“So, it’s blinky lights you like” and that's how the GroovyGameGear LED-WIZ was first announced over a year ago. Several months later, in October 2005, the LED-WIZ USB Lighting and Output Controller was launched with an impressive array of features. Here’s a copy of the feature list from the GGG website:
There aren’t a lot of devices that deal with just output and because of that the potential for what one can do with this is left up only to your imagination. Besides using it to control LEDs, here are some ideas that have been mentioned: control a knocker with Q*bert, use it with PinMAME-HW to control a real pinball machine, turn your monitor on after your PC boots, use it with analog switches and relays, turn on controllers or mice that are needed for specific games, and more.
First Impressions and Product Description
Buying the LED-WIZ and related accessories can add up. The LED-WIZ costs $44.95 by itself, but it is a unique product that is targeted to a select niche of customers. I received the LED-WIZ from GGG a few days after ordering. Everything was packed well and one of the first things I noticed about the packaging was the big warning sticker.
Most home arcade controls and controllers can be installed fairly carefree and damage to itself or other equipment is fairly unheard of. Well the LED-WIZ changes all that and the warning sticker is there to remind you. This safety first warning is echoed through out the LED-WIZ documentation which you can download from the GroovyGameGear website.
The LED-WIZ comes on a 2.5 x 3.25 inch board with 32 screw terminal blocks for controlling outputs, 3 screw terminal blocks for Power from USB, External Power, and ground, and a USB B Connector. Also included in the packaging are 4 screws and standoffs for mounting your LED-WIZ and a 6' USB cable. All IC's are socketed and all markings on them are erased off of the chips.
The first thing I did after unpacking my LED-WIZ was start hooking some LEDs. I installed a variety of LEDs with their appropriate resistors into various buttons to set up a decent test rig. Since, the LED-WIZ sinks current instead of sourcing it, when connecting LEDs I connected the cathode of the LEDs into the various 32 outputs and the anode went to the power terminals. I also connected some of the LEDs to the same connector on the LED-WIZ. This way I could control multiple LEDs with the same output on the LED-WIZ and free up some other outputs. After connecting a few LEDs, I think I would of preferred to see a power connection per bank We are use to having to daisy chain grounds for 30 or so buttons with one connection to ground on the various keyboard and joystick controllers, but the LED-WIZ can do about 15 LEDs per output which is about 500 LEDs total. This type of connection requires an external power supply, which adds another connection as well. The average user may not be using that many LEDs and probably won't be as concerned as much with this, but the LEDs can start adding up once you start making connections and it can be a bit more difficult connecting a lot of LEDs.
After installing the LEDs, installation to a PC is a breeze. Just plug the USB cable into the LED-WIZ and then attach the other end to the PC. The LED-WIZ is detected as a Hid-Compliant Consumer Control Device. After Windows finishes detection, installation is done.
GroovyGameGear provides Resident control, animation and keyboard LED emulation to use with the LED-WIZ. The software can be used to write animation files, emulate keyboard LEDs, and send commands and animations to the LED-WIZ. GroovyGameGear also provides also provides an OCX for 3rd party development.
The software comes in two main parts, LWSEND and the LED-WIZ Control Panel. The LED-WIZ control panel is the resident control software and animation software. The resident software allows commands to intercept from the clipboard and also intercepts the keyboard LEDs.
The LED-WIZ Control Panel also includes access to the LumAura Engine Control Center. The LumAura Control Center allows you direct access to the Output pins of the LED-WIZ. It also is where you write animation files.
With LWSEND you can send commands to the LED-WIZ from the command line or via a window and requires the Control Panel to be started to work.
I did have a few problems with the supported LED-WIZ software. The first thing that I got bitten by is not being able to load a previously saved animation. I also had a few problems with the software not working quite right. Usually a reboot or unplugging the LED-WIZ and plugging it back in solved the problems. At the time of this writing the LED-WIZ is still in BETA. I don't think the LED-WIZ being released with Beta software is a bad thing, but the product has been out for several months and there still hasn't been a release that allows you to load your animation, support multiple LED-WIZ's, documentation, or help with any of the hardware incompatibilities.
