VIS Information?

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Ice Breaker

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Nov 5, 1995, 3:00:00 AM11/5/95
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I just inhereted (for free) a VIS system that was sold for about 3 days by
Radio Shack <g>. It came with no manuals, but it did have a sampler disk,
Compton's Encyclopedia, and controller plus a save game card. Where can I
find software for this? Are there any hardware hacks or anything else
available for it?

Ice
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: Fidonet: Ice Breaker 1:203/698 .. speaking for only myself.
: Internet: Ice.B...@698.gigo.com

Frank Durda IV

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Nov 11, 1995, 3:00:00 AM11/11/95
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[0]Ice Breaker (Ice.B...@698.gigo.com) wrote:
[0]I just inhereted (for free) a VIS system that was sold for about 3 days by
[0]Radio Shack <g>. It came with no manuals, but it did have a sampler disk,
[0]Compton's Encyclopedia, and controller plus a save game card. Where can I
[0]find software for this? Are there any hardware hacks or anything else
[0]available for it?

Check around the bargin bins in the Radio Shacks, or they may be able
to special order something. There were 50 or so titles before the
system died, and about five or six were respectable.

You might also contact Tiger Software, who at one point a year or so ago
was selling new VIS systems with 30 titles for $99. We figured if nothing
else you were getting 30 jewel cases for CDs and a so-so CD-audio player
for $99. (The VIS hardware cost over $400 to make.)

It appears that Tandy sold all of the warehouse inventory to Tiger
when they wrote VIS off. I am not sure whether the stores got the
chance to return their stock or if they had to dispose of it themselves.

Note: A CD-ROM *must* have the "VIS" logo on it to work in a VIS system.
Some titles in 1993 were written in such a way that they would run on
either a MPC system or a VIS (Tandy thought up this requirement in
early 1993 as an attempt to keep the software companies from jumping
ship), but that VIS logo has to be there.

Zenith, who was the only other company who even got close to selling
VIS never sold any, but I do have one a Zenith VIS hand controller.
They didn't sell any titles either.

If a technical reference was published for that system, I am not aware
of it.

Tandy lost somewhere between $50 and $75 million on the development,
inventory and failed marketing of VIS. It was *the* product that caused
them to get out of the computer business. The lousy sales of DCC that
Christmas also helped make Tandy want to get out of the R&D business.

The VIS system appeared in the stores the week before Thanksgiving 1992.
On Jaunary 10th, 1993, all work on the VIS-II system was cancelled that day
and VIS was dead. Five days later, R&D was spun-out into the newly-formed
TE Electronics and 10% of the staff let go.

Let's just say that the Thanksgiving to Christmas sales NATIONWIDE of VIS
could be tabulated in an unsigned char. You would need an unsigned short
to tabulate the number of VIS systems that were built before someone
yelled STOP! and halted production. And you would need a *signed* char to
track the VIS unit sales for January 1993. Got it? :-) That was at
the original price of $699.


VIS was based on the faulty logic that the reason the Philips CD-I system
wasn't successful was that there weren't enough titles for it (the $699
price had *nothing* to do with the sluggish CD-I sales they said), and the
reason there weren't enough good titles was that CD-I was an "alien"
architecture and required a lot of development to produce titles for it.

So, logically, if you provided a platform that was close to the MPC-1
platform and "standard" Windows/DOS tools could be used to develop for it
you would have lots of titles, and if she weighs the same as a duck,
she's made of wood. No wait, that's a different example of the problem
bad logic. But both chains of logical thinking made about the same amount
of sense.

Anyway, the idea was bogus because there weren't that many MPC titles
at that time, most were educational rather than entertaining, most
ran slow even on faster systems with more memory, and none were written
with the idea of dealing with interlaced video, NTSC color/resolution
artifacts, or not having a mouse or keyboard present to run the application.
Who cares if the hand controller API "looked" like a mouse or keyboard to
the application? Some things just could not be used easily without the real
thing.

So most people ended up writing a custom port of each title anyway for VIS.
That is why so many of the VIS titles are similar to one another.
The software house ported the engine for their story-telling product,
then churned out twenty or thirty different stories that used the same
underlying engine. Boring.


