How to Convert a DDR Cabinet for StepMania

Note: This guide adapts lots of info and verbatim passages from this archived guide.

If you’ve recently bought — or are looking for — a DDR cabinet, you are likely interested in adding more songs to it. One of the most popular approaches is to connect it up to a PC so you can run StepMania, an open-source music game simulator, which allows you to run custom songs, themes, mods, and game modes.

The steps to do this generally follow this order:

  1. Find out what sort of cabinet you have
  2. Get a PC
  3. Connect the cab to the PC:
    1. Power
    2. Speakers
    3. Inputs
    4. Lights
    5. Monitor

These steps can all be reversed, so you can still use the hardware that came with your cabinet.

Items that you might need to purchase or otherwise physically procure are highlighted in green.

Note: if you are not interested in connecting to your cab’s monitors, speakers, and lights — or if you only own official DDR pads and no cabinet — you might be more interested in one or two GHETT.io boards, which turn your pads into USB devices that you can plug directly into PCs. The rest of this guide assumes you want to use your cabinet.

Disclaimer

Although this guide is written with safety foremost in mind, please be aware of the inherent risk of working on high-power electronics and wiring.

Before beginning a cabinet conversion, please understand that this is being done at your own risk. There is no warranty for a conversion, and it can, if done improperly, potentially ruin the machine.

Please have an understanding of the functions of the machine, electro-static discharge safety, and use caution when handling machine parts, even when shut down.

What cabinet do I have?

It’s important to determine what sorts of components you have in your DDR cabinet. The type of components your cabinet has will determine the sort of PC and other hardware you’ll need to buy. I would suggest starting by following my guide on DDR cabinets and PCBs.

Put simply: most cabinets in the western market are Generation 1. They usually come with one of the following PCBs: a System 573 (DDR 1st to Extreme), Python 2 (DDR SuperNOVA series), or Bemani PC (DDR X and beyond). They also likely have a CRT display, although you’ll find that many have been converted to use LED displays instead.

This guide will attempt to walk you through the conversion process, and I will point out what steps correspond to which types of cabinet components.

Getting a PC

If you don’t have a Bemani PC, you’ll need a PC of your own.

For 573 or Python 2 owners

Because 573s and Python 2s are glorified PlayStation consoles, you can’t install StepMania on them. The good news is that StepMania has very low hardware requirements — any PC from the last decade should run it just fine, although the newer the better.

Separate from running StepMania, if you want your PC’s specs to be similar to those found in official Bemani PC hardware, you might look for Dell Optiplex 700-series PCs, which are often very easy to find on eBay.

I personally bought an Optiplex 780 for just $50. The small-form-factor (SFF) build is small enough to fit inside the monitor portion of my cabinet (since the CRT has been replaced with a LED).

I also went for a Radeon HD 6000 series GPU (If you get a SFF PC, you’ll need a low-profile video card). You can install better graphics cards, too, but just remember that Bemani PCs generally use AMD GPUs. If you have a CRT, you’ll need a GPU that has VGA output.

My Dell Optiplex 780 sitting in the top compartment of my cabinet, where a CRT once lived.

For the sake of working easily with other hardware you’ll connect to the PC, I’d recommend installing Windows 7 or above, although Windows XP or a Linux distro will work if you’re okay with putting in more work. There is a helpful guide on setting up Windows 10 Enterprise/LTSB to hide most UX as the machine boots, although many of these settings will work for older versions as well.

There is also a separate guide on having a dedicated StepMania setup using a custom Arch Linux image. It is already configured to work with CRT monitors and a variety of I/O and lights devices.

For Bemani PC owners

Bemani PCs are actual PCs, all running different versions of Windows. You’ll still need a proper build of StepMania to work with the interface in the back of the PC — more info on that below.

Connecting the cab to the PC

For your safety, ensure your cabinet is off, unplugged, and discharged before opening it up!

Power

The easiest option is to power your PC externally, but that means turning it on separately and most likely having it sit adjacent to the machine instead of inside it. If you want to be able to throw a single switch, this approach isn’t for you.

Other approaches vary based on the type of cabinet. Almost all of them demand a certain level of electrical engineering knowledge, so if you are uncomfortable with voltages and amps and the like, consider asking for help.

Interior of a K-cab. Top: four 110v outlets. Bottom: control transformer with 220V, 110V, and ground screws.

A straightforward approach could be to cut the power cable coming from your PC’s power supply and wire it into the control transformer in your cabinet (if it has a terminal block). Ensure your PC’s power supply is set to the proper voltage depending on which screws you connect to. Understanding wire crimping, continuity, grounding, etc. are beyond this guide’s scope, so ask for help if necessary.

If you have a K-cab, it’s possible that your cabinet has some 110v two-prong outlets inside it. If one of them is not in use, you can plug your PC into it using a cheater plug, although it’s obviously good practice to connect its ground tab to something.

If your cabinet doesn’t have any internal outlets, you can always install one. Some enthusiasts can create connectors for you.

Some power supplies (in Betsons, for example) might have passthrough IEC connectors, but they often do not pass adequate amperage, so plugging into one might not be a great approach.

If connected to the cabinet, your PC will lose power when you use the panel inside the coin door to switch the machine off. You can configure your PC to automatically turn on after power loss.

Speakers

Your cabinet has an amp box that connects to the speakers. It has RCA audio jacks for input, so you’ll need an RCA to 3.5mm stereo cable. Plug the 3.5mm end into the speaker port in the back of your PC.

The LINE IN 1 plug on the amp box, most easily accessible through the coin door.

