Controllers and Wiring
The controllers on the cabinet's two "head-to-head" control panels use X-Gaming joysticks and buttons. Each panel features a joystick with six player buttons, a player start button, and a coin button on the side of the panel. The player one side also includes two extra buttons: a red "Esc" button, and a blue "Enter" button.
The controls from both panels are interfaced to the computer through an Ultimarc MiniPAC encoder. The MiniPAC is setup for a PS2 connection to the computer, although Dream Arcades does offer a USB cable as an option.
The MiniPac also features a PS2 keyboard pass-through port and is also capable of supporting a spinner or trackball. Dream Arcades offers an expansion trackball unit, but it uses its own PS2 cable to interface with the computer.
Speaking of interfaces, the two panels are connected together through the use of a ribbon connector, a very clean and elegant solution (and an great improvement over the original quick disconnects!).
The actual wiring job in the control panels wasn't as good as I had hoped — many of the wires for the buttons in the player 2 unit are soldered. This was especially strange since the player 1 unit used quick disconnects for every connection.
While everything was securely attached and electrically "sound," it would be a more elegant and easily maintained setup if all the connections used quick disconnects as they were designed. Permanently soldering a wire on makes replacing a button or joystick a pain if the need arises.
Room to Grow
The interior of the cabinet is very spacious, at least for a cocktail-style cabinet! The only caveat with putting in a computer is that the computer will have to go in on its side, under the monitor. This cabinet actually may be a good application for the small "Shuttle" style SFC (Small Form Factor) computers, which are shoe-box sized PCs (I use one for my desktop PC, and love it!)
One of the nice things in the interior of the cabinet is the fact that a cooling fan comes preinstalled, including a protective grill on the outside. Plug this into your computer, and the cabinet should stay relatively cool, even during heavy gaming.
As I mentioned earlier, Dream Arcades sells an expansion trackball unit for the cabinet. The control panels already have mounting holes pre-drilled on the bottom of each panel, so installing the trackball unit should be as easy as the rest of the cabinet assembly.
The Dream Arcades Head-to-Head cocktail cabinet is currently priced at $649 until August 20th (normally $899). This is a very good price for all that is included, especially considering the ease with which this cabinet can be assembled. All that is required to complete this cabinet is a PC and a monitor.
The Head-to-Head cabinet is designed primarily for vertical MAME games, such as Pac-Man, Galaga, and others. Dream Arcades also offers a "side-to-side" cabinet that features the controllers together on the side of the cabinet, for horizontal-style MAME games. Since I originally reviewed the cabinet in July of 2004, Dream Arcades has improved an already impressive kit: this is an excellent cabinet with very sturdy construction and a great price, and if you want a cocktail cabinet, this is a great choice. Recommended by RetroBlast.