The games produced by Bally and Stern between the years of 1977 and 1984 were enormously popular with players when they first graced the arcades, and remain popular to this day. Given the sheer number of games originally produced during the 1977 to 1984 run by Bally and Stern, the survival rate is very high and there is a great demand for reproduction parts to keep these games running properly. This is the second review in a continuing series where Credit Dot will examine some of the reproduction parts being manufactured, and how technological innovation is making Bally/Stern games look and play better than ever.
Two weeks ago, I reviewed the Retrofit Conversion LED Display Kit available from Pinitech that took your original, non-functioning Bally/Stern displays and converted them into fully functioning, LED equipped, low-voltage displays by removing old components and adding new new components to drive the 5 volt LED digits. These kits, which require the end-user to provide donor boards and assemble the kits themselves, have been on the market for about a year and have taken countless out-gassed displays that were sitting on collectors’ shelves and put them back into operation at a fraction of the cost of a complete aftermarket plug-and-play display set.
I’m happy to share that Pinitech has again revolutionized the classic Bally/Stern display market by offering LED kits that do not require a donor set of displays to convert. In addition to the revolutionary Retrofit kit, Pinitech has now launched two complete all-in-one display systems that can be sold to the end-user, in kit form, that look just as good, if not better, than any aftermarket display kit currently available: the TRADITIONAL 2-Board Full LED Display Kit and the UNO Single Board Full LED Display Kit. Perhaps more importantly, like the Retrofit before them, their cost won’t break the bank.
THE PINITECH DISPLAY LINE-UP
I’ll begin by re-introducing the the Retrofit Conversion LED Display Kit, but the full review can be found here. Simply put, it requires a set of original donor boards. If you have dead displays lying around and can handle removing components from the original board and adding new components that come with the kit, this is bar none the most economical, and perhaps best option for you.
Now to introduce the new Pinitech releases. The Traditional 2-Board Full LED Display Kit maintains the visual integrity of the original Bally/Stern display, giving the user a two board system—one onto which you will mount the electrical components, and one onto which you will mount the LED display digits. The connection between the two boards is made by way of two male header pins on the display panel and two female header housings on the component board. This board uses the existing metal display bracket of your Bally/Stern game, and will slide in as an original display would. Overall, it gives the same physical look as an original board, with all the benefits of a low voltage, high output display.
The second new release is the Uno Single Board Full LED Display Kit. It takes all the components of the traditional two-board system, and arranges them onto a single upright board, display digits and all. The display will then be affixed using the four mounting screws originally used to hold the metal display bracket to the backbox lamp board. It will be “free floating” in the backboard cutout with the only points of contact being the aforementioned mounting screws.
No matter what option you choose, assembly is required, unless you’ve pre-arranged with Pinitech to build it for you. The two new kits open the level of entry to those with even a basic knowledge of soldering and board assembly. The Retrofit required the user to de-solder components from original Bally/Stern boards. Both the Traditional and UNO are a complete display system—no donor boards required, no components to remove, no chance of lifted traces. With only simple soldering required, nearly anyone who can follow a set of written directions and has a temperature controlled soldering iron can obtain a great looking set of aftermarket LED displays using either Pinitech kit, and feel a sense of accomplishment when the task is complete.
PRICING AND OPTIONS
If the Retrofit kits were a steal at approximately $100USD per kit–the new Traditional and UNO kits are just as affordable considering it is an all-in-one solution. The pricing matrix is as follows:
TRADITIONAL 2-BOARD KITS
- 6-Digit Displays in AMBER – $129.95USD
- 7-Digit Displays in AMBER – $134.95USD
- 6-Digit Displays in BLUE – $134.95USD
- 7-Digit Displays in BLUE – $139.95USD
- 6-Digit Displays in WHITE – $139.95USD (Includes one colour filter choice)
- 7-Digit Displays in WHITE – $144.95USD (Includes one colour filter choice)
UNO SINGLE BOARD KITS
- 6-Digit Displays in AMBER – $119.95USD
- 7-Digit Displays in AMBER – $124.95USD
- 6-Digit Displays in BLUE – $124.95USD
- 7-Digit Displays in BLUE – $129.95USD
- 6-Digit Displays in WHITE – $129.95USD (Includes one colour filter choice)
- 7-Digit Displays in WHITE – $134.95USD (Includes one colour filter choice)
Assuming you didn’t have a set of dead displays kicking around for a Retrofit conversion, you’d be looking at, at least, thirty or forty bucks to obtain a dead set to perform the Retrofit conversion upon. If you have the dead displays on hand, and have the skill to de-solder parts and solder in new parts, the Retrofit may still be the way to go. If you don’t have an outgassed set at the ready, the Traditional and UNO provide a great all-in-one kit that will cost less than any other option on the market today. I discussed competitors’ pricing in the previous Retrofit article, but in a nutshell: Rottendog offers their amber plug-and-play display kits for $199USD, X-Pin offers their 6-digit amber display solution at $275USD, while Wolffpac Technologies offers an amber 6-digit DIY kit for $145USD. It is interesting to note that Pinitech’s highest priced kit, the 7-digit TRADITIONAL in white with one colour filter option of your choice, is priced as much as the lowest-level kit from Wolffpac Technologies.
