RetroBlast KeyWiz Max 1.5 Review Rebuttal



First off, I would like to say that this data was NOT prompted by RandyT.  The opinions expressed are exclusively my own.  Unless indicated otherwise (yellow font), the data was entirely written after my initial reading of the review at Retroblast (This was after the page was updated to fix the number of inputs).  Normally, I will just read Kevin Steele's reviews with many grains of salt, but when I only found 4 or 5 accurate sentences in an entire review, I felt compelled to respond.  I did pass these comments on to RandyT, both to share with him my impressions of the review, and to make sure my statements were accurate.  Where necessary, I am including corrections where my comments were inaccurate (hint, hint, KevSteele).  I did NOT pass these comments on to Kevin Steele before posting this page, because RandyT said that he had already made him aware of most of my comments and if the review wasn't changed after that, I didn't feel my saying anything to KevSteele would do any good.  I can't say how long the info will remain on this page, but probably until a) Kevin Steele updates his review, b) I feel like I have made my point, c) I come up with more meaningful stuff to replace it, d) my webhost complains to me about it, e) hell freezes over, f) I get bored, or g) who knows?

The review is quoted in light blue.  I have basically quoted the entire review, because there was so little that didn't need revising, I figured I may as well include the whole thing!!!


So far, so good . . .

The KeyWiz Max 1.5, by Groovy Game Gear, is a PS/2 keyboard encoder for MAME controller applications.

It's for more than MAME, but I'll give him that much.

It's a compact 32-input encoder unit, with a "Shazaam!" shift function to double the number of effective inputs.

Shazaaam! has 4 a's in it, but I always used to mis-spell it too, so I'll let that slide.

Wrong, joystick directionals aren't shifted, so only 24 additional inputs (which is not double 32) and not an increase in the number of effective inputs b/c shifted inputs aren't useable for game controls (only for admin functions). :-(((((

At 2.1 x 3.2", the KeyWiz Max is a very compact encoder.

Hey, I didn't find an error in this sentence, must be having an off-moment.  Update:  Should really be KeyWiz Max 1.5, but I'm being somewhat of a jerk now ;-((.

It comes pre-configured for MAME use, and also can be programmed for another set of commands.

ANOTHER set of commands??? More like 15 sets of commands (and more than that if you use command-line mode).  What he "means" is another set of commands can be loaded and available internally, but that's not how it reads.

One of the unique features is the ability to "hot-switch" configurations by pressing the Shazaam key and moving the joystick left or right.

Okay, I'd call that a drawback, but I'll let it ride.  In fact, I disliked it so much I wrote a web about disabling it, however RandyT pointed out how the feature can be 'disabled' which speaks volumes about his support of the product.

The Shazaam! key is similar to the Ultimarc encoders' shift key

Well, similar except this one is IMHO a helluva lot more versatile and better designed. (The Ford Focus is similar to a Ferrari 512BB :-)))) ).

— you press and hold the key, and all the other keys switch to a  different key assignment.

Okay, technically the joystick directionals aren't "keys", so this is a true statement.

Release the key, and the other keys return to their regular assigment.

Another correct sentence and we're only halfway down the screen :-(. EDIT: My spell-checker never heard of an assigment, we're back to one good sentence!!!

Unlike the Ultimarc encoders, which assign a shift functionality to one of the regular inputs, the Shazaam key is a dedicated key.

Shouldn't this end with "so unlike with the Ultimarc encoders where you actually lose a gaming input if you use the Shift function, the Shazaaam! key still lets you use all 32 available inputs for gaming functions".   The reason for this is because when you activate a shift function on either encoder, all other inputs are shifted, so if you are using the shift features of the Ultimarc encoders, you are essentially losing a gaming input, that's one reason it's set to P1 Start as opposed to P1B1 by default.

