Review by Kevin Steele
Update, December 2004: I've updated the review to reflect the new hinges and ribbon connector in the latest version of the Dream Arcades cabinets.
Want that "arcade authentic" experience but don't have the room for a full size cab? A cocktail cabinet is the solution. Small and designed to be placed up near a wall, a good cocktail cabinet can give you all the authentic arcade gaming action you could want, without the space investment a full size cab involves.
The "Head-to-Head" cocktail cabinet by Dream Arcades is a pre-fab kit, designed to be quickly assembled. It features two fully assembled control panels, a flip-top lid with smoked plexiglass, a side access door, and carefully designed ventilation (a must with an enclosed system like a cocktail cabinet!)
The cab ships in two boxes — all of the panels are "flat packed" for shipment, and shrink wrapped together to avoid shifting during shipment. The packages were shipped via DHL and arrived in perfect condition.
Putting it All Together
The cabinet consists of eight panels and two control panels. The panels are MDF with a thermal fused melamine surface inside and out (think Formica). Everything has a nice "heft" to it — it's very solid (trust me, I know — I dropped a panel on my toe!)
The cabinet uses a "post and cam" system for assembly, similar to the SlikStik cabinet. The Dream arcades posts are longer than the SlikStik posts, and have a plastic "sheath" at the base that really grabs the panels. The female cams come pre-installed in the panels, as was much of the other cabinet hardware (such as the piano-hinges for the access panel and the top).
Assembly was really simple: push the posts into one panel, snap it into the other panel, then turn the cam clockwise with either a hex wrench (included) or a phillips screwdriver. The whole thing goes together quickly, and it looked like it was impossible to attach a piece incorrectly.
The directions are a bit sparse — while it was nice to see each panel numbered with a small piece of masking tape, some pictures in the assembly manual would have been appreciated.
The most complicated part of the assembly process was attaching the top panel and the access panel, as both required screwing two hinges (If the most complicated thing you have to do during the assembly process is screw a hinge, it can't be that hard!)
The control panels attach with two hex head bolts, and since the panels come pre-assembled, there's really not much else required. It really is an extremely easy assembly process — I don't see it taking more than a half-hour for even someone who's really nervous about putting something together.
Fit and Finish
Overall the Dream Arcades' cabinet has an excellent "fit and finish," from the formica-coated surfaces to the T-molding around the edges. About the only blemish I could find was some minor chipping around the holes drilled for ventilation, and the chips are on the inside of the cabinet, where you will never see them.
The cams are positioned on the inside of the panels as well, so you'll never see them either. The exterior of the unit when it's assembled is sleek and very professional looking.
One thing that has changed since the above picture was taken is that Dream Arcades has now has replaced the piano hinge with two new hinges that do not allow the top to open too far and put stress on the hinges. It's a nice improvement.
When lowered, the top panel is held in place by a strip of velcro, a simple and yet effective latching system. The side access door is lockable, but it's not really a security option, obviously, since the top panel isn't lockable.
The bottom of the cabinet deserves some attention, both for the adjustable leveling feet and the well-placed ventilation holes and hole for the power cord. It's obvious some time and thought went into the design of this cabinet.
The cabinet includes an adjustable shelf inside for holding a computer monitor in place. My 19" Viewsonic fit easily, and it definitely looks like a 20" or 21" monitor would fit as well. There are enough adjustment holes that you should get a great fit with almost any 19"-20" monitor.
My only concern with the monitor shelf is the fact that if your monitor has a curved back (like my Viewsonic monitor did), it's not a stable mount as is — you'll need to brace or bracket the monitor yourself to make sure that it doesn't slide or slip. I can forgive this lack of a secure mount since there are so many monitors out there that designing a "universal" mounting system would have been nearly a miracle. It's nothing that a couple of pieces of wood or some industrial-strength Velcro couldn't address.
The only other design decision I question a bit is the use of 1/8" smoked plexiglass for the top surface. 1/4" would have been a sturdier choice, although with the wood panel backing the plexiglass it isn't that wobbly. One nice thing is that the plexiglass is attached with velcro, so it's easy to remove if necessary. Dream Arcades now offers a $65 smoked glass option that I'd definitely recommend.