© iFixit Business | July 15, 2013

Nintendo Virtual Boy teardown

Time for another retro-teardown from the iFixit guys, and do we have a treat for you this time. The Virtual Boy – the failed portable video game console released in 1995 by Nintendo.
Direct quote from the 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?

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.

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.

The main board is responsible for taking inputs from the controller, loading game cartridge data, sending audio data to the speaker amplifier, and driving the LED displays. The silk screened chips include:
  • Nintendo '95 VUE-VPU, 9520KK023
  • Nintendo NVC-VUE, (C) NEC '91 '93 9520KX003
  • Nintendo VRM-VUE, 9508KU028
  • Toshiba TC511664BJ-80 128 KB of DRAM
  • Toshiba TC511632FL-70
  • Nintendo '95 VSU-VUE ATT, 9507A3014
  • Texas Instruments 57A5CXK, HCU04

The Virtual Boy's 3D capabilities are a result of an effect known as parallax, in which a single image is viewed along different lines of sight.

This process is the basis for the method by which the human eye is capable of perceiving depth. Each eye receives a slightly different image (being a few inches apart and along different sightlines). The brain then interprets these two images into a single 3D image. This effect is called stereopsis.

he Virtual Boy employs an extremely creative way of producing its unique binocular (and 3D) graphics.

A one-pixel-tall row of LEDs at the far end of each display unit projects light through a lens in the middle of each unit.

After passing through the lens, light is reflected off a mirror situated at 45o that oscillates about its central axis.

And as usual - you can find the entire tearedown at iFixit


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