In 1993, Greg Amadon and Linden Rhoads had an idea to launch a virtual reality for home use. Although VR headsets were already existing in manufacturing processes and more recently, in arcades, there was no product for home users. The biggest problem with VR system was the cost which makes them too expensive for home use, but Amadon & Rhoads were sure that with the current technology, it was now possible to create a low-cost VR system. The duo pitched their idea to Bill Gates, Craig McCaw, and other techno-savvy tycoons that they thought might be interesting to invest in their product. Along with their 900 pounds of computers and video equipment, Greg Amadon and Linden Rhoads finally meet with John Malone, CEO of Tele-Communications Inc. Amadon and Rhoads spent an evening in his garage setting up the equipment, including a rare 3-D camera borrowed from a Japanese company, to demonstrate an early version of their glasses. Malone saw promise: Here was a technology that could spur 3-D cable channels and VR videogames. TCI became the startup’s largest investor. The newly formed company called Virtual I-O, started working on their Virtual Head mounted display (HMD).
By August 20, 1993, the first home VR system was finally released. The VictorMaxx StuntMaster became the first consumer-grade HMD, beating the upcoming Sega VR to the punch. But the monoscopic display of the StuntMaster turned out to be a pale attempt at VR. The product was quickly discontinued, showing Virtual I-O that their product needed to be the perfect balance between cost and quality if they wanted mass adoption. In November 2004, VictorMaxx released their new VR Headset call the CyberMaxx. This time around, the product was a more robust HMD in terms of specs. With a stereoscoping 505 x 230 resolution display, the CyberMaxx was a real contender for best VR HMD on the market, but with a price tag of $699, the price/quality balance was not met and the sales of the CyberMaxx were low, very low. Based on the unsuccessful released of the VictorMaxx HMD, Virtual I-O was able to define what balance they wanted to achieve. A screen quality comparable to PC of the time and at a price tag that customer will be able to afford.
Released in May 1995, the Virtual i-glasses! Personal Display System became the most successful and the most sophisticated VR Headset on the market. Sold for $499, the Virtual i-glasses! were cheaper than the CyberMaxx and more advance with their stereoscopic display of 640x48o. The Virtual i-glasses! were available in two 2 versions: the Video version and the PC version. The PC version came with a VGA adaptor and was designed to be connected to a PC. It offered head tracking in certain games. The PC version was also compatible with the Amiga computer, but only two games are known to support the glasses – Gloom Deluxe and the Nemac IV Director’s Cut CD. The second model called the “Video Version” could be connected to any video sources that used composite output, including DVD player, video games, ect. This model didn’t feature head tracking, but was marketed as a virtual giant screen. Once they’re put on, stereoscopic images reflected from tiny liquid-crystal displays create the illusion of watching an 80-inch screen 11 feet away.
VictorMaxx which was already in financial trouble, reacted quickly and released an updated version of their HMD called the CyberMaxx 2.o. But although the updated version did support both PC and other sources with the same HMD, the new released was still more expensive and less powerful than the Virtual i-glasses!. By the end of 1995, Virtual I-O had accumulated sales of $5 million, a number still very low to the estimated $90 million market. In 1996, the sales had doubled, but were still very low. The company was only moving around 300 units a month in the retail world. Most sales were still come from specialized vertical markets such as dentist which represented about 25% of all unit sold in 1996. The biggest problem was still the price tag. According to Frank Catalano, a computer industry consultant, all HDM over $200 could not be successful, point out that the ideal price point for such a niche product should be around $100.
Despite making a number of influential friends, including IBM and Microsoft, the virtual i-O was a short-lived phenomenon. After an unsuccessful attempt to secure more funds, Amadon and Rhoads suddenly resigned. A month later, in March 1997, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.