This is also the place to mention RandyT's adapters that allow you to activate the Shazaaam! function in stealth mode with a single button press.   It's also a good place to mention that the Shazaaam! key CAN work almost identically to the I-PAC if you wire one of your buttons up this way and have it function as P1 Start.  But Kev doesn't mention it here.  That's odd?  Where does he mention it?  Oh, okay, he doesn't.  I guess it wasn't important.

It should also be mentioned that with the use of Stealth-shifted buttons, support for four player four button games with Coin and Start buttons is a real possibility, something that can't be done with an I-PAC/2.   Four-player 3-buttons games with Pause and Escape and shifted inputs for Coin and Start are also easily accomplished.  The I-PAC/2 can at best work with 27 inputs as a 4-player 2-button (27 useable) inputs controller (with restrictions below).

Programming the KeyWiz

The KeyWiz comes with PC software for programming the custom key assigments, something you'll need to do each time you start up your computer, as the KeyWiz does not have flash memory — each time you turn off the encoder, your custom settings are lost.

I didn't know the KeyWiz had an on/off switch (it doesn't), I think he means remove power to the encoder. The custom assignments are not lost, they're right their on the HD where the KeyWiz software saved them, ready to be loaded again. I hope he makes as big of a deal of this when he reviews the I-PAC VE.

Update:  RandyT mentioned that the unit must be powered off before the memory is erased, a simple soft (or hard?) reboot will not do it.  RandyT also mentioned that the software does have a "Virtual EEPROM" mode, where the currently loaded config is saved to the HD, and if the software is launched at bootup with the /a switch, the last used config is reloaded.

Update2:  It should be pointed out here that that main drawback this introduces is a lack of hot-swappability.

Before I start someone is bound to say that you can't swap PS/2 components anyway.  This is not true, although I have read warnings that you shouldn't do it, I have at least double digit times with no problems, and I know many others who have done the same.  The best analogy I can come up with for this is "If you eat steak or hamburger once a day for 60 to 70 years, you'll eventually on average shave six months to a year off your life expectancy.  NOTE: Not meant to be scientifically verified information, and now my page will be flamed by both the Beef Council and the Hindu Foundation for opposite reasons ;-(.

Back on topic: Hot-Swappability is not a big drawback for a MAME cab.  The only exception would be if you had multiple control panels and planned to mount a KeyWiz to each one.  A more economical solution would be to mount the KeyWiz to the computer in the cab and use DB25 or DB37 (or other) extension cables to connect the CP to the KeyWiz output.   Where this causes a problem is for a desktop controller on a non-dedicated gaming computer.  Even in this case, you have the following options, (in IMHO order of desirability:)

KeyWiz Uploader software graphic.

KeyWiz Uploader software graphic is okay :-))).

The software is very well done — it supports up to fifteen different custom settings files, and each of those custom settings can be linked to a specific program or executable.  Through the use of command-line flags, you can have the KeyWiz uploader program automatically load a custom controller layout and then launch a specific game or program.

Two correct sentences in a row even!!!

This does help alleviate some of the pain of not having your custom settings permanently saved.

Again, they are saved, just not stored in internal encoder memory.

KeyWiz Profiles software graphic.

KeyWiz Profiles graphic would have been better if he had shown the default codeset before codes were changed.

The key assignment function is very well done, and makes setting custom settings a breeze. I loved the final "upload" animation, when the KeyWiz "mascot" (who looks a lot like Hulk Hogan to me!) begins speaking binary and then burns the new settings into the KeyWiz with his hot pink heat vision (I swear I'm not making this up!)

I didn't see that when I used the software (but I'm sure it does work that way). Pretty cool.

This would have been a good time to point out that since the software uses a mouse, any cab with a trackball and mouse buttons can program the unit.  Kev instead mentions that where . . . Ummmm . . . as a negative in the comparison table.  Oh well, I guess it wasn't important either.

The Good

The KeyWiz performed admirably, and I had no problems at all with ghosting or keybounce at all, even with a full two-handed "whammy test". Installation was a cinch, it never did anything unexpected, and it performed like a champ during gameplay.