The cost to make the VIS system dictated a $549 or $599 retail price since
they wanted to make the bulk of the money on software royalties (Sega is
very similar, selling the hardware close to cost and then making it up on
the games), but the Tandy computer marketing people (in particular the top
marketing guy) claimed that people would not buy a product that cost
either of those amounts, but WOULD buy the same system for $699 if Tandy
added some software to the system.

According the marketing brains, $699 was a "magic" price number, and $549,
$599 or even $499 (briefly considered) were not "magic", and the
"consumers would not buy at those prices". Huh?

So roughly $5 worth of royalty per system for Comptons was added and $250
of profit margin was added to the early systems. But they have to
sell and stay sold to have profit...

The method Tandy used to determine prices was always a mystery to me. :-)


General specs of the VIS:
o 80286-12 processor on a local bus (not ISA) running at 12MHz.
0-wait states. Equivalent PC performance somewhere around that of
a 386SX-16 or 20. (ISA overhead is baaaaad)
(There was about a $15 difference between using a 286 and 386SX.
VIS-II was to use a 386SX.)
o 1 Meg ROM containing minimal MS-DOS 3.x, a few drivers, and
the fabled Modular Windows(TM). Modular Windows was a poor attempt
to take a system that relied on large caches and fast disks and
stick it into slow ROM with no cache and tight memory.
All versions of Windows 3.x read the SYSTEM.INI file 75 separate
times while starting, and that's before it is read n times by the
application. You try that sometime from a CD-ROM without the
SMARTDRIVE CD-ROM cache. Very nasty.
(Microsoft publicly denied that Modular Windows was a product at
one point in 1993, but they even produced a SDK before the end.)
o One built-in application is an audio-CD player, written in Modular
Windows (it reads the ROM-based SYSTEM.INI 75 times so its a bit
faster). Just stick an audio CD in and it should start playing.
o 1 Meg of RAM in a conventional PC layout 640K + 384K.
o Mitsumi 150K/sec CD-ROM drive with 16-bit interface, 800msec access,
1300msec worst case access (driven by a rubber band!), CD+G capable,
but not Photo-CD. 5000 hour MTBF.
o IR interface with up to two IR transmitters (hand controllers)
operating at once.
o PS/2 mouse or keyboard interface (either can be connected and
are generally recognized by applications). A wired hand controller
could also be connected to this port for use in locations where
the wireless controller was not practical, or could be used
in conjunction with one wireless controller.
(Hint: if one wired and one wireless, use the wire controller and
you will win. If two wireless, be player 1 and you will win.)
o Expansion compartment for RS-232 serial board ($500 each at
last report), or a proposed TV tuner or MPEG decoder. Only
the serial board was actually produced for use with Windows
debugger. (That was kind of neat.)
o The same modem card that went in the Tandy Sensation I could
also be installed in the VIS. 2400 data 4800 send-only FAX.
o Outputs: RCA Line left/right, composite video, RF video,
S-Video. NTSC video (although a tweak produces PAL).
o Dallas Semiconductor plug-in CyberCard - removable non-volatile
storage, in sizes up to 512K (big bucks for 512K size) and system
comes with 32k unit. Because it is accessed serially, really
only good for very small programs and saving program
settings, scores, etc. Much cheaper to buy from Dallas Semi
than Tandy.
o Onboard audio is same as Tandy Sensation I: Adlib Gold compatible,
not Sound Blaster compatible.
o Video uses ADAC-1 chip as found in Tandy Sensation I, supports
YUV and several high-quality color modes. Also supported some
TV-specific features for handling overscan.


Unfortunately, the VIS requires that a special file be present on
each CD which says it is a licensed product. Tandy originally wanted
to make royalties on the titles for this system, then backed-off that
but still required vendors to register their products with Tandy to get
the software to create the magic file (at no cost). The file does have
useful functions in that it can launch several different applications from
the same CD-ROM, and invokes Windows or whatever environment the application
needed to run. Getting that file on a CD-ROM or on a memory card is the
trick.

The memory card can be connected to a PC and configured to load unlicensed
programs off of CD-ROMs, but finding the ISA card with the CyberCard
connector is very difficult. Only a few hundred of them were made.

