PIK3A Deluxe - Four Player Raspberry Pi Retro Gaming Table

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    Raspberry+Pi+5th+Birthday+Header.pngAs you know, the Raspberry Pi is turning five. Five! Incredible, I know. And as part of our celebrations, it felt like an opportune moment to give just a small token of appreciation back to the Raspberry Pi Foundation from everyone at the element14 Community, members included.

     

    And what better than a PIK3A table! The Foundation has already spoken of its love of the retro gaming table, powered by one of its powerhouse silicon fruits, of course. The only thing better than a PIK3A table, that we could think of, is a PIK3A Deluxe!

     

    PD-Deluxe-Finished.jpg

    This is something I’ve been wanting to build for a long time now, and the fifth birthday seemed like an opportunity we just couldn’t pass up. So, what’s a PIK3A Deluxe, you rightly ask?

     

    In honesty, I was making it up a little as I went, but the original concept was for a four player table with a large screen TV, illuminated controls and enhanced audio. Before we begin on the build, it’s worth noting that at its core, this isn’t hugely different from a standard one player PIK3A, so I don’t want to retread old ground there. In fact, it's pretty much identical -- an IKEA table with a screen mounted inside it, arcade controls, and a Raspberry Pi running RetroPie to play all those wonderful classic video games. Check out the original if you’ve never seen it, and then come back and take a look at how we tackled the evolution into PIK3A Deluxe.

     

    Because this build posed some serious challenges that made me wonder if it was even a possibility, once I got started…

     

    By way of a build along, let’s take a look at the unique obstacles the PIK3A Deluxe threw at us, and how we worked around them. There were four main challenges: Space, power, structure and a few “unforeseen problems”.

     

    Space: Would it All Fit Inside the LACK Coffee Table?

    I went with the largest of IKEA’s LACK coffee tables, which measures a sizeable 1180mm by 780mm. Because of its dimensions, it was clear this really needed a widescreen TV, purely to match the aesthetic of the table itself.

     

    Admittedly, it’s never going to play all that many games that utilise the full width of the screen (although Kodi would be cool), but square ratio screens are hard to find above 19”, and that’d just look like a pea on a drum. So I did some measurements, and a 32” widescreen TV is a great fit for this larger coffee table. Any bigger, and you'll struggle to find space for everything else that needs to go inside the table.

     

    PD-Deluxe-01.jpgThe TV needed dismantling, and until I stripped out the actual LCD display, I wasn’t sure what size unit I’d actually be looking at. A sticking point here was the size of the frame. With the standard PIK3A, the frame is only 10mm (or less), so you can cut out the table from the front, drop it in, and create a nice looking bezel using insulation tape. Not so here -- the frame is more like 30mm around the visible LCD panel in our older, second hand TV. This is going to differ from TV to TV, and a newer model could be almost frameless -- but a lot more expensive than this second hand screen. The choice is there, if you need it.

     

    After no small deliberation, I decided it had to go in from the back, which concerned me over structural issues.

     

    So the front cutout matched the visible area perfectly, while the back cut out was large enough to accommodate the entire LCD unit. By keeping the cutout out tight, the honeycomb innards located the LCD unit surprisingly well, and a good helping of heat glue kept it in place until the new table top back was fitted (I’ll come to that later, in Structure).

     

    Next: Four joysticks, each with eight buttons (six game buttons, a select/coin, and a start)! Even a big table like this needed a lot of looking at before I was happy that the controls were well spaced enough that four people could get around it, but without knocking elbows too much. What helped here was offsetting the outer two sets of controls (for players three and four) at an angle. It gives them an easier view of the screen, and makes space for all the players to get around the table.

     

    These two will be used a lot less (although Gauntlet is a particular favourite of retro gamers!), which is why players one and two are central and three and four are on the outside. If I’d lined them up left to right, most games would have the two players over to the left of the table. That didn't seem practical

     

    So in my PIK3A Deluxe, from left to right, the player designations are 3, 1, 2, 4.

     

    Power: It’s Not Just a Pi it’s Lighting Up This Time

    I love illuminated controls, especially when they’re set into an acrylic sheet, as we do with PIK3A tables. They light up the entire perimeter of the sheet, and it looks amazing. But each button has an LED in it (a bright one too), along with four USB encoders, the audio amp and the Raspberry Pi, all running off a 5V feed. Note that illuminated arcade buttons are usually 12V, but there are 5V options available, which is what I opted for. They're becoming more common, actually, but double check before you buy.

     

    PD-Deluxe-Internals.jpgIt’s too much to ask the Raspberry Pi to power all that direct from its USB ports, even with the 2.5A supply. So instead, I included a 5A supply and added an active, four port USB hub to the mix. This injects power external to the Pi's USB ports, and is more than enough to run the encoders and button LEDs. It also freed up the Pi’s USB ports, so I could add two short USB socket extensions and mount them underneath the table for mouse, keyboard, joypads or whatever else.