3rd parties have also started writing software for the LED-WIZ. Some of the 3rd party software includes a dll for developers, custom version of MAME, and an application that can parse MAME CFG files and light the appropriate controls, and more are on the way.
The first test I set up with the LED-WIZ was an LED Test. I set up a variety of tests. The first demonstrates the various output modes of the LED-WIZ. This is best demonstrated with a video clip.
The Output modes in the movie from left to right are “Ramp Up/Ramp Down”, “On/Ramp Down”, “Ramp Up/Off”, and the bottom left one is “On/Off”. Here is a screenshot from the Lumara Control Panel for a bit more understanding.
The Output modes in the screenshot are “Ramp Up / Ramp Down”, “On/Off”, “On/Ramp Down”, and “Ramp Up/Off”. Due to synching problems with my video camera and the PWM of the LED-WIZ I had to capture at 30fps. The video does not do justice of how smooth the ramping up and down actually is.
Another demonstration I set up was to have the correct buttons lit up for each game. Again, this is best demonstrated with a video.
I did notice one problem when I was setting up these tests. The LED-WIZ did not turn off when I turned off my PC. This meant LED's were left on even though the PC is off. This is a bit dangerous if you are not careful since the LED-WIZ can sink so much current. Using a hub or changing USB ports did not solve this problem.
Update: After talking with RandyT at GGG, this problem is a GGG feature. User can program an animation and turn off the computer and as long as the LED-WIZ has power, the animation will continue to run. I personally am not using this feature and it can easily be solved by placing an "All Off" command when my PC shuts off.
The Relay Test
Another test I set up with the LED-WIZ was to control a relay. If the LED-WIZ could control a relay then I could use it to do a lot of things. One of the first would be to control all of Player 2’s LEDs while only using one additional LED-WIZ pin. This test did not go as well. It seems the LED-WIZ is unable to simply turn an output on and off. It can only do a PWM signal. This makes it impossible to keep anything on with the LED-WIZ.
Update: After talking with RandyT at GGG, a relay can be controlled with the LED-WIZ. There is an undocumented command that turns the output on with no PWM. This feature was omitted from the Lumaura panel, but can be accessed through LWSend using the command "LWZ-P<output>:49". Using values from 49 to 63 turn the output on with no PWM. Having the ability to turn things on or off allows for a lot of different things.
A few hiccups
During the review, some hardware incompatibilities were found with LED-WIZ. Certain commands to the LED-WIZ hardware can cause problems with the LED-WIZ when used with certain PC’s (basically any PC not using an Intel or Via Chipset) or when using USB 2.0 hubs. Luckily, some software workarounds have been found. Unfortunately at the time of this writing, none of the workarounds have been incorporated into the GGG supported software or GGG development software.
Update: The current GGG development software has workarounds for the hardware incompatibility. Also, the GGG development software does allow for the use of multiple LED-WIZ and has for while.
You can replicate this problem and see if your hardware has this problem by doing the following:
This happened to me because I was using a USB 2.0 hub. After I stopped using the hub, I could not replicate the problem on that PC.
When I initially received my LED-WIZ, I was very impressed at the amount of control over the LEDs. With its rich feature set, I had many ideas of how it could be used. Unfortunately, I think only a few of those things can ever be realized. I'm also not as impressed with the current overall package. The hardware incompatibility, lack of software updates and documentation, and what I consider an overstatement about general output controller has lowered my impression of the LED-WIZ. Most of these are things that can be fixed in the months to come as I think this product is still in its infancy. It's still a good piece of hardware, and if I had to do it over again I'd still probably buy one, but I think I'd have to think a little longer if I wanted to spend that much on just an LED controller. If you know that it will work with your PC then I suggest it for LEDs, but consider anything else it can do as a bonus and not a guarantee.
Update: After the latest findings, I change my conclusion. I recommend the LED-WIZ for controlling LEDs and external hardware. I'd still like to see software and documentation updates, but the LED-WIZ's potential is huge. Also, the availability for 3rd party's to control the LED-WIZ allows for a wide variety of applications to be used.
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