This Modder Converted a Virtual Boy Into a Handheld Console

We're lucky to have access to several high-quality virtual reality (VR) headsets today. But there were several attempts at VR in the past. A handful of rather gimmicky VR systems were setup in malls and video arcades, but Nintendo's Virtual Boy was the first console capable of displaying stereoscopic 3D graphics. It was also a massive flop. Nintendo only sold 770,000 Virtual Boy units, compared to more than 32 million units for the Nintendo 64 that hit the market just a year later. Despite their rarity, Shank Mods managed to get a broken Virtual Boy motherboard. He used that to build what is likely the world's first Virtual Boy handheld console . Shank got this Virtual Boy motherboard from another modder who managed to fry one of the display drivers. The Virtual Boy had two displays—one for each eye. Each display was a one-dimensional array of LEDs that reflected off of a pivoting mirror. As the mirror swung back and forth at 50 times per second, the display driver modulated the LEDs to create a 2D image. Because each eye had its own display, those 2D images created the illusion of 3D VR graphics . But Shank had no intention of displaying 3D graphics with this handheld, so it wasn't a problem that one of the display drivers was damaged. Another modder, Furrtek, designed an adapter board called VirtualTap . That lets anyone extract video from one of the Virtual Boy's display drivers as a VGA signal. Shank used that board to feed a small 4.3” LCD screen. With the video sorted, he moved onto the controls. He could have connected buttons directly to the original Virtual Boy motherboard, but he wanted those buttons to serve other functions, such as swapping display color palettes. To achieve that, he wired a microcontroller inline between the buttons and the motherboard. That intercepts button presses and passes them along to the motherboard, unless it sees specific button combos. In that case, it will perform whatever function Shank programmed. He can, for example, press a button combo to adjust the screen brightness. Shank then ditched the original AA batteries in favor of a lithium-ion battery pack. A small board intended for portable N64 builds manages the battery and power. Another off-the-shelf board takes care of the audio output. Finally, Shank was able to design the case in Autodesk Inventor CAD. This 3D-printed enclosure retains the Virtual Boy's iconic black and red color scheme, but in a far more compact form factor. Shank also designed several custom PCBs to keep the case as thin as possible. Even the buttons were custom-made in translucent resin to allow LEDs to shine through. The results are absolutely spectacular. The console still accepts real cartridges (or modern flash carts), but those games no longer cause 3D graphics-induced headaches.

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