Turning The Virtual Boy Into A Handheld Console

The Virtual Boy, Nintendo’s most infamous failure, was plagued by several issues. The most glaring problem was the red monochrome stereoscopic display technology which gave many users a headache after even a short time playing, but it’s sky-high price and extremely limited library of games kept many prospective buyers at bay as well. There was also the issue of portability: unlike the Game Boy it was named after, the Virtual Boy barely qualified as a portable system due to the fact it needed to be set up on a table to use.

But now, thanks to the tireless efforts of [Shank], at least a few of those issues have been resolved. He’s built the world’s first truly portable Virtual Boy, which swaps the system’s troubled 3D display for a modern IPS LCD panel. The custom handheld, designed to merge the Virtual Boy’s unique aesthetic with the iconic styling of the Game Boy Advance, looks like it came from some alternate timeline where Nintendo decided to produce a cheaper and less cumbersome version of the system rather than abandoning it.

While the work [Shank] has put into the project is unquestionably impressive, it should be said that it took the efforts of several talented hackers to create the handheld Virtual Boy. The key component that made the modification possible in the first place is the VirtualTap by [Furrtek], which not only provides the VGA output that’s driving the LCD panel, but fools the system’s motherboard into believing the servo-actuated stereoscopic display is still connected and active.

It’s also using the open source power management board that [GMan] originally developed for his own portable N64, [Bassline] chipped in to cast the custom buttons and D-pad in translucent resin, and [Mitch 3D] put an untold number of hours into printing and reprinting the system’s multicolored enclosure until it came out just right.

All the little details of the final system, which [Shank] calls the Real Boy, put this project into a league of its own. Special combinations of button presses allows the user to change the color of the display, should you get sick of the infamous red-tint. The buttons also have RGB LEDs behind them that correspond with the color scheme of the display itself, for that extra bit of gamer cred. He even made sure to include the system’s original link port, despite the fact that no officially released game ever made use of it.

Our first run in with [Shank] was when he demoed a portable Wii built into a mint tin. It made for a pretty pitiful gaming experience, but the project demonstrated his dedication to seeing a project through to the end. Watching his skills improve over the last few years has been inspiring, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

[Thanks to NeoTechni for the tip.]

9 thoughts on “Turning The Virtual Boy Into A Handheld Console

      1. honestly you dont really need to use something special here most likely. If you interlace left and right eye images together and use just a static parallax “filter” on top of the screen, you could probably achieve something good enough for the virtual boy. Ive seen people do this by just printing parallel lines on acetate. If you get the correct spacing and thickness in the lines, it can work fine. The benefit of the dynamic parallax barriers using an LCD, is that it can be turned off or tweaked for your preferred viewing distance etc.

    1. At one point in the video he mentions that this should be possible, but probably requires an FPGA and is beyond where his current skills are. But maybe down the line.

      1. Ah. I didn’t watch the video when I made that comment, and now I just learned that he used actual VB hardware, which makes this project vastly more impressive! I also now understand why using a stereo display would be a lot more challenging.

  1. When the Virtual Boy came out we tried it out in stores and it was impressive. Impressive they missed the mark so badly. It was like playing a 15 year old (1980) 3D vector graphics arcade game. Sure it was more portable but the graphics and ergonomics were as bad as the periscope on Battlezone.
    It’s not that the Virtual Boy is obsolete because 25+ years have passed, it was hopelessly dated on the first day of release.

    BTW – great hack. I love seeing display stuff on here because that was my old job. (HDMI, eDP, and DSI controller driver development and Si validation)

    1. I only previewed part of the video but it sounds like Nintendo set themselves up for failure by cutting R&D money and removing developers. If they hadn’t maybe these would’ve come out in a lot better shape.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.