Two more good sentences in a row (the sky must be falling).

The ability to "hot-swap" key assignments is a very nice feature to have, especially if you have a couple of emulators or games with very  different key assignments.

So RandyT tells me whenever I gripe about it ;-).

This can also give you a lot more available key assignments, as when you switch key layouts you get entirely different main and shifted key assignments.

Isn't that the point? Doesn't any programmable encoder do this? Huh???? Okay, KevSteele should have said readily available key assignments, b/c if you use this feature, any of 128 assignable keys would be accessible without reprogramming (32 standard + 24 shifted X 2).

This is a definite improvement over the Ultimarc's jumper-mode switching between a default MAME codeset and a custom key assignment.

Perhaps, but most users will either use the default codeset and ignore the software, or will have the software load a custom set before each different application.  Also, as written, the sentence implies that you would use the jumper on the Ultimarc encoder to switch between MAME and custom key assignments.  In fact, if you use custom assignments with the I-PAC, you would ALWAYS leave the jumper in ALT mode and load a custom codeset that matched the Ultimarc defaults, if desired.  UPDATE: Ultimarc encoders no longer use jumpers, but this is a fairly recent (as of 4 Aug 2004) change. A better comparison would be custom codeset load times between the KeyWiz and I-PAC, but we don't get that.

I also liked the fact that there is a +5V power tap right there on the screw terminals, allowing for an easy power solution for joysticks such as the Happs P360 (which >requires 5 volts to operate).

Yep, good feature (if people don’t try to connect a button across it. . .)

The Bad

While it's disappointing that KeyWiz is PS/2 only, that's not really that much of a problem in a MAME cab, except for Mac users.

And they're REALLY screwed b/c the software won't work for them either . . . The KeyWiz also might not work for Sun Solaris RISC workstations, if you were planning to use it with one.   (Sarcasm mode tuned down slightly). Not much of a problem for a MAME cab, could yield better performance, much less convenient for a desktop controller, but not bad for that either. See comments above on hot-swappability.

What is a problem, however, is the fact that the KeyWiz requires you to physically use a switch to change between an attached PS/2 keyboard and the KeyWiz.

And this is a problem BECAUSE . . . Um . . . Well . . .

Unless you mount the KeyWiz at the edge of your controller and cut out a hole for the switch, you'll never be able to use an attached keyboard.

And this is bad because . . . (I never saw much use for the switch for a MAME cab. Easy enough to hot-swap the KW and keyboard at the motherboard PS/2 port. It could be useful for a desktop controller, but it's easier to use a USB keyboard in this case.)

You'll need to use a USB keyboard if you want to easily use both the KeyWiz and a standard keyboard at the same time.

And this is bad BECAUSE . . . Biggest drawback is the USB adapter or keyboard adds about $10 to the cost of the project and eats up the cost saving of the KW, all other things being equal, which they're not.

Adding to the mounting problems is the fact that the PS2 connectors and the ground, +5V, and Shazaam key terminal strip are both on the same side as the keyboard switch, making even mounting the KeyWiz near the edge of your controller so that you can reach the switch a bit of a design challenge.

Again, this only matters for a desktop controller. Seems like you would want the PS/2 (Note the / PS2 is a console gaming system; PS/2 is a keyboard and mouse protocol) connectors and the switch on the same side of the board. It would probably be good if the terminal block for the GND and +5V were reversed so the wires came back across the board, but a design challenge??? Insert wires, make cutouts, position KW to align with cutouts, cram wires against edge of panel while mounting KW. Sounds like KevSteele is the challenged one.  Didn't he say above that installation was a cinch? I guess it's a cinch once you figure out the design challenge aspects of it. . . :-(((

I found the inability to save custom key settings in flash RAM a bit of a hassle as well.

Agreed, but the other features make up for it, IMHO.

