A couple months ago, I was looking for information on what it’s like to get your VB display ribbons repaired by mail. I just wanted to take a second to talk about my experience, in case anyone else is looking.
About ten years ago, I found a Virtual Boy on top of a heap of junk at a flea market. I tried to talk the owner down, but he absolutely would not take any less than $15. It was still ridiculously cheap, and is definitely one of the greatest secondhand bargains of my life.
When I popped in the six AA batteries and powered it up, though, only the righthand display was working. There was no image in the left eyepiece. I went to the internet for help, and that’s when I learned about the ribbon problem.
For the next month, I was obsessed with getting the VB open so I could try the oven fix. I ordered a shitty gamebit off eBay. I managed to remove about four screws before the bit was stripped bare. I got frustrated and gave up. I ended up not touching my VB for nearly a decade.
A couple months ago, I found myself with a few extra AAs, and I remembered the Virtual Boy. I expected that whatever was wrong with it ten years ago would be even worse by now, but when I powered it up, I was amazed: it was working perfectly. Over the next few days I played probably 20 hours of Mario Tennis. I spent $100 ordering more games on eBay. I felt like I was 10 years old again, except this time I could have all the VB gear I wanted. Take that, mom and dad.
After a couple weeks, though, whatever semi-magical force* had revived my VB was wearing off. First the left eye started showing intermittent glitches, and then after a few more days it was virtually unplayable. This time, I wasn’t going to bother with the oven method. I was going to get some professional help.
As soon as the VB stopped working properly, I got in touch with H.P. Lovethrash. For anyone who doesn’t know—or who has found this post on Google—H.P. is a member of these forums who, for a fee, will allow you to mail him your VB displays for repair. He uses solder to attach the ribbons to the display PCBs, which is thought to be a longer-lasting and more reliable repair than the oven method.
Dealing with H.P. was very low-stress. We arranged the whole thing by email, with about a week’s worth of back-and-forth. I don’t want to say what his price was, because he may decide to change it at some point. But I thought it was very fair.
To disassemble my VB this time, I ordered a new gamebit screwdriver (a picture of it is below). Unlike the disappointing gamebit I was using back in 2006, this one seems like it’s made of actual steel. It had no problem accessing and turning those infamously tricky recessed screws. The same VB that had stymied me for a decade was in pieces in about five minutes. I used a magnetic #0 Phillips screwdriver to get the displays off their mounts.
The single most nerve-wracking aspect of this entire transaction, for me, was shipping. I’ve heard of people using cottony cloth or bubble wrap to protect the displays in transit, but neither of those options sounded safe to me. I was worried about electrostatic discharge damaging the circuitry, so I called around to local laptop repair places until I found a guy who was willing to give me some static-shielding bags for free. The bags were designed for 2.5-inch hard drives. I folded them in half and they fit the VB displays perfectly. Once the displays were snug in the bags, I wrapped them in about ten layers of bubble wrap, put them in a cardboard box, and mailed them to H.P.
From start to finish, the whole repair process took about two and a half weeks: one week to ship to H.P, a few days for him to do the repair, and then another few days for return shipping. A picture of what I found when I opened the package is below (displays-zoom-out.jpg).
Nintendo built these displays using a $10 million piece of machinery. H.P. remanufactured them with nothing but some gumption and a soldering iron. I was very impressed with his handiwork.
It took me about 15 minutes to get everything reinstalled. I powered up the system, and it worked flawlessly on the first try. It is, as far as I can tell, completely repaired.
I’ve attached some close-ups of what H.P. did, below.
You can see where the plastic part of the ribbon has been stripped away, exposing bare copper underneath. I’m a little concerned that some of the copper that’s still exposed will eventually corrode—but exposed traces seem unavoidable with this type of repair. And if it extends the life of the VB even a little bit, it will have been well worth it.
Is it permanently fixed? I’ll let you know in another ten years. In any case, I’d recommend H.P.’s services to anyone with VB display problems.
*My theory is that the heat and humidity in my non-air-conditioned apartment may have caused the glue on the ribbons to regain some of its stick, temporarily.
I just got four of my displays (yes, I’m an addict) back from HP Lovethrash last week, and they work great. Four of the six I sent him had the ribbons completely detached and he was able to put them back on. They work like a charm and I’ve got two units up and running now, meaning I’m primed and ready to do some development with that link cable DogP sent me…
Man, this is gonna be a great year for PVB. I’m actually doing stuff again! (-:
Woot, good to hear Guy!
I also got a pair of displays repaired by HP. Good communication, his turn around time/price is very reasonable, and he does a good job. Highly recommended!
Thanks for the kind words everyone :). I’m glad to help resurrect all these Virtual Boys, since I myself had to shelve the system for quite a while before I got into the repair business.
My apologies to anyone I’ve taken a while to respond to recently about repairs- things have been a little hectic around here, and I’ve spent a lot of time traveling in areas where modern internet connectivity doesn’t exist. BUT I should be back in the game now!