     

    If I were to tackle the audio again, I’d be a bit more creative about it.

     

    I dismantled a set of 2.1 computer speakers, so I could have a small, but powerful bass speaker mounted underneath the table along with left and right channels. I also took the built in volume control board, and mounted it underneath the table next to the USB sockets (the small black knob in the bottom centre of the image to the right. You can see the breakout USB ports there, too). In retrospect, it’d probably have been less work to buy these components separately, rather than dismantling a glued-together, pre-built unit, although it all worked out in the end (and belts out some seriously bassy volume!).

     

    That being said, I've still linked to the speakers I used in this build, down at the bottom in the bill of materials. The sound is really excellent, the speakers are small but powerful, and the volume control has a very nice feel to it, so it's still a good, budget option.

     

    The bass speaker wasn’t that big, but I’d already resigned myself to adding a shallow plastic box external to the table to house the tuner board and PSU for the TV, which wouldn’t fit inside the table -- not with the short ribbon cable lengths available, anyway. So I mounted the bass speaker inside this box too. Bass isn’t directional like midrange and treble, so it didn’t affect the sound by having it inside the plastic box.

     

    Structure: This Thing Is Getting Heavy, and There’s Not Much Table Left

    I’d hollowed out a good two thirds of the table, and these things aren’t exactly strong to begin with.

     

    I was seriously concerned the whole thing could collapse under its own weight.

     

    PD-Deluxe-Reinforce-under-Controls.jpg

    Couple that with lining up four rabid retro gamers ragging on the controls, and these origami IKEA tables might not hold up. I'm jumping back a little here, but before mounting the screen, acrylic sheet and buttons, I cut up some pieces of the table back that I'd already removed and glued it beneath the control positions to double up the thickness of material the joysticks and buttons will be mounted on.

     

    Here's a top tip I picked up from making steampunk costumes. Gorilla glue is a godsend! There are loads of different types, but I went with a big bottle of their industrial strength general purpose (although the wood glue is superb too, and sets like stone).

     

    Note that this is an expanding glue. It sets pretty quickly and cures a bit like builders foam, so you can still trim it should it spread out (and it will). Very strong, and will stick absolutely anything to anything else, so it was a perfect option here for reinforcing behind the controls. I was liberal with this, and weighted the bond down with some heavy boxes overnight, although it apparently cures within a couple of hours. An interesting aspect of this glue is that it uses moisture to cure, so you can speed things up by dampening the opposite surface to the glue before bonding them.

     

    In order to cover the giant hole in the back, I decided to use the shelf that comes with the table as a back for the table top. It fits perfectly between the legs, as that’s what it’s designed for, and unlike the rest of the table this is actually a very solid piece of wood. So rather than mounting it half way down the legs as IKEA recommends, the shelf was used to hold the TV firmly in place, cover the hole, and bring a bit of solidity back into the table top.

     

    But! It needed to be affixed to the legs so they could take the weight, rather the screws holding the shelf to the underneath of the table. I put plenty of those in, but they’re only going into thin hardboard.

     

    All this means is that the legs were no longer removable, and had to be put in place before the back was covered up.

     

    I also decided a couple of shelf brackets coming up the leg and under the shelf would help (which they did, a lot!) and I put a piece of steel shelving bracket along the full width underneath the table, screwing it to the legs on either side. After these enhancements, the table once again feels rock solid!

     

    Unforeseen Problems: Not Many, But Some, and a Few Cool Extras

    This thing was overheating. Badly. With the TV laid horizontal and the backlight on full (for better visibility) the screen and inverters were cooking.

     

    I actually thought for a while that this was a systemic problem that was going to hamstring the entire project.

     

    Just out of blind optimism, I grabbed a couple of 120mm computer fans, drilled two 110mm holes either side of the plastic box underneath the table, and mounted them to draw the roasting air out of the table. At first, they were blowing some very hot air! But after just 20 seconds or, it turned into a surprisingly cool breeze. Problem, astonishingly, solved! They’re set to run continuously, but that’s why I went for computer fans -- they’re also very low noise.

     

    These fans, as you’ve probably already guessed, are 12V. Luckily, I’d been working on an idea to give the PIK3A Deluxe a bit more glamour -- under table lighting. This was achieved by heat gluing an RGB LED strip around the edge under the table, and as luck would have it the strip comes with a 12V power supply.

     

    PD-Deluxe-LED-Strip.jpgAs I wasn’t even using half of the LED strip (I cut it, and bridged the gap with flexible wire to bend it around the corners), this left plenty of overhead in the power supply to run the fans, too. These strips also include an infra-red receiver on a flying lead so you can change the colours. Both this IR receiver, and the one for the TV, were mounted in holes in the edge of the plastic box, facing forward. Never know if you’ll need to change channel, or colours.

