TV & Lockdown Bar

Choosing a TV and corresponding Lockdown Bar size are the most important decisions when planning your cabinet build - Here's what I found out:

The All Important Dimension of a Cab!

A popular choice for this hobby is to gut an old run down pinball machine and use it as the basis for the cab. Going this route can make certain decisions very easy - the cabinet size for one is set for you.

After some thought however, I decided to build my cab from scratch which is probably the expensive way of doing it! But maybe there will be some extra sense of achievement attached when looking at the final product? (Or if you're my lovely wife, a feeling of wondering why?) However, it's nice knowing that the machine is going to be hand built and all the parts will be brand new. That said if you can get old parts and recondition them, then more power to you.

After looking around at the various builds by other talented members in the community, I begun to understand that the size of the playfield and what is known as a lockdown bar were the two most crucial decisions when deciding to build a visual pinball cabinet.

If you don't know what a lockdown bar is then let me explain... At the front of any real pinball cabinet is a plate of shaped metal (or plastic / wood depending on the era and make of the table) that holds (locks down) the playfield glass in place. It also provides a comfortable resting place for your hands as you hit the flipper buttons and give a subtle nudge.

Underside of a standard sized lockdown bar

For a 90's style cabinet (and that's what I'm roughly replicating) the metal lockdown bar will generally come in two sizes. 26inch (wide body) and 22inch (standard). This width will define the entire dimention of your cab. You can purchase these new or reconditioned from various pinball part suppliers - just look around online, you'll find them.

Secondly, the playfield (typically made from a large wide screen format monitor or TV.) will help define the depth of the cab.

So the logical conclusion is the wider the lockdown bar then the bigger the tv you'll probably need to help reduce the gaps.

Personal taste is everything, and for some bigger is better or matching the exact size of a real table is important to them. If you're on a budget, you can opt to make your own lockdown bar, use a computer monitor and create a "mini pin". Still a very good choice of project and there are some excellent examples out there!

My Choice

I really wanted to achieve the following when making my consideration:

  1. Achieve a decent / realistic playfield size.
  2. Smaller the cabinet the better to reduce space required in the house.
  3. Minimize the bezel required around the playfield.
  4. Maintain a similar scale ratio to a real machine.
  5. Use a real lockdown bar.
  6. Use a 1080P display.
  7. Reduce cost.

If I could achieve those goals then I should be on the way to a good looking cabinet.

After research and consideration I decided on a 37" widescreen TV with a standard lockdown bar. How did I come to this conclusion? Well firstly I wanted to achieve the goal of reducing cost and size of the cab. Yes can you believe that? (honey it's true!)

A standard lockdown bar being a good 4 inches narrower seemed to fit my requirements so then what would be the biggest TV i could fit into this? Most 37 inch TV's have huge plastic bezel on them that require a wide body lockdown bar to have any hope of fitting them in. You can remove the bezel however, and more info on that below.

Also 37" TV's at the time were a good price so I was able to reduce my cost from another popular choice of 40-42 inch TVs.

TV Plastic Bezel

By removing a TV's plastic bezel you can really reduce the size of the TV. But be warned - you will void your warranty doing so, and you can forget about hiding the evidence by putting it back on later as repair shops have hidden ways to know if you've tampered with your telly! Good luck with that though - heh heh.

That said I enjoy a challenge, and to my surprise removing a bezel is not at all hard. I know for the faint hearted this seems like an impossible situation so I am not going to recommend you do it. However, I will post a guide that shows in detail the steps I took for my particular model in the hope to maybe make it that little less frightening for you!

Standard lockdown bar against a 37inch TV with bezel removed. An almost perfect fit!

By the way - TV Quality is Important!

From all feedback I was getting, and by looking at the software there really is some emphasis on getting a FULL HD (1080p) monitor or TV for your playfield. That said I'm sure if your budget won't allow for it you will still be satisfied with a 720p display. I wouldn't recommend a standard definition TV however as the loss in detail would be too great. This all depends on how well you can see of course but the FULL HD experience won't let you down. A lot of the software tables being created now have this resolution in mind and are using it to full effect.

