The idea of bringing the arcades home has existed for a long time. It goes all the way back to the first home consoles which were nothing more than a smaller version of arcade games like Pong. With the Atari 2600 some of the most anticipated games were ports of arcade games such as Pac-Man. However at that time the home systems couldn't accurately emulate the high powered arcade games (yes at the time Pac-Man was high powered) and the Atari home version of Pac-Man was a sad imitation. Arcades and home systems improved over the years and the ability to make the arcade come home became a reality. I think most will accept that the first arcade perfect home game was Street Fighter II for SNES. There were a few frames of animation dropped, but the game was there and played the way it was supposed to. Since then home consoles and arcades have become even more similar. Even to the point where some arcade machines are simply using a modified home machine. Some examples of this were Killer Instinct and Crusin' USA using N64 hardware, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 using Dreamcast hardware and Street Fighter EX using Playstation hardware. Once the same hardware was used the home versions were the arcade versions, just packaged differently for the home market.
A new trend has been happening in the last few years with home arcade machines however. With the great improvement in the speed of computers and massive cost reduction it has become possible at low cost to completely and accurately emulate older arcade games. The most notable example of this is M.A.M.E., which allows the emulation of at last count about 4000 different games. Once the ability to emulate older arcade games was no longer cost prohibitive it was done on just about anything, even cell phones and PDA’s. The idea also arose to re-release some of the older arcade games again. This is most often done in arcade classic packs released by the old arcade makers like Atari, Midway, Capcom, Taito and Namco for the various home and portable systems. Just to show how simple emulation has gotten there are now even games totally integrated into a single controller. These devices come with connectors to attach directly to a TV and have 5-15 games built in. The primary company that sells these devices is Jakks Pacific with their TV Games line. Another company that sells some is Radica Games with their Play TV line. Some of the controllers and games are much better than others. Another way to release these arcade games is via original looking arcade cabinets.
Sometimes these cabinets are designed to be used for profit in real arcades or places like Dave and Buster's or bars. These re-released arcade machines are sometimes put out by the original companies such as the Galaga / Ms. Pac-Man machine released by Namco. In other cases however many games are collected onto one machine by companies that specialize in such arcade machines. The first and most famous example of this was Ultracade and their licensed game machines. UltraCade has an interesting history. The company's history in relation to arcades first started by linking together existing arcades for multiplayer games, most notably Daytona 2 from Sega. Then know as HyperWare the company was acquired by Quantum3D. Quantum3D was tied to 3Dfx and used their graphics technology to build arcade games such as San Francisco Rush and Gauntlet Legends. As 3Dfx died and was acquired by nVidia Quantum3D wanted to focus more on the visualization market and spun HyperWare back out again. In 2002 HyperWare was put to rest only to be reborn a month later as UltraCade. More details on their history can be found in an article here. Since then UltraCade has begun selling not just machines intended for arcades but also home and consumer machines. They now sell their Arcade Legends and Ultimate Arcade lines for the home market. Both the arcade and home machines run their proprietary emulation software and hardware. In operation it is very similar to M.A.M.E. however it is much more focused and purpose built. One of the key differentiators between UltraCade and other mutli-game arcades is that it is easily upgradeable with new game packs. Also UltraCade is actively licensing and developing new game packs.
The latest addition to the home arcade market is lower cost stand up machines available with a single arcade company's classic games. The first example was a Midway one released by Big Games and sold at Target for $500. There are a few problems with this machine. It uses a tiny 14" monitor, is barely 5' tall (most arcades are 6') and uses relatively cheap components. It does what it is supposed to do however which is play the 12 old arcade games just as they were. If you want to see more of the inside there is a great article here on RetroBlast. There is some debate as to whether it is actually emulating the original ROMs or if the games were rewritten slightly for this platform. The amazing part is the computer (if you can even call it that) is about the size of a VHS tape and does everything that is needed for these 12 games. Another similar product featuring Taito games has become available from PVG Tech (a division of JazWares) as well. I saw both the standup model as well as the tabletop version at BJ's yesterday. For some reason they chose to include different games in the two different models. I am sure it is a marketing reason to sell the larger one since I can’t believe the internal hardware is sufficiently different to warrant fewer games on smaller edition. The game lists of the two versions as well as the SNK based products is here, the Capcom model that is forthcoming is not listed yet. The standup uses a 21" monitor which is more appropriate however it is still shorter than I would like. The table top model has a 14" screen and is quite a nice little device. All of the products are either partially or completely made by HanaHo which appears to be related to PVG as well. I would like to see more of the inside of the device, but I didn't think BJ's would like me disassembling it in the store. The nice thing about the PVG cabinets is they use standard joysticks and buttons so if ever there is a problem they can be easily repaired or replaced. The other interesting item to note on these is PVG has a non active link currently mentioning game upgrades. It would a really a good idea if they made these machines somehow easily upgradeable via a cartridge or something. This would create more of a universal than dedicated cabinet which could be very useful. UPDATE: I contacted PVG and it is as good as I had hoped. The response indicated the games are stored on SD cards and easily user upgradeable. The only limitation is the number of buttons on a given device versus what is needed by a certain game. The PVG units are available also from Amazon or directly from JazWares.
The last type of home arcade is like the one I got from HanaHo and can be seen here. These types are often sold lacking any type of computer or actual games. They include a cabinet (of various quality), monitor and controls. In my case I installed a PC with M.A.M.E. running on it. This enables me to play 100's or even 1000's of older arcade games. Many people also use them with home consoles from the NES to Xbox. Judging by the number of companies either making complete cabinets or arcade like controllers this market is growing. However it is still a market that hasn't reached the mainstream as the above have. Most people wouldn't know what to do with an empty cabinet but they surely know how to plug in one of the ready built machines and start playing some of their old time favorite games.