Nintendo Virtual Boy

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Nintendo released the Virtual Boy to much hype and fanfare in 1995.

The Nintendo Virtual Boy (released on 14 August 1995 in the USA and 21 July 1995 in Japan) is a video game console that used a twin eyeglass style projector to display the games in "true" 3-D (though monochromatic). The launch price was around US$180.

The console was designed by Gunpei Yokoi, inventor of the Nintendo Game Boy, but was not intended to replace the Game Boy in Nintendo's product line. Nintendo intended to use the console to take advantage of the then-recent interest in virtual reality brought on by movies like The Lawnmower Man and a number of virtual reality arcade games.


Product failure

The Virtual Boy was a flop in the marketplace, for several reasons:

  • It was pushed to market before it was ready to fill in for the long delay in the development of the Nintendo 64. Not only was it rushed out the door, but the public was unwilling to spend so much money on what they saw as a stopgap videogame system, especially knowing the Nintendo 64 was coming shortly.
  • It was marketed as a portable system, but it was not as portable as gamers thought it should be. Due to its size and weight, the Virtual Boy was nearly impossible to use while in motion, and doing so could cause damage to the unit.
  • The console's box and manual warned that the display could cause eyestrain and eye problems, especially for those under 7 years of age. Despite having been added primarily for liability reasons, the warnings frightened away potential buyers. Those that did buy it suffered from headaches from short times spent playing games on the machine.
  • Many believed there was a poor selection of games available at launch, and very few software developers wanted to invest time and money in such a new, unproven gaming system. This led to a circular supply-and-demand problem, and resulted in a system with few games available. In total only 22 titles were available between the North American and Japanese markets.

Because of its failure on Japanese and American market, the console was never released in Europe and Australia. This contributed to a supply-and-demand problem (undersupply) for Nintendo products (especially Super Famicom and SNES games) in the middle of the '90s that existed mainly due to continuous delays of the Nintendo 64.

Technical information

The system does not have a full 384 x 224 array of LEDs as a display. It uses a pair of 1 x 224 linear arrays (one per eye) and rapidly scans the array across the eye's field of view using curved oscilating mirrors. These mirrors vibrate back and forth at very high speed (they are what produce the mechanical humming noise from inside the unit) and can be damaged if the Virtual Boy is hit, knocked over, or used while in rough motion (such as in a car). A full-size display, while mechanically simpler, would have increased the Virtual Boy's physical size and unit cost to the point where the system would become uneconomical. Every Virtual Boy game has the option to pause automatically every 15-30 minutes to remind the player to take a break, to prevent undue eye strain and possible headaches.

Monochrome display

A full color Virtual Boy was impossible to release in 1995, due to the fact that high-efficiency InGaN (indium gallium nitride) blue and green LEDs only became available from Nichia in 1996. While blue LEDs did exist before then, they were extremely inefficient, resulting in very low brightness. The Virtual Boy, which uses a oscilating mirror to transform a 1-D line of dots into a 2-D field of dots, requires high-performance LEDs in order to function properly. Because each pixel is only in use for a tiny fraction of a second (384 pixels wide, 50.2 Hz scan rate = approximately 52 S per scanline), high peak brightness is needed to make the virtual display bright and be comfortable for the user to view. Without the technology of high-efficiency blue and green LEDs, the Virtual Boy was limited to a red-only display.

Failure to live up to the hype

Hype surrounding the device before its release included public musings by Nintendo that the device might resemble a gun set vertical, projecting a 3D image in the air above it. The actual device was considered a disappointment compared to this description when it arrived.

  • '...the Virtual Boy produced very impressive 3-D effects, although the monochromatic graphic style proved to limit the appeal of the visuals.' - (NOA website) [1] (

Nonetheless the system continues to maintain a cult following, and a competitive market exists for second-hand units, with around 40 million system sales.

Console hardware specifications

  • Processor
    • NEC V810 (P/N uPD70732)
    • 32-bit RISC Processor @ 20 MHz (18 MIPS)
    • 1 MB of DRAM and 512 KB of PSRAM (Pseudo-SRAM)
    • 1 KB Cache
  • Display (x 2)
    • RTI SLA (P4)
    • 384 x 224 Resolution
    • 50.2 Hz Horizontal Scan Rate
  • Power
    • 6 AA Batteries (9 VDC) or AC Adapter (10 VDC)
  • Sound
    • 16-bit Stereo
  • Controller
    • 6 buttons and 2 pads
    • uses NES controller protocol
  • Serial Port
    • 8 pin cable
  • Hardware Part Numbers
    • VUE-001 Virtual Boy Unit
    • VUE-003 Shaft
    • VUE-005 Controller
    • VUE-006 Game Pak
    • VUE-007 Battery Pack
    • VUE-011 AC Adapter
    • VUE-012 Eye shade Holder
  • Weight
    • 760 grams
  • Dimensions
    • 8.5"H x 10"W x 4.3"D

Cartridge specifications

  • 128 megabit addressable ROM space (8-16 megabit ROM used in released games)
  • 128 megabit addressable RAM space (0-8 kilobyte Battery Backed RAM in released games)
  • 128 megabit addressable expansion space (unused in any released games)
  • Expansion interrupt available to the cartridge
  • Left and right audio signals pass through cartridge
  • 60-pin connector

See also

External links

es:Nintendo_Virtual_Boy fr:Virtual_Boy ja:バーチャルボーイ sv:Virtual_Boy


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