How to Have a Digital Marquee on an Arcade Cabinet
I have already modded an Arcade 1Up cabinet and built a few cabinets from scratch, but one of the coolest features I love to have on my cabinets is a digital marquee. For those who don’t know what a “marquee” is, it’s the wide rectangular artwork window that is located at the top of an arcade cabinet that usually displays the name of the game you are playing. MAME cabinets will sometimes simply display “MAME” on top or something that generally says “ARCADE”, but when I first started building cabinets I wondered “what if you could put a monitor on top and make it dynamically change for each game?” and I found several options.
Some methods are more complicated and expensive than others, (depending on what hardware you are using) but lately there has been a growing interest in this feature that has made the process much more affordable and easier to configure.
Windows 10 PC and Hyper Marquee
I came across 2 options for having a dynamic marquee using Windows 10. The first one I discovered was “Hyper Marquee“, which has to be used in conjunction with other programs to work. The most common configuration was installing a program called “Event Dispatch System” or “EDS” for short, and then you had to configure RocketLauncher to work with HyperSpin and everything mentioned above to make it work. As I was configuring everything, I felt like I was getting tangled up in a web of software that created many points for potential failure and conflicts. When something went wrong, it was difficult to pinpoint where the mistake was made.
I don’t mean to sound negatively about using RocketLauncher, HyperMarquee, Event Dispatch System, and HyperSpin, but it’s tiresome even listing all of those names, let alone configuring each and every one of them to work together. For what it’s worth, if you have the patience to configure everything successfully, it works really well. Slower machines seem to run more responsive with this configuration, but the process of setting everything up made me feel overwhelmed, which is why I decided to look for something more dummy-proof.
Windows 10 PC with BigBox
After doing more research I came across “LaunchBox” which is a game collection launcher similar to HyperSpin. LaunchBox itself is free, but they have an upgrade you can purchase for it called “BigBox”, which adds arcade-friendly themes and support for a dynamic marquee on a 2nd monitor.
At first I didn’t like the idea of paying for software such as this, but the more I looked into it and lurked through their very friendly forum, I realized that the money they make goes right back into the development of the launcher and acts as a tip jar for all of the support they offer. The developers also release new updates frequently and they are constantly considering feedback from the community.
Configuring BigBox was extremely simple. You just go into the options menu, select “General”, “Marquee Screen”, and change it from saying “None” to “Screen 2” and your 2nd monitor will then display artwork for each and every game. The devs released a tutorial video on how to fully configure this.
What’s even more awesome, is you can scan your library of games and download missing artwork all from within the LaunchBox menu. You can manually install artwork as well, but they provide great community-made artwork themselves. Overall, I found BigBox to be the best software solution for dynamic marquee support because of how simplified the process was.
An unlimited use license to unlock BigBox mode was $30, which is what I initially bought. It provides software updates for 1 year after a license purchase and they don’t have any strict DRM in place. My license recently expired and there were several significant updates that made me decide that upgrading to a lifetime license was well worth it.
Raspberry Pi 4 with Retropie
I loved the Raspberry Pi 3 because of how capable it was for the price, but the dual-HDMI outputs on the Raspberry Pi 4 make it a superior upgrade. When the Pi 4 was first announced with dual monitor support, all I could think of was the potential for having a dynamic marquee on a pocket-sized machine. The Raspberry Pi 4 is also strong enough to emulate anything you’d want on a cabinet.
Recently, I came across an announcement from a site called “Arcade Punks”, stating that they released a Pi 4 image that has dual-monitor dynamic marquee support and I was thrilled. I dug a little deeper and found that their image was based off of some code that can be found here at GitHub.
The process seems fairly simple, according to the GitHub link, you have to install “PieMarquee2” using this command:
cd /home/pi git clone https://github.com/losernator/PieMarquee2.git cd PieMarquee2 chmod 755 ./install.sh sudo ./install.sh
Other notes from the GitHub link include the following setup instructions:
What you need for Marquee
- Intro Video file “intro.mp4” in “/home/pi/PieMarquee2/” folder (optional)
- Maintitle video for default marquee “maintitle.mp4” in “/home/pi/PieMarquee2/marquee/” folder optional
- Maintitle Image for default marquee “maintitle.png” in “/home/pi/PieMarquee2/marquee/” folder
- Syetem image for each system “systemname.png” in “/home/pi/PieMarquee2/marquee/” folder (same as rom folder eg: snes for super nintendo, fba for finalburn)
- Marquee image for each game “gamefilename.png” in “/home/pi/PieMarquee2/marquee/” folder
- Instruction panel image for each game “gamefilename.png” in “/home/pi/PieMarquee2/marquee/instruction” folder optional
- publisher image for publisher “publisher.png” in “/home/pi/PieMarquee2/marquee/publisher” folder optional defined in gamelist_short.xml
Of course, if those instructions seem over your head, you can just go to the Arcade Punks site and you’ll find readily made and pre-configured Pi 4 images there, but if you already have an image that you are happy with, it’s possible to add marquee support with what you already have.
