Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nuby Game Light - Best Contemporary Light Source for the Game Boy

The Nuby Light alongside the Game Boy
The Game Boy was better than its competitors in many ways, more compact, longer battery life, better sound (against Game Gear), more buttons (against Game Gear), higher resolution (against Lynx), lower price, first to market, superior pack-in game.  Otherwise, the screen was its achilles heel : poor contrast, four color monochrome, difficulty in displaying fast moving objects and non back-lit.

Today we have mods that can fix most of the Game Boy's screen problems.  Backlight kits can be installed and the contrast issues can be dramatically improved with a bivert mod.  However, these innovations were not available during the monochrome Game Boy's official lifespan (1989-2003).  You had to put up with the screen, and the best you could do was either buy a light peripheral or play your games on the non-portable Super Game Boy.




There are problems with the mods currently available.  The backlight requires peeling off the reflective and polarizing layers off a Game Boy's screen, and as I have found out, if you screw it up you can destroy the screen.  The various colors of the backlight kits rarely come close to matching the pea-soup green color of the real Game Boy screen.  The backlights require soldering, routing wires and do not give perfect uniformity to the screen.  The bivert mod requires a backlight or the video will be displayed in an inverted fashion. Game design had to account for the slow refresh rate and poor contrast of the passive matrix display.

If you want an authentic,optimal lighting experience for your Game Boy, you need a Nuby Game Light.  The Nuby is an officially licensed 3rd-party product.  It is a window attached to a battery pack.  Inside the window ares two LEDs, one on each side of the screen.  The battery pack takes 4xAA batteries connected in series, not parallel.  

The Nuby Attached to the Game Boy
The Nuby slides over the Game Boy's screen and is held in place by two ridges at the top of the Game Boy.  The fit is tight.  The Nuby will not fit over a Game Boy Pocket or Color, Nuby released separate products for those systems.  The battery back gives a very right   When you turn the switch on, the LEDs bathe the screen in white-yellowish light. The insides of the plastic window use glossy white plastic to give some reflective capability.

Fitting the batteries inside the Nuby is a bit of a struggle.  The polarity labels are difficult to see because they are raised plastic.  Getting the fourth battery in may require some force.  I tried some rechargeable batteries and they were a bit too wide to fit comfortably or remove without a butter knife.  You also need to push the batteries down hard to get the cover back on.  Try as I might, I cannot get the cover to snap perfectly into place when the batteries are installed in my Nuby.  A little bit of the cover's lip protrudes out, but the cover is on tight.

The Nuby and its batteries add substantially to the weight of the Game Boy.  With the Nuby with its batteries, my Game Boy weighs 17.3oz.  Without the Nuby, my Game Boy weighs 12.2oz.

The Nuby in low-ambient light
When you turn on the Nuby, the LEDs gave an hourglass shape to the light.  The top and bottom edges and the middle of the screen are less bright than the left and right sides.  Moreover, the glow does give a reflection of the plastic on all four edges, making it harder to see pixels in those areas.  Later lights for the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance would focus the light on the center of the screen, and the glare from the light tended to make games unplayable.

The Nuby's bulk and its cutting off of the screen's edges makes it only useful when the ambient light is insufficient to see the screen.  You can play your Game Boy in the dark with a Nuby, but you may not play as well because of the non-uniform lighting and the glare that tends to obscure each edge of the screen.

The Nuby in darkness
Even though the Nuby is not a perfect product, it is still better than its competitors.  It is sturdily built, unlike some of the junky magnifier units sold for the Game Boy.  I owned a Light Boy (from Vic Tokai), http://www.thevintagegamers.com/2013/11/game-boy-screen-magnifiers/, which was a magnifier with an LED, when I was younger.  The Light Boy's LEDs simply were not bright enough and paled in comparison to the Nuby's LEDs.  The Nuby's LEDs are extremely close to the Game Boy screen whereas the Light Boy and other magnifier lights are further away, significantly reducing the amount of light hitting the screen.

Nuby also bundled the light with a separately-attached magnifier and called it the Nuby Light Plus.  I have never understood the need to magnify the screen.  Magnifiers tend to make the screen darker and the graphics more pixelated. It also made a stereo speaker adapter called the Nuby Amplifier, but when the speakers are so close, you cannot get good stereo separation.  The speakers sound distorted at higher volumes.  There is a version of the Game Light for the Game Boy Pocket.

Even though the Nuby is rather bulky to modern eyes, there were much more ostentatious devices such as the Handy Boy, which had the light, magnifier, stereo speakers which folder out to the sides of the Game Boy and a controller button overlay.  An even more enveloping product was called the Game Boy Mini-Arcade (it went by more than one name).  Finally, even Konami got into the act with the Hyperboy, which turned your Game Boy into a Coleco-style mini-arcade complete with a switchable 8/4-way joystick! Compared to the Nuby, all these devices are enormous, bulky, use more batteries and just are not as good as a fit for the handheld perfection that is the Game Boy.

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