     

    Which raises another interesting point. When you power up a computer monitor, it automatically switches on, and displays the active input. I was lucky with the TV, that it always went back to whatever channel it was last using (being HDMI, for the Pi).

     

    But TVs don’t automatically switch on when they’re powered up.

     

    I tried holding down the standby button (and keeping it held down) while I applied power to the TV, and by luck, it causes it to turn on right away. It doesn’t, however, cause it to turn back off, so I shorted out the back of the standby button, and the now TV comes on when the table’s powered up. I’ve sent the remote control to the guys at the Raspberry Pi Foundation just in case, of course

     

    So this was a monstrous effort, and I just wish you could see it in person. It’s seriously mind blowing! The perfect follow up project for anyone who’s built a PIK3A or a PIK3A two player, and is looking for the next challenge. And if you decide to tackle one, you’ve got to show it to us! And remember -- we’re here to help if you need any pointers along the way.

     

    I wish I was getting one of these for my birthday. I’d be sooooo happy. 

     

    Bill of Materials:

    IKEA LACK Coffee Table (1180mm x 780mm)

    32” Widescreen TV

    Raspberry Pi

    32GB Class 10 MicroSD Card

    Acrylic sheet for table top (I had mine cut 3mm smaller than the table top, with 5mm radius corners and polished edges -- make sure you get them polished! Looks amazing)

    2.1 Computer Speakers

    General Purpose Gorilla Glue

    Gorilla Wood Glue

    29mm Hole Saw (for the buttons -- standard arcade buttons require a 28mm mounting hole).

    4 Port Active USB Hub

    5V, 5A 25W Switching AC/DC Power Supply

    RGB LED Strip

    Switched IEC Power Inlet

     

    {gallery:autoplay=false} How to Build a PIK3A Deluxe

    PD-Deluxe-01.jpg

    Dismantle the TV: This wasn't a small task, and I decided to test it out before going any further, once the PCBs and display were free of the casing.

    PD-Deluxe-Back-Cutout.jpg

    Back Cutout: Here's the back removed, with enough cut away to drop the TV full inside, and to allow access to the back of the controls (hence the odd shape).

    PD-Deluxe-Front-Cutout.jpg

    Front Cutout: Much simpler, and just like the PIK3A. This is smaller than the full display, but the same size as the visible area of the screen. Some white take around the edge finished it nicely with a clean bezel.

    PIK3A Deluxe Layout.png

    Controls Layout: This is the layout I went for in the end, with the outer two control sets at an angle to make space around the table, and give them a better view of the screen.

    PD-Deluxe-Acrylic-Sheet.jpg

    Acrylic Marked for Drilling: I put masking tape over the protective plastic film to mark where I'd be drilling out the contols.

    PD-Deluxe-Acrylic-Drilled.jpg

    Table Drilled: First I fixed the acrylic sheet to the table top, so the holes would all line up perfectly. Then I just went at it with the drill, going all the way through.

    PD-Deluxe-TV-Mounted.jpg

    TV Mounted: With the holes drilled, it was time to mount the TV so I could put the acrylic sheet in place and install the buttons through it.

    PD Deluxe-Standby-Button.jpg

    Standby Button on TV: This small PCB has the buttons for the TV, and its IR receiver. By shorting out the standby button, the TV switches on as soon as power is applied.

    PD-Deluxe-LED-Strip.jpg

    LED Strip: You can cut LED strip ever few centimeters, and then bridge the solder pads with wire. One for ground, blue, red and green. This is how I bent the strip around the corners under the table. Just make sure the solder pads at the end of the strip aren't shorting out. Mine were, initially.

    PD-Deluxe-First-LED-Test.jpg

    First Power Test: With the 5V distributed between the USB encoders, LED buttons, Raspberry Pi and audio, I decided to power it up and test it. It's currently pulling about 3.7A, which I'm happy with.

    PD-Deluxe-First-Test.jpg

    First Full Test: Honestly, I felt pretty lucky. It all worked first time! Notice how the colours of the buttons match the colour of the characters in Gauntlet and Gauntlet II. Nice touch, eh, retro heads? :-)

    PD-Deluxe-Under-Table-Lighting.jpg

    Under Table Lighting: For the little extra the LED strip costs, this is perhaps the coolest aspect of the whole table! Also, in this photo, notice the glowing edges of the acrylic sheet, caused by the illuminated buttons. Noice!

    PD-Deluxe-Finished.jpg

    Finished PIK3A Deluxe! Remember to add your own splashscreens to RetroPie, for added awesomeness ;-)