IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

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IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby xjas » 2017-9-01 @ 05:23

V I R T U A L R E A L I T Y

A.K.A.: “Let's restore: xjas’s HOLY FREAKING GRAIL of vintage hardware!”

So today I picked up this wonderfully nondescript box at the post office. In it was:
box1.jpg

Well, ASIDE from cushiony piles of the pinkest bubble wrap I’ve ever seen, there was also all this:
vfx1.jpg


OH MY YES.

Okay, a bit of backstory. As some of you may know I’m obsessed with VR. I built myself a DIY shutter glasses interface straight out of an issue of PCVR magazine from 1992, got an Oculus Rift DK1 as soon as I could afford it, and even joined the local makerspace in large part because they have a full HTC Vive setup. But I’m especially obsessed with ’90s style of VR. The flat shaded polys, the cyberpunk aesthetic, the low resolution surreal worlds... those are so cool, but what really appeals to me about the whole thing is the unmitigated forward-looking futurism that went with it. This was going to change everything and become the future of humanity and you needed to get on board or get left behind. Blah blah blah.

Yeah, I fully realize the irony of appreciating that aspect most, while looking at this 20 years later from a retro perspective.

Regardless, when this stuff was current, I was a broke-ass teenager, but I did what I could. (I distinctly remember at one point setting up 3 CRT monitors in left-center-right orientation under a blanket fort. I forget what game supported this, the original NASCAR maybe?)

Back to the VFX-1. I did not expect to get this. I wasn’t even really looking anymore, the last few of these I’ve seen for sale went FAR out of my price range (saw one go for over a grand!) and even bare helmets without the critical ISA card were fetching mint. They're getting scarce as hell and never even pop up on Ebay anymore. Well, a couple weeks ago, this one did. It was complete. The seller posted it with a downright bargain starting bid and reasonable shipping costs, several good photos and even a friendly & humorous description. Surely it was gonna go berserk.

No one bid. I kept UTTERLY silent about it, even IRL. It was harrowing.

Well, some hours from the end, someone bid. Once. And then never countered my bid. The auction ended and it was over. It was mine, for just seventy-five bucks more than the starting price (and some n hundreds less than my insanity-sauce maximum bid, but never mind that. If you must know, n>2.)

I just quickly want to mention the seller was super quick, helpful, and packed it up very well. It got to my doorstop fast & was exactly as described. Great guy.

So let’s look at this in detail. Here’s the all important “VIP” (VFX-1 Interface Protocol) card. It’s a bit grungy but looks solid. I’ve seen a lot worse hardware than this be fully functional.
vfx2.jpg
vfx3.jpg
(Pics are large, so click to zoom! Sorry for the chromatic aberration.)

It’s one of the few hardware devices I know of that use video cards’ VESA feature connector, hence the ribbon cable. Incidentally that means you need a video card with a VESA feature connector. I have a fantastic one, more on this later.

vfx4.jpg
Two user manuals for some reason and the original registration card.
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby xjas » 2017-9-01 @ 05:26

vfx5.jpg
The license agreement, which I fully intend to violate, “Cyberpuck” spatial mouse controller thing, and what I presume to be a copy of the install floppy. Or maybe it isn’t.

vfx6.jpg
And here’s the helmet itself. It’s unfortunately a bit tatty but I knew this was gonna be a project going in. This setup came from Florida and was probably sitting in someone’s garage for many years. The heat & humidity didn’t do it any favors.

Fortunately it’s complete, none of the plastic or hinges are broken, the lenses are in good shape and the LCD panels look fine at first glance. The foam is a replaceable mat that is held on with velcro and the mildew & dirt is easy to deal with.

vfx7.jpg
Still, kinda eww. I’m definitely cleaning this up before it goes on my head.

vfx8.jpg
Dusty lenses. Aside from age & deterioration, it actually looks a lot better built than my flimsy plastic Oculus DK1.

There’s a packing list in the manual of everything that was supposed to come with it if you bought one of these new. According to that list, I’m missing the “nape strap” (meh), two 1/8” audio cables (I have a drawer full of those already), the CD-ROM (I believe this is downloadable) and possibly the install floppy (definitely downloadable.) In other words all of the critical stuff to run this is here and the only missing bits are trivial. Not bad.

