VOGONS


First post, by CelGen

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Eight years in the making. Completed just in time to see the commercial release of the Oculus Rift.

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CPU: Intel Celeron (tualatin core) 1400mhz
Motherboard: Aopen AX34-U
Ram: 1.5gb PC100 SDRAM
Hard Drive: Samsung Spinpoint V40 (60gb ATA mode)
Optical drive #1: LG CD-RW/DVD combo (32x/10x/40x)
Optical drive #2: LG CD-RW (32x/10x/40x)
5.25" floppy: Panasonic 360k/1.2mb
3.5" floppy: Panasonic 720k/1.44mb
Video: ATI Rage Pro Turbo (8mb)
Audio: VIA chipset (Sound Blaster Compatible) with GS Wavetable synthesis
SCSI: Adaptec AHA-2940UW
USB (PCI): ALI chipset USB 2.0
Firewire: Texas Instrument Firewire 400
Network: 3Com 3C905B (WOL enabled)
Modem: AMR Software modem (Voice/Data/Fax)
Specialty peripheral: Forte VFX1 "VIP card"

Operating Systems:
-Microsoft Windows 95 OSR2
-Microsoft Windows 98se
-Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional

This all started with a deal to buy part of a VFX1 set for $200. Eventually money came along and I ended up purching a second one with the VIP card and a bunch of extra cables so I can basically be twenty feet from the machine so I could assemble one complete kit. Originally I mingled with it on two different machines but never really spent time dedicating it to anything and it went in storage when I moved several times. Eventually I located it in storage again and decided it was time to build a machine designed specifically for operating and developing patches and god knows what for the VFX1 in the fastest possible configuration I could build using parts scoured from my recycling connections. Through a lot of fiddling with partitions and batch files I was able to install 95, 98 and 2K so I was assured full compatibility with any software I threw at it and believe me, I found a few applications that were extremely specific to one OS over another. Another problem I found was that the foam padding in the helmet was starting to decay. Not too hard to fix considering it's held in with velcro. I'll just need to cut a new piece of foam.

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The beige box originally belonged to an older PC I never ended up building around 2004. The motherboard I had put on a backburner for years because it needed a recap. I threw in two optical drives for the hell of it and the 5.25" again for compatibility. Most of the hardware worked on all three operating systems once the drivers were loaded but there's a still a few oddities. Windows 95 obviously has no idea what USB2.0 chipsets are, let alone firewire. Windows 2000 never had drivers for the VIP card but across all three I can't seem to find drivers for the AMR modem. 😒

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Ignore the small memory count. I'm still fine tuning the operating systems so everything works properly. No benchmarks yet, mainly because my file server is down and I currently don't have an archive of benchmark tools but trust me, what I'm doing won't even touch the limit on the PIII. 😉 Overall setting up three operating systems with SDK's, programming suites, synchronizing settings and configuring is an amazing task. It's taken three days alone just to go from three bare OS's to mostly configured and a few software packages installed to make sure everything works. There's only a half dozen games installed so far but I got plenty more that I'll install in the coming days.

Anyways, enough of that. The keystone to the system is the VFX1 which for its time was expensive and pretty damn good. If you've somehow never heard of it, watch this youtube video.
Now originally I was expecting to use a much higher end card with this but the main constraint is that it needs a 100% compatible VESA Feature Connector so things like the Radeon 9600 are ruled out but I still got bunches of other decent AGP cards.

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...too bad none of them worked. 😒
They all had feature connectors but none of them properly supported the VESA standard so you would be rewarded with blank screens in the helmet (which basically meant that the feature connector was not 100% compatible). After getting desperate I finally found a card that worked. A nasty Rage Pro card. Sure it has 8mb of video memory but under 9x the OpenGL support is sketchy and nonexistant under 2K and Direct Draw support is really bad. Even software rendering can do better.
I just wanted to use my Geforce 2 Pro. There's no way what I'm doing would ever cause my video to lag out. 😭

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Anyways I skimmed over the VFX1 Yahoo group years ago and it seems the latest drivers I can find are 2.16 which behave to a degree, mind you I can't use the Windows configuration utility at all. It keeps wanting to configure the joystick and you can't get around it, even if you've already done so....

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I really need help from a more experienced VFX1 user. God knows what settings I can't set.
The DOS setup and testing utilities however are fine. I do occasionally get palette corruption when running under 95 but it clears up if you unpolug and plug back in the helmet. I suspect the video card again...

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The VIP card needs a free port address and a completely unused IRQ. You have to make sure NOTHING touches the IRQ you configure it for or it gets really cranky.
Once setup you're completely limited to the 640x480@256 color ceiling the feature connector introduces. For games like Quake or Myst it's fine but in straight-DOS sometimes you experience weird image doubling. Again, I look suspiciously at the video card. On the desktop it feels like everything is too bright. Also the incredibly low resolution of the LCD panels becomes apparent.

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Once you try and push the VFX1 beyond what it can support things go downhill very fast. I tried Half-Life which out of the box needs millions of colors and all you get is palette corruption. By chance when I was photographing this show of abstract art I even had the cruddy OpenGL support on the card lock the system up. Unless you can force whatever you play to 256 colors you're out of luck.

