Virtuality SU2000

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Virtuality SU2000

Su2000.jpg

Mike bought this unit, very used, from the Mall of America in Minneapolis and brought it to the space as a repair project. Although the graphics are dated, it's still a very impressive system by 1995 standards, when it sold for $100K. Such technology comes at a price - the system is quite complex and uses a lot of custom hardware that's often difficult to replace or repair today if anything were to break.

Overview

The SU2000 (or 2000SU) is a 2-player VR game system with 2 standing platforms, each of which has:

  • A 'visette' head-mounted display including two displays and headphones
  • A 'joystick' handheld controller
  • An emitter in the handbar for 3D location of the above devices (Polhemus corp)
  • A magnetic card reader (from Ampy UK?)
  • speaker and player buttons
  • The 'Format D' interconnection box (with composite video out) for all the above
  • A 12/5/-5V power supply

The main electronics box sits under platform #1 in a rackmount PC case.

Electronics overview

SU2000inside.jpg

We call it a 486 but that's an oversimplification - it's a 14-slot ISA backplane with one mini-PC board with 486CPU/RAM/etc, and about a dozen other boards with custom 3D system, graphics and sound generation and processing boards, all powered by an 250W PC power supply. There's a 500MB HD and two 4X? IDE CD drives, also a floppy drive.

ISA Cards, if viewed from the back going right (so from the bottom up on the picture above):

  • graphics interface card (2-channel), with 2 cables going from its outputs to the pass-through card
  • 2 graphics rendering cards with each having 2 fan-cooled DSPs? and a ribbon cable to the above
  • graphics pass-through card, with 2 inside cables going to the Visette/sound/interface cards
  • 2 Polhemus 3D I/O cards, each has a 3A0417 adapter box on a ~8in cable.
  • 2 Visette/sound/interface cards ("Format C"?)
  • HMS-486 mini-PC card with 4 RAM slots (max 64MB?), IDE big+small ports, 1 floppy, 1 parallel, 2 serial ports, keyboard and mouse.
  • cheap 10Base-2 network card, for Virtuality game network
  • standard cheap VGA card for control terminal
  • IDE interface card (extremely simple - 1 PAL and 2 74x chips) with CD drive audio passthrough to RCAs.

The system boots like a standard PC into DOS6.22, then run the Virtuality software. It auto-loads the game CDs if they are in the drives, else allows the use of diagnostic software from the (VGA) control screen and (AT) keyboard.


Resources and media

  • SU2000 user manual [1]
  • Flickr pictures of Mike's disassembly and cleaning [2]
  • There are two companies that claim to sell and repair the SU2000, Arcadian VR (which bought the rights to the products when Virtuality closed its doors, but now seems to be closing as well), and VRealities. Neither seem too interested in replying to our e-mails.
  • Ariane from Germany has posted a lot of information on his SU2000 system at [3] and on the MAME forum at [4]. His has a number of details different from ours, more info on it at [5]. By looking at our system, he installed the last ribbon cable needed to make it work.
  • Another MAME forum thread here: [6]
  • MAME user Fronzel's pictures and saved Virtuality webpages [7]
  • Wikipedia page on Virtuality
  • Youtube video on the Virtuality company.

Problems and repairs done

  • player 1 joystick was moving randomly/strangely along one axis and stuttering.
    • The white wire in the 6-pin Mini-DIN wire from format D to the joystick port on the System Polhemus board had broken. We switched most of the devices in the system around - joystick, Polhemus transmitter, format D & format C - before switching around the wires to discover this.
  • player 2 card reader not working
    • Mike opened the device and the read head is flaky, likely due to lots of usage. Both the read head and reader seem to have been made by the UK company Ampy? whom is long out of business. Documentation indicates that the reader generates a 'complex' signal to the system - probably using minor encryption or adding a random number after every card read - so it would be hard to replace the reader unless we can understand that signal. During troubleshooting, the 'data' button in the damaged reader was pressed for 3sec, which unfortunately erased its stored 'site key' - so it would no longer accept any of our cards as they all were programmed with a certain site key. Mike used a card skimmer from his work to retrieve the site key from another card and re-programmed the reader with a correct key. We're considering replacing the read head with a compatible one, generating the 'money present' signal with an MCU, or patching the DOS software to always think people paid.
    • Some of the reader information above was gleamed from a surprisingly similar product from the same company, an industrial electric panel cardreader?.
  • one player display all black after system cleaning
    • Two issues - cable from the graphics card to Format C was backwards, also the ribbon cable on the graphics card was loose.
  • games crash upon startup after upgrading sound card RAM
    • mike had put back the sound card RAM stick in the back slot, should've been in the front slot.
  • Mike cleaned the electronics box, and all headsets (like a madman), he couldn't believe how dirty those were.


Upgrades

We're doing a number of PC-related upgrades on the system:

  • PC card RAM - 72pin SIMMS. upgraded from 4MB to 16MB (2x RA72P16MBEDO, 16MB each stick, so it only used half or one side of the sticks). Then tried 128M8 (sticks with HY5117404BJ-60 chips) but it wouldn't boot with 4 sticks and only detected 64MB with 3 sticks. Left in 2 sticks for 64MB.
  • PC card CPU upgrade/overclocking - will have to jog our 486 CPU memories to attempt this.
  • HD upgrade - ordered a 2GB CF card to replace the 500MB HD. Note that DOS6.22 only supports Fat16 (2GB partitions), so if we want to store the CD images on the HD we'll need to make multiple partitions
  • CD upgrade - currently there are two 4X? IDE? CDs - we'll try to replace with newer drives to speed up game loading. If we can get the system to accept a DOS CD emulator (0cd / FakeCD / CDemu2 [8] [9]) we'll just store the games on the HD instead of loading from the CD every time
  • Format C upgrade (sound board?) - upgraded each board to two 4MB? sticks (TC514100AFT-60) - this seems to have been successful, but it's unknown if it'll improve anything.


Storage and emulation

The unit stores system data on a 120MB HD (which was 500MB in ours - likely the original died) and game data on 2 standard? burned CDs. We made backups of the HD and our 3 games (Dactyl Nightmare, Zone Hunter and Missile Command). The system boards have many programmable ICs which we have not backed up yet. We will volunteer assistance to the MAME project if they're interested in emulating the platform.


Projects

  • get the system working - 95% done, that one card reader is the last big problem.
  • understand how the system functions, esp. in regards to standard PC features, so we can adapt it to a newer motherboard or just to a recent PC to run recent games in 3D.
  • Build PAL / RGBS video converter cables in order to use the two 25 inch RGBS monitors to display what each player is seeing, from the format C board outputs.
  • Install new software packages. (We have legit editions of much of the software available for the unit, need to go through installation process for several games)
  • Create FREE PLAY capability for unit. (Hijack card readers or patch administration / game software)