Best titles: In my opinion, Spacenuts, that came on the sampler disk
is one of the better titles (it was written to test the video and MIDI
system), Sherlock Holmes (Vol 1 and 2), Grandma and Me, Links Golf, the
Movie Guide, Learning to play the Guitar, and the CD+G player. The last
two items may not have made it to the street, but made extensive use
of the VIS platform.

Slowest application: Kings Quest V, which took FIVE FULL MINUTES from
the time Windows started booting until it asked if you had played the
game before. You looked at that stupid Windows hourglass for most of
that five minutes. Try selling something that slow on a Sega and
watch what happens.

Tandy originally required applications be up within 15 seconds, but
when that proved almost impossible even for DOS apps, they boosted the
limit to 90 seconds, and then didn't enforce it very strongly.

By and large, the remaining titles are just someone reading childrens
books, which can keep a child interested for perhaps 20 minutes TOTAL.
Not worth the $50 some of these titles were originally asking. Five for
$10 is probably reasonable.

Goofy names for real VIS titles: "Rick Ribbet: Adventures ...", "Manhole",
and "Moving gives me a stomach ache."

We used to label the early CDs for "Rick Ribbet" as
"Rick Ribbet: Adventures in Aggressive Tandy Marketing". :-)

By the way, "VIS" means "Fish" in the low countries. When the marketing
people discovered this (even after the focus studies showed VIS was
a bad name and that we didn't have clear title to the name or the logo),
they stuck with VIS but worried that Philips (who makes the CD-I system
that VIS was supposed to wipe-off the face of the Earth - HA!) might launch
a campaign against the system when it was sold in Europe. The low-country
translation would be something like "Throw that VIS [fish] back".
VIS never made it across the pond. I guess it sank with Rick Ribbet.

(c) 1995, Frank Durda IV, All Rights Reserved. PRIOR Permission required
for storage on Compuserve, MSN, or reprinting. I'm writing a book, you see.

Frank Durda IV <uhc...@nemesis.lonestar.org>|"How do I know? I wasted
or uhclem%nem...@fw.ast.com (Fastest Route)| a year of my life on that
...letni!rwsys!nemesis!uhclem | sucker, that's how."
...decvax!fw.ast.com!nemesis!uhclem |


John Stahl

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Nov 14, 1995, 3:00:00 AM11/14/95
to uhc...@nemesis.lonestar.org
Thanks for the detailed inside info. Once again you have come throug.
John Stahl
Toledo, OH
ps. do you (or did you) know Dick Heerschap? (sp)


John Stahl

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Nov 14, 1995, 3:00:00 AM11/14/95
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jack west

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Mar 3, 2021, 7:58:04 PMMar 3
to
Frank - we had a development deal with Tandy for a real estate previewing application to be shown at Better Homes and Gardens Kiosks malls across the country. Just getting started when Tandy pulled the plug. Any idea how I might find some nostalgic material? The company was called Realview...

Thanks,
Jack West

David Snowdon

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Mar 4, 2021, 11:19:37 AMMar 4
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You are replying to a message sent in 1995, and unfortunately Frank had
died in 2018.

David

---
jack west wrote:
> On Saturday, November 11, 1995 at 3:00:00 AM UTC-5, Frank Durda IV wrote:
>> [0]Ice Breaker (Ice.B...@698.gigo.com) wrote:
>> [0]I just inhereted (for free) a VIS system that was sold for about 3 days by
>> [0]Radio Shack <g>. It came with no manuals, but it did have a sampler disk,
>> [0]Compton's Encyclopedia, and controller plus a save game card. Where can I
>> [0]find software for this? Are there any hardware hacks or anything else
>> [0]available for it?
>> Check around the bargin bins in the Radio Shacks, or they may be able
>> to special order something. There were 50 or so titles before the
>> system died, and about five or six were respectable.
---- snip ----
> Frank - we had a development deal with Tandy for a real estate previewing application to be shown at Better Homes and Gardens Kiosks malls across the country. Just getting started when Tandy pulled the plug. Any idea how I might find some nostalgic material? The company was called Realview...
>
> Thanks,
> Jack West

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