Inputs & Lights

System 573

If you have a 573, you’ll need to buy one or more devices to transmit your cab’s input and light signals via USB to your PC. As of 2019, the only non-discontinued items are:

  • J-PAC – A board that takes JAMMA input and converts it to USB keystrokes.
  • LIT Board – Allows the cab’s P1, P2, cabinet and neon lights to be controlled via USB.

There are also some discontinued items worth mentioning:

  • 573 Minimaid – An all-in-one board that controls both cab input and lights.
  • LumenAR – Does the same thing as the LIT Board.

To connect inputs to a J-PAC or Minimaid, simply remove the JAMMA harness from the 573 and plug it into the pins on the board. Be careful that you do not insert it reversed. The JAMMA harness should have a white pin near one end of its connector that prevents it from being inserted improperly.

Similarly, remove the P1, P2, CAB and NEON cables from the 573 and plug them into your lights controller.

LumenAR (top) connected to lights cables. J-PAC (bottom) connected to the JAMMA harness.

If you are not interested in controlling the lights on your cabinet, you do not need a LIT Board or LumenAR, but please note that these devices also take the extra step of setting your pads to “reset mode”. This is done as the computer can not properly interpret their input in their current state. To proceed without a lights controller, you must install a jumper to the PCBs inside the DDR pads. This jumper will set the pads to reset mode, and allow them to function properly with the computer.

For reference, the Player 1 side will be called “Left”, and Player 2 will be “Right”. On the left pad, unscrew the blank metal panel that is in the top-right corner of the left pad. Opening this will reveal a second panel. Note that its screws are very easy to strip. Use a Phillips screwdriver to very carefully unscrew them, and then reach under the panel and lift up to remove it. The I/O board is now visible.

With the I/O board accessible, there are several ports with wires feeding into them. On the bottom-right of the board is a wide ribbon of cables of various colors. Take a piece of 16 gauge copper wire. Make sure that each end has a few centimeters of bare wire exposed. From the left-most end of the ribbon, find the first and third wires, counting from the left. One should be black, and the other should be white. Take one end of the copper wire and push it down into the black wire’s port as deep as possible (without applying excess pressure or damaging hardware). Now put the opposite end into the white wire’s port. This is jumping the two wires and putting the pad in reset mode.

Now jump the right pad. Its I/O panel can be accessed by removing the blank metal panel that is in the top-left corner of the right pad. Carefully unscrew its secondary panel (Again, these screws strip very easily) and you will see a board identical to the left side. It will also have black and white wires in the first and third positions. Bridge these the same way the left side was bridged.

The pads are now in reset mode, ready for the J-PAC or Minimaid.

J-PAC, Minimaid, LIT Board and LumenAR will likely require additional drivers to function with your PC. Please refer to the documentation that comes with your devices to set them up. Specifically, you will likely need to install WinIPAC for use with a J-PAC, whereas the other boards come with “care packages” containing documentation, tools, and drivers, although additional work might be necessary to interface with StepMania 5.

Python 2

Python 2 owners have a couple of choices. They can stick with the above list of hardware for 573 owners — although if going for a Minimaid they’d have to find either the “Betson” or “Universal” variants — or, they can entirely skip the extra hardware and reroute USB cables from within the Python 2 to their PC.

For those going the J-PAC/lights controller route, the process to connect to the hardware is similar to those who own 573s, but requires unplugging the P1, P2 and bass neon cables from the EXT-IO instead of directly from the Python 2. There is still one cable going from the cabinet’s amp box into “PORT 1” of the Python 2. You should unplug from PORT 1 and plug the cable into your lights controller’s “CAB” or “marquee/start lights” port.

The alternate route is to open up your Python 2 (voilà, there’s a full-fledged PS2 sitting in there), unplug the two USB cables from the front of the PS2, and connect them to USB extension cables going to your PC. By default, your PC won’t be able to recognize these signals — you’ll need to download and build a special fork of StepMania that implements support for P2IO (the I/O board inside the Python 2) and P3IO (for some Bemani PC owners).

Simply unplug the USB cables from the Real Actual PS2 inside the Python 2.

Bemani PC

This section is specific to Bemani PC owners with an EXT-IO and P3IO interface. If you have a P4IO, you might be on your own for now.

Like with Python 2 owners, you should be able to build and install this fork of StepMania and not make any hardware changes at all.

Monitor

If your cabinet has an LED monitor, it does not need to be converted to the appropriate frequency and resolution and therefore does not require additional hardware or software. A monitor not wired through JAMMA can plug directly into the PC’s graphics card. If you have a CRT, things get complicated:

System 573

The first step is to connect the female end of a VGA cable to your J-PAC or Minimaid, and the male end to your computer’s graphics card (which, of course, must have VGA output).

Your CRT screen might only support 15KHz, or it might also support 31KHz. Regardless, you will likely need extra hardware or software to be able to support these refresh rates and resolutions.

One option is to purchase an ArcadeVGA, a video card which can output at 15KHz to CRT screens. Ultimarc’s store also sells a DVI to VGA adapter that you’ll need, and there is a low-profile bracket available for SFF PCs. As of 2019, the ArcadeVGA seems to be out of stock.

Another option for AMD video card owners is to use CRT Emudriver 2.0. You might also consider installing QuickRes to force Windows to always boot at a lower resolution.

Python 2

Simply unplug the VGA cable from the Python 2, and plug it into your PC, then follow the above steps, ignoring the section about the video port on your J-PAC or Minimaid.

Bemani PC

There’s probably nothing to unplug – simply follow the above steps concerning refresh rate and resolution.

Credits

Thanks to the helpful people on the Private Dance Games Arcade Owner group on Facebook.

  • Adam Karonika
  • Brandon Frodo Anders
  • Jesse Wolcott
  • Lob Starmagnet
  • Paul Fisher
  • TJ Lowry