great deal on an old arcade cabinet, and it has a working arcade monitor already in it. So, the next question is, how do you hook the arcade monitor up to your PC?
My recommendation? Get your hands on an ArcadeVGA card from Ultimarc. It's a "plug-n-play" solution to interfacing an original arcade monitor with a PC, and is configured with practically every custom arcade resolution you'll ever need. If you want a simple and quick way to get your MAME cabinet up and running, this is it.
Before the ArcadeVGA, you'd have had to wire up a custom cable to attach the arcade monitor to your PC, then configure a program such as AdvanceMAME to properly output 15Khz from your video card (normal PC video cards output 31Khz, which most arcade monitors don't support). You still wouldn't be able to use 640x480 or 800x600 Windows resolutions or view DOS and BIOS screens.
The ArcadeVGA card is, at its heart, an ATI Raedon 9200 video card that has been modified for use specifically with arcade monitors (regular PC monitors need not apply). ATI cards have been generally recommended for MAME cabs for quite a while, so the ArcadeVGA card comes from a good pedigree.
The AVGA card is set up to output video at 15Khz, which is what most arcade monitors expect (the Mortal Kombat series of games used 25Khz monitors, but I'll get to that in a minute.) A normal PC monitor is a 31-38Khz monitor (or higher).
In general, the higher the monitor frequency, the more vertical lines can be displayed. At 15Khz, we're talking about a maximum of approximately 300 lines, which is perfect for arcade emulation (it's not so great for the Windows desktop, but good enough for limited use).
Since most arcade monitors are 15Hhz, with that one output setting on the AVGA we've covered almost all of the arcade games in MAME. For those few games that used a 25Khz monitor (such as Mortal Kombat), the ArcadeVGA card has a special mode that approximates the 25Khz output on a 15Khz signal (using a 53Hz refresh rate, for example). The results are very good, in my opinion.
Here is a list of all of the custom arcade resolutions supported by the ArcadeVGA card (note that some of these resolutions listed are used for vertical games being displayed on a horizontal monitor):
In addition, the ArcadeVGA can support the following standard PC resolutions:
Note that if you're using a Wells-Gardner D9200 or Betson Multisync arcade monitor, there is a patch available for the ArcadeVGA drivers that will also enable the ArcadeVGA card to output normal 31Khz video for 640x480 and 800x600, eliminating the need for these resolutions to be interlaced. (Interlaced video has a noticable "flicker" compared to non-interlaced video, as each "frame" is drawn twice: once for the odd scan lines, and then again for the even scan lines.)