The amber kits are obviously the most economical of the Pinitech kits available, but to offer a white set with a free colour option at less than $150USD should be a real eye-opener. With the Pinitech kits, your game can be customized with about a dozen different filter options, allowing you to colour match the displays to the overall scheme of your game, or go off of the prescribed colour chart and add a display that pops against the existing colour scheme of the game. Gone are the days of picking between red, green or blue displays. Pinitech offers magenta, yellow, purple and turquoise–which are just a few of the different options you can choose from to customize your game.
WHICH KIT WILL FIT YOUR NEEDS?
You can pretty much mix-and-match any of these display options and obtain a uniform look in your game, or collection of games as the case may be. The obvious benefit to the Traditional and UNO display kits over the Retrofit was covered in the outset of the article: you don’t need donor boards and you don’t need to remove components. The kits contain everything you need to build yourself a complete display system for your game. This opens the door for more novice tinkerers to solder-and-go, without having to worry about lifted traces and the plethora of different board layouts that Bally and Stern used during the initial release of the games.
Time is also a factor here. After building a few of the Traditional and UNO displays, I got my completion time down to about twenty minutes per individual display, versus the thirty-five it took to complete the Retrofit conversion. Those extra fifteen minutes are accounted for in the Retrofit conversion by de-soldering components, and double-checking the placement of the new components, as the board layout on the original Bally/Stern PCBs is a bit confusing. It seems those original boards went through more revisions than Carter had liver pills, so each original Bally/Stern display PCB will have components in different places. The Traditional and UNO boards are designed with logic and elegance, similar components are arranged in a row, and there are far fewer points of solder in these builds than there are in a Retrofit conversion.
It should also be mentioned that the Traditional and UNO are true 5 volt driven displays by design, not a high voltage display converted for 5 volt operation like the Retrofit. There is no chance to send high voltage through the display at all as the male pin that supplies high voltage to the display has been designed out of these new display PCBs. The Retrofit needed to have Pin 1 pulled to ensure high voltage was removed from the equation, and further, a rather unsightly jumper made from the high voltage line to the 5V line to bring power to the display. If the conversion was done with care, it isn’t really a worry, but the threat is there until dealt with properly. The Traditional and UNO have taken care of that threat through design.
There is an added benefit with the Traditional and UNO systems: brightness control. Pinitech proprietor Wayne Eggert factored a potentiometer into the design to subdue the display digits or blaze them bright, as the end user sees fit. This is a valuable benefit, allowing the user to customize brightness to fit the overall look of the game, and becomes even more valuable when using the white digits to dial in the look of the digits through the filter choices. Some of the darker colour filters like magenta or purple can require some added brightness to really make them pop.
One of the main benefits of the UNO system is that you can adjust the placement of the display left and right to center them in the backglass display window. Before tightening down the screws when mounting the display, users can now play with the placement, adjusting as needed.
Many games from the Bally and Stern catalog suffered from misaligned displays, straight from the factory. This was my experience with my Stern Catacomb. The game came with aftermarket Rottendog displays installed, and the display shift was such that most of the last digit was completely obscured on the score displays, and the credit and ball count display difficult to read being blocked by the backglass art. Using the UNO displays, I was able to make adjustments and slide the UNO over to the left so that all score numbers were visible. This last number in the score was always a zero so it didn’t really matter much, but aesthetically, it was always bothersome. The UNO corrected this completely.
