Review by Kevin Steele
Update: Clarified the number of inputs used on both the KeyWiz and IPAC.
The KeyWiz Max 1.5, by Groovy Game Gear, is a PS/2 keyboard encoder for MAME controller applications. It's a compact 32-input encoder unit, with a "Shazaaam!" shift function to double the number of effective inputs.
At 2.1 x 3.2", the KeyWiz Max is a very compact encoder. It comes pre-configured for MAME use, and also can be programmed for another set of commands. One of the unique features is the ability to "hot-switch" configurations by pressing the Shazaam key and moving the joystick left or right.
The Shazaam! key is similar to the Ultimarc encoders' shift key — you press and hold the key, and all the other keys switch to a different key assignment. Release the key, and the other keys return to their regular assignment. Unlike the Ultimarc encoders, which assign a shift functionality to one of the regular inputs, the Shazaam key is a dedicated key.
Programming the KeyWiz
The KeyWiz comes with PC software for programming the custom key assignments, 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.
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. This does help alleviate some of the pain of not having your custom settings permanently saved.
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!)
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.
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. 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. This is a definite improvement over the Ultimarc's jumper-mode switching between a default MAME codeset and a custom key assignment.
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).
The KeyWiz Max is PS/2 only, which is not really that much of a problem in a MAME cab, except for Mac users. 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.
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. 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.
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.
I found the inability to save custom key settings in flash RAM a bit of a hassle as well. 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), I like the IPAC's elegance of having the keyset permanently in memory.
The KeyWiz Max is a solid, reliable encoder with some unique features that is blemished, in my opinion, by a few questionable design choices. The KeyWiz Max trades extra 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. If you need the extra inputs, it's definitely the way to go. The KeyWiz Max is a capable encoder, and certainly worthy of consideration for your control panel project.