I personally like using a Raspberry Pi 4 over a Windows 10 machine for situations where you want something that behaves more like a console. It loads up quickly, draws very little power, has a smaller form factor, is cheaper, and you never have to worry about an unforeseeable Windows 10 update potentially wreaking havoc on everything. If you want to play PC games, there is an option to add “Steam Link” support that works surprisingly well.
What Monitor Should I Use?
The monitor you go with can make or break the look of your cabinet. The first display I ever went with was for a cabinet I upgraded for a friend. I ordered a “Vitrolight” monitor off of Ebay, which was described as a “stretched LCD bar” and the dimensions were an almost perfect match for the cabinet I was working on.
The pixel dimensions were 1920×360 on the LCD panel and it loooks amazing on the cabinet. There were some drawbacks to using this monitor though. The shipping price was astronomical. They package the monitor in a miniature wooden crate with tons of padding, which ships from China for $200. So if you see a display selling for $400, expect to pay at least $600.
Another drawback is the way the LCD panel was designed. It wasn’t designed to be a native 1920×360 resolution. In fact, it’s actually just a standard 1920×1080 monitor that had the lower two-thirds physically cut off. So when you plug this monitor into a Windows 10 machine, you will only see the top third of your desktop and Windows will still see it as a 1920×1080 display. It provided lots of challenges to configure it, but I asked for help on the LaunchBox forum and luckily one of the moderator’s provided me with a fix that scaled every image to display in the upper third section only. Everything looks great on it now. The fix they provided can be found here. Their helpful support forum was what made me decide to buy the forever upgrade license.
Overall, this monitor looks the most like a traditional marquee, but its price is nearly triple the cost of other displays.
LG Ultrawide monitor (2560×1080)
The LG Ultrawide monitor was something that I decided to try out for my first cabinet that I built. The main 32 inch display matched the width of this monitor almost perfectly, and it still has a wide “marquee” look to it. The monitor is one of the more affordable options out there, but it’s still a bit on the tall side. When I designed the side panels for my arcade cabinet, I measured the upper marquee area to fit this monitor perfectly. I was pretty happy with how it turned out.
Configuring it with BigBox is essentially just plug-and-play. Just enable it as “Screen 2” in the settings and you are good to go. As a bonus, there are some emulators and games that can benefit from having a marquee monitor with this height. Games that require 2 displays, such as the arcade version of Punch-Out!! look great and you can even run the upper screen of a Nintendo DS game on the marquee monitor for a true dual-screen experience. The Wii U emulator and Visual Pinball X works great with dual monitors as well.
Pixelcade LED Marquee
One of the newer options I’ve recently noticed is an interesting one. It’s called the “Pixelcade” and it isn’t a traditional monitor at all. It instead uses a dot matrix LED display that has an 8-bit look to it. The displays retro look can be either a hit or a miss depending on what you are looking for. Some people might find the low resolution and color range to be a bit too limited for what they are trying to achieve. The price is also somewhat expensive. As of this writing, they currently start at $299 and they charge an additional $47 for taxes and shipping costs.
These displays are modular and can fit anything as small as an Arcade 1Up cabinet and up to a full-sized 4-player cabinet.
VSDisplay 14.9″ (1280×390)
I could probably find many other models and brands for ultrawide and stretched LCD displays, but the VSDisplay is one of the best candidates for an Arcade 1Up cabinet. It’s affordable and its dimensions will almost fit perfectly. You will need to either build or order a custom bezel to mount the panel correctly. Sellers on Etsy will sometimes sell kits online, but they tend to sell out quickly.
That just about sums it up though. The main ingredients you really need are a wide monitor that fits your cabinet and the proper software to work with it. Once you have everything installed and configured, the end result is awesome. When you are playing a game like “Mortal Kombat”, and it says “Mortal Kombat” on the marquee, guests will simply think it’s a Mortal Kombat cabinet. It’s always cool to see how people react when you exit out of a game and the marquee art changes. You’ll never get tired of hearing “Woah! That’s actually a monitor? That’s awesome!”