Having the male connector pins on the same board as the display digits on the UNO is a difference traditionalists will need to get used to, but having physical displays shut inside of a backbox and behind a backglass should not turn too many stomachs as long as the displays perform as advertised (and they do). As long as the male connector locking mechanism is positioned toward the bottom, away from the display digits, it will allow for a secure fit of the existing connector. Having the locking tabs of the male connector facing upwards, as suggested in an early revision of the instructions make for a fit that is too snug for comfort, resulting in a bit of a struggle to get the connector to fit securely, and further, interferes with a few of the component through holes. Having read a revision of the instructions released after my test build, I see that it has been changed to read that the locking tabs now be placed downwards to correct the issue.
Given the choice between the two new display options, I would give the advantage to the UNO. The single board design results in a few less points of solder compared to the Traditional, without ever feeling as if the components are crammed onto the board or unmanageable when installing them. The UNO is also the better value, saving you ten bucks across all options, no matter if your game is 6- or 7-digits, or which colour option you choose. With functionality the same across both options, both looked and performed great in test, I’d go on the record as saying that the UNO is the clear choice.
The Traditional kit would be a great option for those that prefer to keep the original “90-degree” aesthetic of the original Bally/Stern board design. It would also make sense to go the TRADITIONAL route if you were mixing and matching with Retrofit converted displays, as the physical look of the boards remains consistent across both options. Pinitech will sell individual display kits if you have a partial set of dead displays at your disposal, and want to fill in the blanks with Traiditional 2-board individual display kits.
AN INTERVIEW WITH PINITECH
As he did in my review of the Retrofit kit, Pinitech proprietor Wayne Eggert was nice enough to humour me with an interview about the creation and initial offering of the Traditional and UNO kits. Over the past few years, I have corresponded with Mr. Eggert about many pinball related topics, and he’s always been well-reasoned and knowledgeable about many facets of this hobby, and moreover, has been very humble about the pinball inspired technology he creates. It is plain to see from the following interview that he is proud to have brought the Traditional and UNO kits to market, providing collectors with a reasonably priced display solution that performs as well as advertised:
Credit Dot: When we last talked about the Retrofit Conversion LED Display Kit, you shared that the research and development process of taking an old display and removing/adding components to give it LED functionality took about four to five months to complete. What was the timeline for R&D of the Traditional UNO kits? Were you ahead of the curve having the knowledge of the Retrofit project in your back pocket?
Wayne Eggert: The majority of the final full kit design occurred in June/July 2017. Really though, these have been in-development since 2011 to some degree when I was first experimenting with LED display circuits. I had wanted to create my own displays for Bally/Stern games, but at the time, prototyping was going to cost a small fortune and it was looking like even in modest volume, a DIY kit couldn’t come in much cheaper than the less-expensive plug-and-play aftermarket displays. Instead, the project was scaled-down in size and turned into a diagnostic tool in 2013 that I called a “Bench LED Display”. Still having this desire to create a full display, in 2016 I created the RETROFIT kits. They were a monumental step forward, offering collectors a cheap way to create a full-scale display without the risk of a component board that might change several times during prototyping since the component board was already a “fixed design”. The challenges and experience that the Retrofit project offered, and all of the prior years of projects and R&D, are ultimately what helped fast-track the development of these full displays you now see in 2017.
CD: Is there a concern of market confusion having three separate LED kits available for purchase at Pinitech?
WE: There was. That’s why I gave them all separate and unique names. The conversion kits are the “Pinitech RETROFIT” kits. For full kits, the 2-board design is the “Pinitech TRADITIONAL” and the single-board is the “Pinitech UNO”. I think between the names and descriptions on the product pages it should help avoid confusion.
CD: Having personally built and used each of the different kits, I can attest that the functionality and look from behind the backglass is identical across all kits. What are some of the situations in which a collector would prefer one kit over the other?
WE: Some people will prefer the classic looking 2-board design no matter what, but some games will also require it. I have a Stern Black Beauty Shuffle Alley that has a ton of lamp surrounds next to the display brackets and even with heavy modification I don’t see the UNO design working there. That’s going to be more of an extreme case of clearance issues though. For many machines the UNO is going to work just fine and be the way to go with its lower cost, quicker assembly and ability to shift the displays left or right.
CD: The UNO and TRADITIONAL display kits are a bit more “builder-friendly”–you need not remove components from a donor board as you would with the Retrofit. Was one of the design considerations of the new kits to make the process more streamlined for the average collector?
WE: Yes. All new parts are included with the full kits, so anyone with basic soldering skills and equipment can easily assemble the displays.