I'm always thinking up better key assignments for my controller, especially for the shifted key functions, and while you can simply auto-load a KeyWiz custom settings file each time you start up your cab (it takes less than 20 seconds), . . .

Twenty seconds would bug me for most things, but no one mentions how long an I-PAC takes to load a custom set.  RandyT pointed out that these load times are for Windows XP and load times under 98SE would be less than half of this.  In addition, the KeyWiz software can load the previously used set, not just one of the pre-configured ones, so except for the load times, it basically works the same as an EEPROM.

I like the IPAC's elegance of having the keyset permanently in memory.

Yeah, me too, but most users will either use the default set for everything and code their applications to match, or different custom setups with lots of different programs. I.e. someone only using MAME will most likely use the default set (or could easily program MAME to match the default set for shifted keys, etc.) Someone using other emu's that don't allow key re-assignment, will need to program either encoder, so a comparison of load times would be beneficial.

Comparison Chart

Feature KeyWiz Max 1.5 IPAC/2
Number of Inputs 32 28
USB Support No Yes (auto PS2/USB)
Keyboard Pass-thru Manual Switch Automatic
Keyboard LED support? No Yes (shares 3 inputs)
Retain Custom Settings? No Yes
Switch Keysets without reprogramming? Yes No
Program via attached keyboard? No Yes
Software for reprogramming? Yes Yes
Price $34 $39

I found "Program via attached keyboard" very misleading.  This should really read  "not required", Yes.

Price - In my encoder comparisons, I  included price with shipping, which is a huge factor, also $39 does NOT buy you an I-PAC/2 with USB support, that is $43, either the I-PAC price or the USB support line should be changed above.

On further inspection, The chart has three features that the KW is better at (Price, Number of inputs, and Switch Keysets Without Reprogramming, and there are questionable issues with the inputs and price comparisons) and six that it is worse at.  In fact the chart seems designed largely to highlight I-PAC/2 features that the KeyWiz lacks.  To make it fair, I recommend adding the following two rows, making the list 5 KW to 6 I-PAC/2 (and then throwing out "Program via attached keyboard", which is hardly a feature), which makes it even, if all items had equal weight, which is pretty silly.

Feature KeyWiz Max 1.5 IPAC/2
4-Player Support for more than 2 button games Yes No
Advanced Shift Key Design allowing multiple configurations and adapters for one-press buttons Yes No

The KeyWiz Max is a solid, reliable encoder with a few unique features that is blemished by a few questionable design choices.

And enhanced by design choices KevSteele failed to mention.

It is $5 cheaper than the Ultimarc IPAC/2 . . .

The barebones (non-USB) I-PAC/2 before shipping, that is.

. . ., and trades features such as USB, flash memory, and an automatic keyboard pass-through for extra inputs: 32 inputs (33 counting the Shazaam key) vs. 28 inputs on the IPAC.

Inputs are totally wrong - Shazaaam! is not an input. "32 plus shift function as opposed to 28 one of which doubles as a shift function" is how I've been saying it on BYOAC. No mention anywhere in the review that the KeyWiz is able to function as a 4-player 4-button controller with only slight drawbacks in the use of shift functions for coin and start, while the I-PAC can at best work with 27 inputs as a 4-player 2-button (27 useable) inputs controller and the cost of adding resistors and capacitors for coin and start inputs would be almost more than the cost differential of an I-PAC/4.

KevSteele also doesn’t mention intangibles like the fact that construction quality and design for speed is quite likely better in the KeyWiz, but I can't really say that myself (b/c I have no way to back it up, other than comparatively lots of people complain about their I-PAC and not many complain about the KW, but I-PAC has a larger user base), so I wouldn't expect KevSteele to mention it.

Clarification:  This is a serious charge and I considered removing it altogether, but I decided if I left it in, I should at least provide more justification.  As most readers know I frequent the BYOAC forums.   I have seen many instances (double-digits, including the Retroblast review unit) where someone has had a problem with the I-PAC, a new unit was shipped out, and the problem disappeared.  While this speaks well for Ultimarc's customer support, we can also infer the following:

Again, the most likely problem is a QC issue.

