Arduino Gaming Hardware My Setup

Setup Q1 2021: QoL Improvements!

A long delayed updated about my setup and a deep-dive into my Arduino Panels. Not much news, but a couple of very welcomed QoL improvements.

Update 31/03/2021

Another tiny yet massive QoL update. A 10 Ports USB 2.0 Hub (Powered) so I do not have to plug in every panel every time:

The three remeaining ports can be used for the Thrustmaster MFDs, the Saitek Throttle Quadrant and so on.
The TFT sits in his corner by himself, so I can detach it in case I need it for coding or random flights, without taking the whole panel with it.

It has been a while since the last update about my setup. I planned to write a couple of articles about the TFT for the F-14 and the completed set of RIO panels but between lack of time, missing key binds in-game and other reasons, I never completed them.
Any way, rather than working on my panels, I did some QoL changes. In brief:

  1. New Kneeboard
  2. Track IR v5
  3. Monitor Arm

New Kneeboard

Paper is fundamental when flying. The MDC can be put into the in-game kneeboard, but important flight information from the ATC/ATIS or a Controller, current Picture, CAS briefs and so on must be written somewhere (luckily VR users have an in-game alternative).
Until a few months ago I used a clipboard held in position with Velcro straps, now I am using a much better built A6 flight kneeboard (I am also reworking the layout of some DCS Kneeboard pages to increase their visibility, I may share them once done).

The plan is reducing the number of in-game pages (now almost 20!), placing some of them in the physical kneeboard, especially the ones that does not require constant use or prolonged checks in the cockpit. For example the tables for the Ripple delivery of Mk82 and Mk82 SE, the RIO-Pilot cross-checks or the Pressure conversion table.

Track IR v5

I bought a Track IR v4 in 2006, and it is still working perfectly, but I decided to upgrade to the Track IR v5 and the difference is substantial. I used the TIR 5 in my latest video about the Modern Intercept Geometry (Demo III) and you can tell that the movements are noticeably smoother than in older videos recorded whilst using the Track IR v4.
Definitely a recommended purchase!

Monitor Arm

I upgraded the monitor and bought a bigger desk last year, but now the distance between the centre-mounted joystick and the monitor is a problem when piloting (not that much when playing as RIO). So I bought a monitor arm, and the experience is much, much better! The pictures below do not give justice at the effect: now my 34″ (AOC CU34G2/BK) really fills the view whereas previously it was like playing on a 24″, with direct impact on the readability of the instruments. Another really recommended purchase!

In case you are wondering, moving the monitor was not practical due to the size of the base and the weight.

I just realized I never did a proper overview of my devices, so here we go!

Arduino Panels (Arduino Leonardo – ATmega32U4)

Arduino Column – White

My first Arduino Leonardo HID device, it provides 32 buttons (rotary encoders included).
Nothing fancy, the idea was taking advantage of the Virpil T-50 mount.

It is very simple, no Master switches (I did not think about that back then) but it works very well.

Radio Box – Blue

Past the very first box, I focus on what I felt I needed the most: a bunch of rotary encoders to better handle the radios of the Ka-50. So there it is, 4x encoders for the R800L1, one (with push-button for the tuning) for the R828. The last encoder was thought for the Kneeboard, push-button to toggle it, the directions to scroll the pages.
I updated the firmware a bunch of times, eventually I replaced the standard buttons with 3-way latched switches (using Voltage dividers) and I coded the Master Arm to control a total of 4 buttons with a timer. The idea was lifting the cover before acting on the switch itself. It comes useful on the F-5 and the F-14, for example.

Ancient video with ancient webcam:

The buttons always on are the master arm and the 3-way latched switches.

Auxiliary Box – Purple

Third box I put together, the idea was providing a variety of functions, nothing specific. It has a 3-way Master switch, meaning all the non-latched buttons command three functions rather than just one. The master switch it is a button itself, so I can use it in the Mi-8: by moving the Master switch I select a different seat in the cockpit and also the buttons command a different set of buttons every time.
It is the first panel I built where an analogue pin commands multiple buttons.

This is a short video of the very first version:

And this is from the latest version:

F/A-18 UFC | PRTz | PVI800 – Yellow

This panel marks the point where I realized that Arduino can do much more. I used this panel with the F/A-18C a couple of times, but I needed something flexible to control the PVI800 and the PRTz. The arrangement of buttons and functions of the Hornet’s UFC works quite well for the purpose.
As the previous panel, this one features a Master switch (2-way in this case), doubling the number of functions available.