CD: The Traditional and UNO kits have only been offered for about a month at this point–what is some of the feedback you’ve received from the early adopters of the kits?
WE: I’ve heard many great comments. Easy assembly. They look great. They function well. Instructions are well done. It’s a joy to be hearing these things because it means all the time spent refining them was worth it.
CD: The UNO itself is a streamlined and compact piece of technology—you essentially placed all the components that were originally on a traditional Bally/Stern PCB onto the surface area that was occupied by the traditional display glass. How were you able to arrange all the components onto one simple board?
WE: Pure willpower I think. I was back-and-forth on doing a single PCB design or a 2-board design. I couldn’t decide. I knew there would be cost advantages to a single board, but I absolutely hated all the design concepts I had drawn. It was too clunky and didn’t look like it belonged. But I had this idea to shift the displays left or right and really liked that thought. The single biggest turning point was deciding that I wasn’t going to pick just one style. I was going to do BOTH–and they would look awesome when completed. I just focused on that very positive thought and made it happen. I absolutely love the single board design, it’s so slick looking that I’m even wanting to put it in games. If you asked me a few months ago if I thought that would happen, I’d have had some serious doubts!
CD: Now that you’ve eliminated the need for a donor board, do you offer assembly services for the TRADITIONAL and UNO kits, for those who don’t have the time or skill to build them on their own?
WE: Yes, I’m offering fully assembled plug-and-play options on both of these displays.
CD: Having been a customer for over a year, I can attest that the packaging of your items has grown leaps and bounds, with the UNO and TRADITIONAL sets being shipped in an extremely neat, organized and professional manner. There is obviously “value added” in this sort of packaging?
WE: It makes it easier for the customers, as well as myself, to bag and box display sets individually. I often imagine myself as the customer, opening up the box or reading through the instructions. I put myself in my customer’s viewpoint and do what makes the most sense and avoids confusion.
CD: The digits you are using for these new kits are the same as the ones used in the Retrofit kits. Are you finding that collectors are appreciating the option of customizing their game using the white digits with the vast range of colour filters you have available?
WE: People like being able to customize their games, that’s been proven over and over. Color displays in these Classic Bally/Stern games completely change the look of the games. It updates them to something fresh & new. Some people still have reservations on deviating from the standard plasma color, but once you convert one game to a different color and see how great it looks, it becomes addicting to try different colors in more games. In short, the white digits have been a huge hit!
CD: You seem to have covered all the bases in the Bally/Stern display world, offering kits to convert original displays, and now, offering all-in-one kits. Is there anything left for you to tinker with in the Bally/Stern display realm?
WE: There’s a few things related to, but not directly involving, the display boards that I might work on at some point. As for the displays themselves, I can’t be happier. TWO display designs that each offer something uniquely different and live up to my own expectations of what a quality display should look and function like. Now the fun part – shipping out the DIY kits or assembled displays and hearing feedback and excitement from people as they see, in person, how great the new displays make their games look. Customer feedback is truly one of the most rewarding parts of creating new products!
THE TRADITIONAL AND UNO BOTTOM LINE
To this point, I’ve built two Retrofit kits, one TRADITIONAL kit and about ten UNO kits, for myself and for others in my local community. I can almost build these things in my sleep now. Your mileage may vary depending on your skill set, but the learning curve isn’t steep. Once you’re comfortable with Pinitech’s in-depth instructions and the board layout, assembly is a breeze. The UNO seems pretty popular in my local community of classic Bally and Stern collectors, and it stands to be seen if my local community is a true representation of the pinball community as a whole. I’ll gladly put my stamp of approval on the UNO kits. The TRADITIONAL kits will work for people who prefer a more traditional look to their boards, or for games that can’t accommodate the mounting space the UNO requires (I believe this will be a problem that rarely occurs, however). I can see these two new all-in-one kits muscling out their kin, the Retrofit, as the price difference between the two is negligible when paired off against the extra time, and skill, needed for the Retrofit conversion. I’ve had experience with both Xpin and Rottendog displays in the past—the Pinitech displays look more native to the game, and their price just can’t be beat. I’m left to hope that Pinitech continues to innovate in the arena of aftermarket technology for classic Bally and Stern games, as well as beyond into other eras and manufacturers of classic solid state pinball machines.
Credit Dot Pinball – REVIEW: Pinitech’s Retrofit Conversion LED Display Kit