The Virtual Boy is a RISC-based 32-bit system, which produces high-resolution red 3D images against a deep black background using two mirror-scanning LED (Light Emitting Diode) displays. The 3D experience is enhanced through stereo sound and a new specially-designed, double-grip controller that accommodates multidirectional spatial movement. It is powered by either six AA batteries or a seperately sold AC-adapter.
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 mirrors. These mirrors oscillate 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.
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 oscillating 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 µs 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.
Besides the regular US and japanese versions of the Virtual Boy, there were also special ones sent to stores together with the store displays. They came in different packagings to make sure they were not sold as retail. There are two known versions of those display systems, there’s a US one in a white box labeled
“VUE S RA
VIRTUAL BOY™ W/O SOFTWARE
FOR INTERACTIVE DISPLAY
MADE IN JAPAN”,
which content does not differ to a regular system besides the box and missing pack-in game and battery pak though, and a japanese one with a box looking similar to the retail version, but showing a monochrome, pixeled Virtual Boy. The manual of the system has the same cover and some little differences in it as well, but other than that, the content of the box is the same as the retail system. There also exist AC Taps with the “mosaic” box.