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Now, there is the Linkbox. This was Forte's afterthought to get stereo and mono video to the helmet without the need for the VIP card (and letting you use much faster video cards) but still giving you the ACCESS.BUS interface the hardware needed regardless. More recently there was this linkbox project which completely eliminated the VIP card but that's not what I am after here. It's possible I'll continue to research building my video-only box. I started on a design years ago but never finished it.

As for supported software there's currently a fair bit of support out there but my golden ticket was the Bonus CD which contained games patched and ready for the VFX1. Unfortunately to my luck it appears that my disc is a bad press. You can read it and view the files but everything is suspiciously corrupt in the same manner.

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That I'm aware of nobody has ever made a backup image of the disc so in my case at least I can't play any of these games with their enhancements. 😢

Other than all that, I don't have any specific keyboard, mouse or monitor selected for the system. Right now it uses whatever I could find which is fine considering everything is running in 640x480@256 colors. Might look into a low resolution CRT monitor as there's still a few of those around in good shape. I also need to make two shore audio cables to loop the audio and microphone connections between the motherboard's audio jacks and the jacks on the VIP card. Hopefully once everything is properly setup I can take it to gaming events.

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Reply 1 of 15, by obobskivich

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Very cool. Something that I thought of about the VESA Connector: have you tried any older cards from the Rage's era - in your pile I can spot a GeForce 2, GeForce 3, etc; have you tried something like Virge? Or Banshee?

Reply 2 of 15, by CelGen

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I don't appear to have any more AGP cards with a feature connector. I can snag a Voodoo5 5500 if I wanted to dump on a card that might not work but that would take a few days. I have one more Rage Pro which is essentially the same thing but fixed at 4mb. I could potentially drop down to PCI at the expense of a PCI card.

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Reply 3 of 15, by jwt27

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Awesome machine and a nice hardware curiosity. I recall seeing these (or some other VR helmet) in stores when they came out. Though I never knew anyone who had one or seen one in action.

Those files on your Bonus disc appear to be standard WAV files. Have you tried opening them in an audio player? (might have to rename them first)

WANTED - Manuals/drivers for:

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Reply 4 of 15, by CelGen

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The thing is that they are not actually WAV files. I've seen a similar flaw once before. I have a boxed copy of Fly! 2K for mac but it was one of the early versions where they shipped the discs with no resource forks. Everyone who received the flawed discs were mailed out new discs shortly after but just like in this case, we're 15 years too late to request a replacement disc.

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Reply 5 of 15, by bristlehog

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HMIDET.386, HMIDRV.386 and HMIMDRV.386 are by far no WAV files. These are packed resident DOS sound and music drivers belonging to the Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) Sound Operating System, a very popular sound library.

Hardware comparisons and game system requirements: https://technical.city

Reply 6 of 15, by CelGen

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Over the last few days the biggest issue so far was getting whatever support you could find to make games work with the VFX1.
There's a fair number of games that supported it but finding the correct patches and drivers is no fun task (and by no means are all the enablers and patches on that page). Half-Life is in the "upcoming games" section so at one point Half-Life WAS working without the graphical corruption I experienced. The question is how they did it. If I recall the textures are already 256 colors so it's something in the engine itself.

Otherwise, everything else with the exception of that AMR modem still has settled down and is working.

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Reply 7 of 15, by aleksej

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CelGen wrote:

That I'm aware of nobody has ever made a backup image of the disc so in my case at least I can't play any of these games with their enhancements. 😢

Still have full set of these disks, i can upload it to you.

Reply 8 of 15, by CelGen

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Someone sent me an image the the day actually, so I'm good with the disc image but thanks for the offer.

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Reply 9 of 15, by CelGen

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I know this has been dead since November but I previously mentioned that there was an open possibility of upgrading the Rage Pro with a Voodoo5 5500 which would of made this machine unstoppable for a 90's VR machine.

Well the chance came up and I went for it. I regret to inform you that with at least my revisions of the 5500 and the VIP card that controls the headset (I have no idea if that actually means much) you cannot use the 5500 with the VFX1. Like every other card I tried in the above pile once the VIP card initializes all you get is a black screen, indicating it isn't happy with the signal coming from the card's VESA Feature Connector. 😢
I really wish there was a compatibility list for this.

Edited:
OH THANKS WINDOWS.

Apparently the temporary card swap, while affecting nothing else in the system, somehow broke shutting down under 98. 😒

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Reply 11 of 15, by Scraphoarder

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Nice post about your Vfx1 😀
Here is my gear, but boxed and not been used for about 15 years. I think i missing a driver disk, but everything else seems to be complete.

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Reply 12 of 15, by CelGen

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Drivers aren't that hard to get hold of. Just sign up on the forteVFX1 yahoo group and you get access to the drivers and a bunch of other cool things like the SDK.

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Reply 14 of 15, by Stiletto

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CelGen wrote:

Drivers aren't that hard to get hold of. Just sign up on the forteVFX1 yahoo group and you get access to the drivers and a bunch of other cool things like the SDK.

Sounds like things we should put on VOGONSDrivers too 😉

"I see a little silhouette-o of a man, Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you
do the Fandango!" - Queen

Stiletto

Reply 15 of 15, by peklop

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Sorry for bump.
But i searched for Forte and found some VFX1 related patents:
https://patents.google.com/?assignee=FORTE+Tech+Inc
I never know vfx foam pad was patented