In fairness to Ultimarc (and since I am commenting on a KeyWiz review), I should also mention that I have seen approximately three problems with KeyWiz encoders on the BYOAC boards (which in itself does not represent higher quality because of the smaller user base), but:

Since none of these involved a hardware issue, this implies better QC and build quality.

With a few refinements it could be a serious contender in the MAME-encoder arena.

This gives a "not ready for prime time" feel to the KeyWiz, which it doesn't deserve.  In many cases, the KeyWiz is already a better product, unless you are specifically in need of USB support or LED support, or an auto-switching keyboard port.

I HAVE to get my encoder pages back up to counter all of this drivel !!!! (And now I have!!!).

Off-topic - This was not intended to be a KeyWiz vs. I-PAC/2 (the I-PAC VE further complicates things for a later time) comparison, but since it has become one, and since this gets asked a lot and I am not afraid to tackle this, humor me and you will at least get a fresh perspective on this.  By the way, there is no "which one is better", they both work extremely well within what they were designed to accomplish.

So in the spirit of "What Color Is Your Parachute", I present "Tell me what you would CHOOSE to drive, and I'll pick an encoder for you":

Category 1: Hummer H1, Ford Expedition XLT 4x4 V-10 Cummins Diesel, Any Ferrari, Ford GT, Ford Mustang GT (4.6L Saleen/Rousch/Cobra), Audi TT AWD
These are "not your grandfather's" vehicles.  They feature balls-to-the-walls performance.  The kind of cars that you can rev up to just below redline, drop the clutch and leave the competition (and most of your rear tires) in a cloud of smoke (and expect to do it again at the next red light).  The trucks are the type that you can choose your own path when the official roads are closed.  They might not fit in at the Country Club.  The Hummer might need to take two parking spaces, not b/c it's owner is overly cautious, but b/c it NEEDS to take two parking spaces.  Ferrari used to not even OFFER a radio.  The salesman would happily tell you that if the music of the V-12 purring behind your head wasn't entertaining enough, perhaps you should consider another car.

Category 2:  Hummer H2, Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer 4x2 4.6L V-8, Any BMW, Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Mustang Convertible, 3.8L V-6, Cadillac STS.  While definitely not performance slouches, these vehicles are in a different category.  These are the cars you can drive for a 12-hour trip and look forward to taking out again.  These are the vehicles with 10-disc CD changers, with On-Star Satellite Navigation systems, with digital readouts to tell you your tire pressure and on-board air compressors to blow them back up again.    These are the vehicles with computers to monitor contaminants in the oil to tell you when to change it, rather than just waiting 'til 3,000 miles click past the odometer.

So which set would you pick?

If you pick Category 1, you're a KeyWiz purchaser.  The hallmark features of the KeyWiz are: Value (Bang for the Buck), Performance, and Versatility.  Want a two-player cab, but might want to make it 4-player later - you don't even have to upgrade the KeyWiz.  32-Key Input Test - Not a problem.   Want your shift key to not use a gaming input - it won't.  Want it to work like the I-PAC - just wire a stealth-shifted button up.  Want many shifted inputs with their own buttons so you don't have to remember combinations of presses - it can do that.  Like the codeset swapping - you got it.  Dislike the codeset swapping - change two wires on you joystick switches.

If you pick Category 2, you're an I-PAC purchaser.  This could be called the "more frills for your bills" encoder.   The I-PAC/2 has a number of features that the KeyWiz does not, such as USB support, support for OS's like MAC OS X, and Linux, automatic keyboard pass-through, support for keyboard LED's, etc.  But while nice to have, none of these features are really required for the majority of encoder users.  It won't work very well for a 4-player panel, but it also was never designed to either.

In the end, you pick the features that are important to you, and you make your choice.