Nintendo Virtual Boy Teardown

September 3, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Our week of game console teardowns is coming to a close, and we have a super-extra-special teardown for today. We partnered with Engadget to bring you a glimpse of one of the most interesting game consoles ever — the Nintendo Virtual Boy!

Direct quote from our guys who created the teardown: “The Virtual Boy is bar none the coolest device we’ve ever taken apart.” Everyone at the office agrees that it’s an awesome console, so much so that there have been arguments over who’s going to play it next.

Nintendo called the Virtual Boy a “32-bit, 3-D experience” that “eliminates all external stimuli, totally immersing players into their own private universe.” Even so, TIME Magazine listed the Virtual Boy as one of the worst inventions of all time, and PC World called it one of “the ugliest products in tech history.” Of course, neither Time nor PC World ever opened one, so what do they know?

Teardown Highlights:

  • The Virtual Boy was only available in North America for seven months — from August 14, 1995 until March 2, 1996 — with only 770,000 units sold. Compare that with the Nintendo 64, which sold 32.93 million units over its lifespan.
  • Virtual Boy tech specs:
    • 20 MHz, 32-bit RISC Processor
    • 128 KB dual-port VRAM
    • 384 x 224 pixel resolution
    • 2-bit monochrome display (black and three shades of red)
    • 16-bit stereo sound
  • The Neoprene eyepiece completely encompassed the player’s field of vision. This not only isolated the player from the rest of the world, but prevented anyone else from seeing what the player was doing. If only the Virtual Boy could play “other” content…
  • Games such as Mario’s Tennis support the use of the Extension port to hook up two Virtual Boys for multiplayer play. Regrettably, Nintendo never got around to releasing an appropriate cable.
  • In order to deliver a full range of motion in a virtual 3-D environment, a method of controlling motion in the z-axis was required. To overcome this hurdle, a second D-pad was added to the controller.
  • The modular construction of the Virtual Boy indicates it was designed with repair in mind. A damaged controller port or audio system could be individually replaced rather than having to replace the whole motherboard.
  • Each 4-color display unit was manufactured by Reflection Technology Inc., and featured a 1×224 pixel resolution with 32 levels of intensity. The “image” produced by the display is merely a row of red LEDs. Used in conjunction with an oscillating mirror, a full image is produced.
  • The mirror oscillates and the LED refreshes with such speed that the human eye perceives a single image across the view plane.
  • To oscillate the mirror, alternating electrical current at high frequency is passed through a copper coil attached to the mirror. A stationary iron core is attached to the display unit, forming a solenoid to produce the motive force needed for oscillation.
  • Because the entire image is produced by a single row of LEDs, the refresh rate is incredibly high. The pattern of LEDs displayed changes 19,277 times every second!

Removing the bottom cover

Final layout

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