So that’s how it is right now. Naturally I’m gonna restore this thing to glory and finally scratch that two decade itch. It’ll definitely be interesting to see just how primitive or advanced this is.

vfx9.jpg
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby xjas » 2017-9-01 @ 05:29

Incidentally, here’s an interesting bit of ephemera from my teenage VR experience. I found this a while ago while going through some old stuff (it was actually still in the wallet I carried around back then!) This place was down the street from my high school and I apparently visited it enough to have a loyalty card. :P
website1.jpg
website2.jpg


I distinctly remember playing both Zone Hunters and Dactyl Nightmare there so they must have had Virtuality 1000CS and SU2000 setups, or they replaced one with the other. Those ran on very different hardware, the 1000CS (Dactyl Nightmare) was based on the Amiga 3000/4000 platform whereas the SU2000 (Zone Hunters and several other games IIRC) was a heavily-kitted 486DX.

actual_website.jpg
The place lasted several years but I don’t remember exactly when it shut down. It does carry on a tiny internet presence on the still-maintained website (hah!) of the guy who designed its sign (and if I’d done that you better believe I’d brag about it too!) Here’s what its former spot looks like now - predictably boring, although to my utter astonishment, the freaking phone booth is still there.

notawebsite.jpg
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby chinny22 » 2017-9-01 @ 10:54

VR has never really done anything for me, but fully get where your coming from and trust me. If I was you I'd have already tried it out, gross headset or not!
Over 10 years of waiting vs long shower, screw it its going on!
interested to see what system you build round this and how it holds up to your expectations.
Glad you got it for a good price, Sometimes things are just meant to be :)
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby Jade Falcon » 2017-9-01 @ 14:15

Fire up MW2 in wireframe mode and profit :cool:
I had a set of I/0 glasses a ways back. Fun to mess with, but I never found a game other then MW2 and other mech sims that felt right for them.
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby badmojo » 2017-9-01 @ 21:56

Thanks for the great read and pics!

Funny thing but personally I prefer it when things are a bit tatty on arrival; the process of restoring / getting to know a thing inside-and-out is often more fun than using it, and they're generally the items I hang on to long term.

I hope it fires up as expected.
If it's broke, then fix it!
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby Robert B » 2017-9-01 @ 22:18

This is something NEW for me. WOW. Keep us posted with your progress :D That ISA card can be cleaned with little effort and it will be as new.
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby xjas » 2017-9-02 @ 01:09

Thanks guys! This is a really exciting project for me so I'm especially pleased to share my progress around - expect lots more updates here as I dig in. :D

@Jade Falcon: yeah MW2 is DEFINITELY on the agenda, I've never played it more than a few mins before so this will be an interesting way to experience it for the first time. The VFX-1 is only supported by a limited set of games but a good proportion of them are VERY GOOD ONES.

Robert B wrote:This is something NEW for me. WOW. Keep us posted with your progress :D That ISA card can be cleaned with little effort and it will be as new.


Yeah, I'm open to suggestions on how to clean it. It's a rare enough card I wanna give it a good once-over before I plug it in. I'm especially going to go over it looking for e.g. chip pins being bridged by detritus or anything else that might cause problems. No electrolytic caps on it fortunately.

It was listed as "working" in the Ebay auction but no indication of when that last was. :P
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby shamino » 2017-9-02 @ 01:42

Some of those surface mounted caps might be tantalums, which sometimes blow up when they've been asleep for a long time.
Not sure what you can do about that, but write down the markings on the larger black caps like the one sitting next to the notch in the ISA connector. If they have a polarity marking then they're probably tantalums.
I think the smaller unmarked caps covering the board are ceramic, which I think are about as stable as any caps can be. Ceramics don't have polarity, so if that's what they are then they won't have a polarity stripe.

You can clean the board with alcohol.

One more extra step if you feel inclined: look up an ISA pinout, figure out which pins are on the various voltage supplies and which are ground, and check resistance across those pins with a multimeter to confirm there's no shorts.
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby Jo22 » 2017-9-02 @ 06:47

Congratulations for finally getting hold of your VFX-1! :D

xjas wrote:Okay, a bit of backstory. As some of you may know I’m obsessed with VR.

That's a cool backstory! Not sure if that makes you feel any less of a weirdo, but despite our modern technology
I've also got a soft spot for these oldschool vector graphics, 3D laser shows and 90s VR things. ;)

Back in the mid-90s or so, I visited a computer shop with my dad and there was this exhibit of a VR device.
My memories are quite sketchy about the details, but it was a black helmet with lots of wires.
I remember, the shop staff was very proud of it. If my memory serves correctly, they were (still) in the process
of setting that thing up while we entered that computer shop.

