Here at Pinball Land, we are always fine-tuning and polishing the experience for our players. We recently went the extra mile on some of our most played pinball machines and upgraded their scoring displays with LCD replacements. Wow, what a difference! Read on to learn more about the new LCD displays we installed and how much of an improvement they truly make.
For a few months, we’ve noticed the displays fading out on our beloved Stern Stars pinball machine. The Player 4 display was down to only three half-lit characters while Player 3’s display flickered and was generally unreliable. Player 1 and 2’s displays worked fine, but they were riddled with little “fisheyes.” These are a tell-tale sign that the displays were on their way out. It was time for an upgrade!
There are several replacement display options on the market. I know I could have tracked down original plasma displays for the purists out there. Here at Pinball Land, with the games being run six days a week, it just didn’t make much sense to stick with old technology. There are modern LCD alternatives available that look almost just as good as originals, plus they run on low voltage, run cooler, and use less energy. Let’s get with the times!
Replacement LCD Displays
It’s a very popular option to buy a whole new LCD display set to replace your dying originals. These look really good! I have one set running in our beautiful Pinbot machine and nobody has ever said “Hey, that’s not a plasma display! What are you trying to pull?”
The only downside to these LCD display sets is the cost. At the time of this writing, they’re upwards of $450 for a complete set. For the collector with a couple of machines, this cost is manageable, especially if your game plays totally blind. The new displays drop right in, even using the original mounting hardware. It couldn’t be easier! However, for an arcade like Pinball Land with over 20 pinball machines, that cost adds up really quick. If I wanted all of these games to be bright and beautiful forever, I needed to find an alternative display that was more affordable.
Wolffpac Technologies LCD Displays
I recently bought a few restored pinball machines that came with replacement LCD displays made by a company called Wolffpac Technologies. I was instantly impressed with the brightness and crispness of these displays – they looked like improved plasma displays! They were a little brighter than originals and the segments a little thicker – almost like Gottlieb System 1 displays, but these were “standard” orange plasma displays in Williams games. The color was spot-on, the size was accurate – I was blown away.
I looked into this Wolffpac Technologies and found that they actually sell these displays as kits! They ship you blank boards and little baggies of components, you solder it up and throw it in your game. And the cost? A fraction of what a pre-assembled display set costs! A complete set of Wolffpac display kits costs about $150, as opposed to $450 for a pre-assembled set from other sources.
Replacing Stars’ Original Displays
I had to give these LCD display kits a shot! I decided to start with Stars, as those displays were starting to look straight-up embarrassing. I ordered a complete set of 5 new displays. They arrived super-fast and I couldn’t wait to tear into them!
But, you said these displays are a kit? You have to build them yourself? Yup, that’s right. And it’s a snap! Just download the clear-as-day instructions off Wolffpac’s website, throw on some music, heat up your soldering iron, and get after it.
It took me about an hour to build the first display for Stars. I was also at the arcade, talking to players, and taking breaks to sweep up popcorn, so take that into consideration. The subsequent displays got knocked out in about a half hour each. The instructions were super clear and straightforward. There aren’t many photos or illustrations, however they’re not necessary. The boards are super-well labeled and the components are not confusing. You don’t have like, 10 different valued resistors and capacitors to worry about mixing up.
After a little (enjoyable) work, the displays were all finished. I added them to the game, one by one as they were finished, to make sure I didn’t screw anything up. In Stars (and other classic Stern/Bally games) you can mix and match the new LCD displays with the existing plasma displays. So if you’re on a really tight budget, you can order display kits only for the displays you absolutely need to replace. As I added one new display after another though, I realized there was no going back – LCD displays are the future!
If you’re used to working on your own pinball machines, have some time logged behind your soldering iron, the assembly of these Wolffpac display kits is no big deal.
I should probably take this time to mention that Wolffpac Technologies in no way sponsored this article, gave me free products, or even asked me to write something up. As of this writing, I’ve never even talked to the genius behind the place; I just placed my order on the website like any other schmuck. And boy am I glad that I did!
“Condition Green” LCD Displays for Space Station
The experience upgrading Stars’ displays went so well I had to try a Wolffpac kit out on a different system. My Space Station machine suddenly developed an issue where it dropped characters on the Player 2 and Player 4 sections. Instead of chasing the gremlins off that old display board, I ordered the System 11-B/D LCD display kit from Wolffpac.
All of the Wolffpac displays come in a variety of colors. Of course, they come in the standard orange, which is a perfect match to the classic color. They’re also available in blue, green, red and white, if you want to get a little creative. I chose green displays for Space Station to compliment the “Condition Green” mode.
The assembly of the System 11 display board was more involved than a classic Stern/Bally display board, but still not a huge ordeal. The single System 11 display board was about as involved as all 5 Stern displays combined. This one took me longer to assemble because I was doing it during business hours at the arcade. Had I been building it in my home workshop, it would’ve gone much more quickly.
And the result? It’s absolutely stunning!
The green is vibrant and glowing! It’s almost too bright – almost! It’s awesome!
Nit-Picking the LCD Display Kit
If I have to find one thing to nit-pick about the Space Station System 11 Wolffpac display board it’s how it fits behind the speaker panel plastic. The original displays were offset from the board on a nylon spacer. This fit them right up against the plastic, showing through the little clear windows as if they are a part of the plastic.
The new LCD displays are mounted in the same place as the originals, but they’re not as thick and do not have the nylon spacer. This leaves a gap of about a half-inch between the display and the speaker panel plastic.
Why is this a gripe worth mentioning? Because depending on your viewing angle, some of the segments of the displays will be cut off behind the windows on the speaker panel. This is only an issue for the very tall or for spectators watching from a side angle, but it is an issue.
Take a look at this original plasma display on a Black Knight 2000 as seen from a similarly high viewing angle. Do you see how much more of the display is cut off on Space Station’s new LCD display? You lose the entire top line of segments.
If this really bugs you, it’s probably possible to add some spacers or washers somewhere to push the displays closer to the speaker panel. Maybe I’ll end up fiddling with this down the road, but it’s one of those things where you might not have even noticed had I not brought it to your attention.
LCD Display Kits – The Verdict
Overall, I couldn’t be happier with these Wolffpac display kits! They rejuvenated those classic games’ appearance up to par with the latest releases, in their own timeless way. The price of these kits is amazing, the assembly was an enjoyable experience, and the results are straight-up stunning.
After the successful installations in Pinball Land’s Stars and Space Station games, Taxi will be the next machine to receive the LCD display treatment.