There are some things that remain on my pinball “to-do” list for quite awhile before I get around to them. Addressing the picture quality of my SWEP1 has been one of these things that I keep pushing back. In the current state, it’s not terrible and the game is very playable which is why I’ve considered it a low priority. But, I know it can be SO much better as much of the detail in the video and playfield animations is lost. The issue is the contrast. The contrast dial (which is responsible for the “white” level) is already at max and cannot be increased further. That’s where the small video amp board from Ultimarc comes in. This little board sits between the PC display output and the monitor, boosting the video signal. It’s available here, along with some additional information: http://www.ultimarc.com/vidamp.html
The PCB is tiny and has two small holes for mounting. The package comes with a new VGA display cable, but you are required to make your own cable to run from the board to the chassis. There are a series of screw terminals, which is what the cable will connect to. This connector is firmly in place and a challenge to remove.
I have a spare monitor and chassis, which I had a look at to get an idea of the connector required and also the pin layout.
The original cable is a VGA to molex connector and runs direct from the P2K PC to the monitor. Rather than butcher this one to work with the video amp board, I’m going to leave this as is in case I ever want to remove the video amp board.
The video amp board isn’t quite plug and play as you need to create a cable that runs from the video amp output to the chassis. The connector and wire were purchased from Jaycar for around $5 in total.
With the new cable built, it was time to install the video amp board in to the machine. The PCB was mounted on the two feet the right side of the headbox. The new cable wires were screwed in to the terminals and connected to the chassis. The new video cable from the P2K PC was installed and connected up to the video amp board. The video amp board requires a 5V power source to run. Some P2K machines supply this 5V on pin 9 of the display cable. If you have a P2K machine that does not do this, you will need to create an additional cable with a molex connector that joins to the one of the free 5V plugs inside the P2K PC. I didn’t need to do this as I was getting 5V to the board from the display cable.
Once everything was connected up, the game was switched on to see what sort of result the video amp board would have. I was blown away by the difference the video amp board makes to the display. The contrast dial had been at max, so I lowered this and left with a display that was clearer than I had ever seen it. The improvement was across the board and I wish I had taken more before photos of the different game modes to show just how much of a difference the video amp board makes. Now I’m wishing I had done this earlier!
The letters for initials entry used to be barely visible.
But are now clearly visible.
In the light saber dual, it turns out they are fighting in a room – I couldn’t see much of the background before.
The holoprojector can now be seen!
The match sequence at the end of the game was always so dark. Now I can actually make out the droids walking and more detail on the pod.
As I said, I wish I had taken more before shots. The visuals in every mode are now so much clearer and much more detail can be spotted. It’s awesome! I’m going to fine tune the contrast dial a little more as I think it can be turned down a bit further. After playing a few more games, I really am blown away just how much the video amp board improves the display and the extra things you can see while playing. There are a few other options available to help improve the display. You can also get the tube rejuvenated and chassis recapped. But those are not something I can do myself. At approx $35AU + shipping for the video amp board, it’s a very affordable upgrade that has a big impact on the display. If you own a SWEP1 or RfM with the original CRT – this is certainly worth considering.