This is the video of its first test:

F-14 Radar Panel – Green

Oh, this panel has been a massive headache. The arrangements of buttons, functions, lack of key binds forced me to spend quite a lot of time planning it. For example, the 3-way switches are too many to be handled by Voltage Dividers on analogue pins (and I did not want to use a port extender), so I used momentary 3-way switches and wrote an internal counter to remember the last selected position and send the according Joystick output (I did not think about using DCS-BIOS to update the status of the switches though).

This panel provides 121 logical functions, thanks to a 2-way Master switch.

This is the panel I use the most. If the number of functions sounds unrealistic, consider that every 3-way momentary works as a 3-way latched, therefore controlling three buttons each. There are six of them, for a total of 24 buttons. Each encoder controls three buttons as well, CW, CCW, Push. There are 7 encoders, for a total of 21 buttons. Now double them up, due to the 2-way Master switch.
When the Master switch is selected, the knobs control the DL channels and the 3-way switches control the most important piece of hardware in the cockpit. The tape player!

F-14 RIO Toolbox – Red

This panel is not completed, as you can tell by the four holes on the left side of the panel. That’s where 4 additional encoders should be located, but I’m waiting for Heatblur and ED to confirm whether the rotaries located on the left of the DDD have a future. Otherwise, I will put there something else.

This panel does not have a Master Switch, it provides already a plethora of functions:

Its job is to provide a place for all those functions not related to the radar, but that are used very often anyway: from VSL to Stab to the TCS zoom level, TID controls and the Countermeasures.

A big issue was dealing with the lack of key binds when the F-14 hit the Early Access. This is how I had to implement the rotary encoders to control the TID, for example:

Somewhat convoluted, but it works! 🙂

Discarded Royal Air Force Jaguar TACAN

Bought it on eBay, this TACAN was not working any more, so I removed everything but switches and rotaries and connected everything to an Arduino Leonardo.
This is the result:

I covered this work in two articles and the firmware I wrote is freely available for download:

TFT (Arduino Uno + DCS-BIOS)

I bought this TFT years ago with the purpose of fixing the lighting issues introduced by DCS 2.something when flying the Ka-50. You may remember, the AP lights and many other gauges and lights were unreadable.
This TFT dialogues with DCS via Arduino Uno and DCS-BIOS. It is, de facto, just another means of displaying information.

I wrote a simple firmware for the F-14 RIO as well (the one shown in the picture). Its main purpose was to calculate the A-Pole by detecting the missile launch. It worked like a charm, using a parabolic function empirically determined. This function is now pointless, since the TTI indicator is working correctly. Other functions include the TACAN distance (only the units, useful for Yardstick), current Heading with ±45° offsets until the reciprocal heading. It also displays the status of the IFF, since one of the rotaries in-game was bugged (it should have been fixed now) and I hate the SRS Overlay. Lastly, it shows current time and time since the start of the mission, useful for coordination, TOT and so on.

7″ 800×600 LCD

Nothing fancy, but very handy to keep an eye on the ABRIS or the central MFD of the F/A-18C. There are plenty of these small LCD around and setting them up in DCS really takes just a few minutes.

I placed Velcro around the LCD. When I play as RIO it holds a clipboard, when I’m piloting depends on the module (pics from this article):

Other devices

A have a number of other devices collected through the years, these are the ones I am using at the moment:

  • 3x Thrustmaster MDF. One is visible in the picture above, mounted near the throttle, the second is mounted over the RIO Radar Panel and the third is attached to the LCD by means of Velcro.
    They are one of the few commercial devices I really recommend: they are cheap and provide a ton of buttons.
  • Virpil T-50 HOTAS, the S/N is < 200, I bought them in 2017 before Virpil became as popular as it is now, and they are really great. Unfortunately I was one of the victims of the dreaded threat locker they used to block the cams initially and I had to send the base back for repairs.
  • CH Pro Pedals. CH is great, full stop. I loved their programming software, I used to set up virtual devices and macros with it with ease. Until 2017 I was “fully CH” but after 16-17 years the pots started to fall apart. However, the Pro Pedals stoically resists, after ~15 years.
  • Saitek Pro Flight Throttle Quadrant. Cheap way to add more axis. I used it for WW2 aircraft, Ka-50 and Mi-8. I will set it up again for the Mi-24P Hind.

    Next step?

    Well, besides the four encoders waiting for ED/HB, the only upgrade I’m looking forward to is the GPU. My non-Ti 1070 suffers in the Syria map in certain conditions. It ran 1080p very well, but 3440×1440 it’s too much for it.

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