Enter the “Zero Delay” USB joystick encoder. A great solution to attain that retro feeling!
This entry isn’t as much of a tutorial but an over view of a device that has been selling on the net known as a “Zero delay USB Joystick Encoder.” It goes by other names such as a a “DIY Arcade replacement controller” or a “DIY Joystick control board.” Either way you slice it these boards are coming from China anywhere from as low as Three U.S. Dollars to as much as ten U.S. dollar depending on the features you want such as wiring harness and USB cables.
Would you like to know more?
In case you have no-script enabled or for some reason cannot see the title video on this website. I have provided direct links for these videos.
- WebM – Link – This is the newest video standard, works great on Opera, Firefox, Chrome, and newer android phones, not good for Safari, IE, Apple.
- MP4 – Link – The most compatible codec but also rather large in file size. Make take a while to download.
- OGV – Link – the fallback codec for older PC’s and Linux USB stick OS’s. 1st generation web video streaming based on Ogg-Vorbis encoding.
The need for joystick controllers.
Initially, in order for you to make your own joystick you would of course first collect all of the parts such as the joystick, buttons, wood, and finally the controller. When I first went down this adventure I bought an I-PAC controller which had great software and did the job perfectly but unfortunately was almost $40(USD) in price! While it was great to get a controller that served as a near-zero delay system that I could hook up to my PC. I decided to look for cheaper alternatives out there. Initially we thought it would be awesome load some virtual joystick software on a USB compliant aurdino. It turns out that China has beat us to the punch on this one.
For this blog we purchased the 7$(USD) kit as it came from an American vendor on Ebay. It came with the following items:
- The encoder board.
- a USB male A cable to 4-pin molex connector
- 10x red and black joystick/button connectors
- 1x joystick connector.
Notes on the 3rd part Seimitsu joystick and buttons.
Picture above: A 2-pack of Seimitsu buttons and joysticks.
The wiring harness is only compatible with the buttons and joysticks that china provides (but that does not stop anyone with a soldering iron!) These buttons and joysticks are not HAPP.. The company which made these are Seimitsu which is a knock-off of the official Sanwa buttons. Complete sets typically sell anywhere from $18 to $28 USD. Compare that to a Suzo/HAPP DIY kit and you could pay that much for the joystick alone!
The quality on the Seimitsu controllers are overall lacking which is why I only bought a handful of switches for my project. Although they are cheap feeling the major advantage of the Seimitsu/Sanwa buttons is they are very shallow making it easy to fit into project box cases like the ones we tend to use for many of our projects.
The joystick encoder board.
When you look at the board itself there isn’t really a whole lot going on. Initially these boards came with a PS2 connector. Thus, why the button layout will be similar to that of a PS2 controller with R1, L1, R2, L2, etc. But there isn’t a whole lot going on here because China threw some electrical epoxy onto the chip. The big thing we with to point out to you is mind where the traces are. Notice how the bottom of the board all of the traces are connected together? That’s ground.
Reversed grounding wires.
If you look at the wires you’ll quickly find out that the red wire goes to ground and the black wire goes to your signal. We have lost count as to how many times the Chinese have refused to follow a wiring color standard as ground should always be black/brown and red is supposed to be signal or hot. This isn’t a problem with buttons as buttons are isolated. The problems get to connectors like the DB15 where you have one ground lead (pin1) and the rest are all signals that’s where the real problems begin to kick in! It was a mistake that was corrected by pushing out the Molex connectors using a 90 degree pick and then re-seating them in the right direction. If you put your signal trace to ground and start pressing buttons some really weird things happen like having to hold down multiple buttons to get one button to fire. Or suddenly having all directions active.
Extra parts and tools:
The amount of parts you may use will totally be up to you and what you want out of your joystick encoder. Here’s a list of my parts.
- Hammond style ABS plastic box
- 4x rubber feet
- 2x Seimitsu SPST buttons for “start” and “Select”
- 2x panel mounted RJ-45 female connectors
- 1x panel mounted USB “B” Style connector
- 1x DB15 female connector.
- 1x DB9 male connector.
- 4x SPDT switches (extracted from old cash register drawers)
- 3x small SPST buttons (used for the function mode buttons)
- 2x LED’s with holders so we can mount the LEDs to the outside of the case.
- Big pile “O” wire!
For those who are totally not feeling the soldering part of this blog. You can pick up what are known as “Terminal breakout connector” And they come in a variety of types and sizes. What is pictured above is male DB9 and DB15 but you can get them in both male and female components. These are super handy because if you mess up a wiring configuration you can simply rip them out and start over with a simple flat head screwdriver. The downside of these is they are a little more expensive then just getting a header which you could get for free out of old computer screw or almost nothing from your local electronics store.
Simply clip the alegator clips off with your cutter/plyers and slide them into the breakout connector. Use a flat head screw to tighten the wires in place. done!