If you have some "connections" try and source a commercial grade TV, they are designed to run 24/7 without getting hot - a nice consideration and a luxury I didn't have when making my purchase. An added benefit of these units is they often have a very thin bezel which you won't need to remove, something you may want to consider when sizing your cab.


Also it's worth mentioning there is a common concensus that Plasma TV's are not an option. Something to do with the heat and their fragile nature don't bode well for a cabinet that is designed to take nudges and sits behind glass. I don't have any concrete evidence but I'm trusting the community on this one.

Cheap LCD TV's? 1:1 Pixel Mapping.

Being an optimist I originally searched long and hard for the cheapest FULL HD TV i could find. (in store and online) and Dicksmith's here in Australia had an amazing deal on a 32inch TV which I quickly snapped up. To my disappointment thought, while the TV quality was perfectly adequate the input mode on the HDMI overscanned the image with no way of turning it off. The result was a horrible blur through DVI/HDMI and even the VGA input was having all sorts of issues scaling and accepting a 1080p connection. After a couple of nights research and frustration I gave up and returned it. This also gave me a good excuse to upgrade in size and of course get a supporting brand. (See honey? There are reasons for the extravagant purchases).

Cheaper brands seem to skimp in those areas, so while the display itself may be full HD the supporting hardware may not provide what is known as a true 1:1 pixel mapping ratio even through HDMI. (Sales guys generally don't even know about this and may tell you differen't - so test it yourself).

Only true way to achieve 1:1 is through a digital connection (DVI or HDMI) and a supporting TV. This basically means that for every pixel generated by the computer it is displayed with no scaling directly on a corresponding pixel on the screen for the sharpest image possible. You REALLY want this on your display for the best quality pinball image. VGA connections in most cases are acceptable, but as an analogue signal you will not get true 1:1 perfect pixel mapping 100% of the time as the signal can degrade.

This is a common issue, and people into the home theater pc scene can attest to it. Look around and make sure your TV supports 1:1 pixel mapping from a computer DVI / HDMI signal - it's worth it. (Note, this also is limited by the choice of video card your computer will run but more on that later.)

« Artwork & Theme | Main | Getting Started! »

Reader Comments (2)

Thanks for the excellent documentation!

I have one question for you though regarding your screen size choice.
With your 32" tv and a standard lockdown bar, how much wider is the lock down bar? I'm looking to use a 40" 1080p lcd myself but I cannot figure out what size lockdown bar I need (assuming I remove the bezel from the tv).


November 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterivwshane

Hi you're welcome.

Firstly I am using a 37 inch (not 32).

From what I've seen when you take off the bezel on a LCD you are left with approx 1 inch of framing border from the visible display. This may change on larger TV's but from what I've seen on other peoples builds they look similar to this.

If you're looking at LCD TV's in store, measure the visible height and then add 2 inches, you should now have a fairly good idea of what the total minimum width of your cabinet can be with a debezelled TV.

Then ask your lock down bar retailer to provide you with the exact measurements of the fitted lockdown bar (That is the width from inner edge to edge. Even standard lockdown bars have variation from machine to machine in width).

Here are some images of what I'm talking about:

With my 37inch LCD and the bezel removed I can fit the TV very nicely inside the cabinet with about 5mm to spare on each side. Keep in mind that the side panels of the cabinet are 18mm wide each and therefore reduce the available internal space of the lock down bar measurement by 36mm. Some people place their cabinets on top of the cabinet and cut the sides down which gains them back that 36mm to fit a very nice almost full screen image. Whether you could get a 40 inch LCD in a standard lockdown bar this way I can't say. You're best bet is to measure your display and determine that yourself.

November 28, 2009 | Registered CommenterDan Potter
Comments for this entry have been disabled. Additional comments may not be added to this entry at this time.