I was standing a few metres away from it (on the right) and was watching the whole process, while my dad was looking for shareware,
buying new 5.25" floppies and doing some small-talk about computers with the dude at the counter, etc.
Anyway, I was allowed to wear that monstrosity for a while. It wasn't running a game, though.
I think it was some sort of simulation/demo thing (floating star glider in a grid environment).
Again, my memory is quite sketchy about this, probably because I was little back then. ^^

xjas wrote: I built myself a DIY shutter glasses interface straight out of an issue of PCVR magazine from 1992,
got an Oculus Rift DK1 as soon as I could afford it, and even joined the local makerspace in large part because they have
a full HTC Vive setup. But I’m especially obsessed with ’90s style of VR.

Hey, your DIY project looks pretty cool! I've never seen such a homebrew creation before, but yours looks like a prop
that comes straight off a film set for some cyber punk movie. Really cool. :)
"Time, it seems, doesn't flow. For some it's fast, for some it's slow.
In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

//My video channel//
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby xjas » 2017-9-02 @ 19:17

First pass at cleaning the VIP card. Here are some before pics, taken with a far better camera (i.e. a 5-year-old smart phone) this time:
before1.jpg
before2.jpg
before3.jpg
before4.jpg

Incidentally, if you want some BIG reference photos to see the markings on all the tiny caps, chips, etc., you're in luck 'cause I took some. Grab 'em here.
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby xjas » 2017-9-02 @ 19:21

...and here it is after cleaning. Tools used: a really soft plastic toothbrush (one of those ones that uppity airlines give out), 99% isopropyl, a lint-free microfiber cloth and a bamboo barbecue skewer.
after1.jpg


after2.jpg
after3.jpg
Fortunately, a lot of what I was worried might be corrosion was actually just grime. Most of the chip contacts look quite good now.

after4.jpg
All of that black gunk on the white rag came off this card.

It's not 100% perfect but did clean up quite well for a 20-minute, first-pass effort. It looks better than the GUS I found in the trash and that thing works perfectly, so fingers crossed.
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby j^aws » 2017-9-02 @ 19:54

Cool headset. I was always interested in getting one for Alien Trilogy. What's the lag like? This keeps putting me off.
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby xjas » 2017-9-07 @ 21:25

Had a go at cleaning up the helmet. The first thing to go was that manky foam pad:
DSC01847.JPG
It's pretty rough. Fortunately it's fabric-backed and held on with velcro, exactly like the foam you'd find in a bike helmet, so it was no trouble to remove in one piece. It'll also be super-easy to re-create, I just have to find some foam the right thickness and colour.

The faceplate insert was a different, plastickier material and happily is in perfect shape. I just gave it a wipe down with a damp cloth and it was good as new:
DSC01850.JPG


DSC01852.JPG
Found these on the inside of the overhead-arch, hiding under the foam pad. I'm always a little worried when I see countersunk wood screws in a piece of electronics. There were a couple empty screw holes as well; either these were low-enough production that they were hand-assembled and the worker who did mine was hungover that day, or someone's opened this up already and didn't bother to put it back together properly. Hmmm. Left it as-is for now.

On the other hand, the factory plastic protector film is still intact on this metal panel:
DSC01853.JPG

So I laid down some paper and made a rough template for the foam pad. I'm not worried about it being 100%
precise, I'll have to trim the new one to fit anyway. Just wanted the rough shape:
DSC01854.JPG
...which is apparently rather rude. Keep your minds out of the gutter people!
selected (probably) unfinished build threads { In a Lunchbox / Has It All / Hot Damn! / IT IS THE NINETIES / 20 Years of Junk }
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby xjas » 2017-9-07 @ 21:35

DSC01855.JPG
DSC01857.JPG
8====D

I have nothing more to say about the foam pad.

DSC01859.JPG
I'm always amazed at how much gunk and grime comes off cables when you give them a wipe down. How hard is it for people to clean these things now and then?

Incidentally I was cleaning everything with just a really mild glass/surface cleaner. For something like this, it did the job quite well!
DSC01862.JPG
Here's the result. Unfortunately it was dark out and my living room's not all that bright, so you can't see the full extent of improvement in this shot, but it looks pretty decent now. Not 100% perfect but for a first pass I'm satisfied.

DSC01866.JPG
The lenses cleaned up pretty well too, on the outside. I'll take them out and do the insides later. I'm eventually going to replace the felt on the inside of the headphones too (it's actually missing on the other side.) So far just a little elbow grease really paid off!
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby Reputator » 2017-9-07 @ 22:00

Most excellent! I shall follow this thread with the utmost enthusiasm!
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby Jade Falcon » 2017-9-07 @ 22:03

Nice looking work so far.
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Re: IT IS THE NINETIES, and you are about to enter a whole new world of

Postby chinny22 » 2017-9-14 @ 15:51

All good work but...
HOW HAVE YOU NOT PLAYED WITH IT YET!!!!!
you have much better willpower than I
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