The C=64 / Amiga / Atari joysticks are expecting DB9 male at the base.
The Cobalt Flux DDR pad is expecting a DB15 female at the base.
- Soldering Iron
- Small screwdrivers to lock the panel mounts into the ABS plastic and for tapping screws on the top cover of the case.
- Dremmel with drill bit for carving out our holes in the ABS plastic
- Files for smoothing out edges and for making the square edges a little cleaner.
- Continuity tester – For actually making sure that you are connecting to the right pins on all sides.
- pliers and/or wire strippers for soldering all of the connectors in.
Explanation of parts for our joystick encoder.
For me I wanted something that can test my C=64 and hook my cobalt flux DDR pads to right away similar to my v1 box I did with the I-PAC controller. But also be able to hook up RJ-45’s like my version 2 I-PAC box. Unlike the I-PAC which maps to a keyboard this encoder board maps to joystick.
Hardware switchable input.
If anyone has ever tried the Xbox 360 dance dance universe pad on their PC. You’ll know this problem very well where if you step and hold pads in the opposite direction the D-Pad only registers one direction. By adding 4 single pull switches into the mix we can redirect the direction pads to buttons allowing this joystick encoder to be used in situation like DDR/Stepmania holding all 4-6 buttons if we really wanted to.
Assembly of our joystick encoder.
This is one of my not-so-proud moments in cable management. But it was totally unavoidable given that you have wires coming in from four different ports and the switches as well diverting direction pads to shoulder buttons of this controller. But it actually assembled very well. You’ll also note that the USB “B” connector also has the wrong wiring color for everything and had to do a continuity test on that as well prior to plugging it into the PC. Finally, the board itself is held down by Velcro as it doesn’t need much to remain seated and stable inside of the confines of this box.
The small LEDs were de-soldered off of the board allowing larger ones to be routed to the outer half of this case. The LED clamps allow for easy removal in case we ever have to eject this board.
Installing the joystick encoder board.
This is by far the greatest feature of this little board is that the moment you hook it up to your PC, or Raspberry Pi, or even Mac, it finds drivers for a generic joystick and that’s it!
Pulling up the Hardware ID gives a VID_0079&PID_0006 Which simply put is a Generic USB Controller device ID that has existed from windows 95 all the way to today with Windows 10.
Verification of joystick functionality.
To pull up the window above. You can press the window key + R to bring up a rum prompt and type in:
Then click on the properties button.
Alternatively, you can click on your windows logo and click on settings, devices, connected devices, and scroll down to devices and printers.
Right-Click the Generic USB Joystick in Devices and Printers and click on properties.
From here you can take a flat head screwdriver and touch the ground with one of the signal pins to activate a button. Or, Plug the wires into buttons and begin pressing them to start building your very own DIY joystick.
What are the Pinouts of the joystick encoder?!?:
Excluding the USB “B” connector Pinout i’ll try it break it down for you:
Just to run through what the connectors are again:
- Input – The input source written on the USB joystick encoder board.
- PS2 – What the button represents if it were hooked to a PS2 joystick. (only relevant if your USB joystick encoder has the additional PS2 port on it.)
- RJ45 – This is a proprietary port set that we use for joysticks as it presents a cleaner approach to hooking joysticks up. See this blog article about the V2 stepmania pad.
- DB15 – This is for the Cobalt Flux version 2 dance pads. There are other dance pads which also use the DB15 connection system and you may have to make modifications.
- DB9 – This is our Atari/Commodore 64/Amiga Ports used for some really old joysticks. Keep in mine that the typical joystick only has one button thus additional modification may be necessary to get more buttons onto your old joystick.
Four switch DDR mode.
When the four switches are flipped up the following keys are remapped:
It’s important to keep the trigger buttons clear so that when switching back and forth with the DDR pads that they do not interfere especially if pin 10 is enabled for sessions such as “Pump it up” where diagonal pads are used and the center is also counted as well. Also, by switching the controls from directions on the joystick to buttons allows us to press all of the buttons on your DDR pad without any interference or extra software support such as XBCD/xb360ce needed with the xbox 360 DDR pads. The reason why the Custom RJ45 connector goes to these pins is in the event we hook up a fighting stick which will utilize many of the buttons this controller has to offer.
This really should be considered as my “Version 3” DDR joystick encoder project as it cuts the cost of the controller board itself by 80 percent over the I-PAC controller. Because it’s so cheap I won’t feel bad if any static shorts out any of the pins on this controller either. What I did is super over-kill and if you want to just setup this controller for a single function such as a fighting stick or a DancePad then you will not have the scary wiring nightmare that is going on within our black box.
The zero delay joystick encoder certainly gets the job done and it makes it exceptionally easy to add a joystick onto any computer be it a full pc, a raspberry pi and so-on. For it’s super low cost we couldn’t even feel bad if it sets itself on fire. But for now it’s working like a dream. You can find these on Ebay super cheap too. We say that it’s worth it.
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