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TrackIR 5 Review

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TrackIR 5 Review

September 21, 2010

 

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Immersion.

 

It's what all flight simmers want for their games. To feel like you're part of the battle. To imagine ourselves as part of a real battle in a real world. To accomplish whatever mission we've chosen and to return our aircraft to home plate in one piece. We like our flight sims to be photorealistic. We like our aircraft flight models to mimics the real aircraft in performance. And sound, there's nothing like the sound of a Merlin engine. Those of us who have heard one for real appreciate it when our virtual P-51 put out the same dulcet tones. It helps us step into the game. Yes, immersion is what flight sim enthusiasts have wanted since we started flying the virtual skies. So we buy hardware, often the newest and most expensive in our quest to become one with the sim. We buy a larger monitor at better resolution. We buy faster processors and more powerful video cards. We throw an aftermarket sound card in and use 5.1 surround speakers. Or we buy a nice headset to replicate the sounds of the planes, weapons, radios, etc. We buy joysticks. We buy a HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick). We buy rudder pedals. We want to be Eddie Rickenbacker. Chuck Yeager. Robin Olds. All of these items helps get us closer to the dream that all of us have. To be a pilot. Commercial, private or fighter, it doesn't matter. We want to fly, as bad as the Wright brothers did.

 

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One of my earliest memories with any type of computer gaming was my grandmother's (then brand new) 386. Yeager's Air Combat was my holy grail. I flew the heck out of it with the keyboard. I'd fly with my face right up against that monitor, trying to spot enemy Messershmitts as far away as Chuck could. Yes, the graphics by todays standards were horrible but the game was enthralling for me. I felt like I was up against some of Germany's finest, doing my best to survive and to protect my wingmen. In those days it was as good as simming got. I spent hundreds of hours flying that sim, often all night and into the early hours of the morning. I was hooked. I went to the computer store and bought Jetfighter 2. The salesman at the store (being the fantastic salesman that he was) talked me into spending a goodly amount of money on a joystick. I couldn't wait to get home and plug it in. I'd hit the jackpot, those Messerschmitts never knew what hit them! I was twice as deadly with my new stick as I was with the keyboard. That's when the hardware race started for me. I speculate that many of you have similar stories. The joystick put me into the game even more so than I've ever been before. How many of you would even consider flying your favorite sim(s) and ditching your joystick/HOTAS? Me neither! No way am I taking that step back.

 

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TrackIR is immersion exemplified.

 

TrackIR has changed simming for me the same way my first joystick altered my experience. I compare it directly with flying your fave sim with the keyboard. I had the baddest joystick sold anywhere and it had an 8 way coolie hat. No way was this piece of equipment going to trump my snap view skills. Boy was I wrong! We rely primarily on sight to disseminate information that helps us complete our tasks. Even more so with computer games. TrackIR mimics how we look around and view the world. We don't "snap" our views to 3 or 9 o'clock in real life. We look around. Everything is fluid. So is TrackIR. You move your head and your in-game head moves as well. How much and how fast is completely up to you. I fly Flaming Cliffs 2 and the A10 sees alot of action. I am a killer on the virtual battlefield. And I have fantastic situational awareness because I'm able to look around just like I do in real life. I can make a gun run in the jet, pull 90 degrees off target and as I'm turning keep the target area in the center of my screen. And I don't even have to think about it. It's that simple.

 

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Hardware.

 

TrackIR consists of a transmitter/receiver (TrackIR Unit) and a reflector source (Track Clip). Light reflected off of the Track Clip is read by the TrackIR unit and it translates your head movements digitally into similar movements in game. TrackIR has a feature called 6DOF (Six Degrees of Freedom). If your game supports it (many new games do) you can turn your head right/left, up/down, tilt your head right/left and you can move your head forward/. All in your virtual cockpit. When in my trusty A10 I'm searching for targets I no longer have to change course to scan the battlefield for targets of opportunity. I can look around that HUD bracket. Or I can peer around my canopy frame to see that bad man in the Shilka trying to send 23mm death my way. In game,even in a hard bank you can keep the horizon level. No more feeling that your head is seatbelted in place in the pit. TrackIR is one more tool in our aresenal to immerse us in our game and to provide us with superior situational awareness. Every single person that I know (and fly with online) will leave a multiplayer game to start their TrackIR if they've forgotten to before joining a server. I have even teased a couple of my squaddies about leaving and told them "just fly without it". I won't repeat exactly what was said but it wasn't polite. Nope, once you've been bitten by the TrackIR bug you will NEVER go back. Ever.

 

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TrackIR 5 is the model I've been testing. This is the 5th incarnation and upgrade of their product line. I started with a TrackIR 2 and fell in love with it right off the bat. As time progressed the TrackIR 3 was announced, although I didn't upgrade. I secretly thought to myself "they're just upgrading like TV or stereo manufacturers do" and I thought I wouldn't see much of performance upgrade. So I passed on the v.3. Then TrackIR 4 was released. My unit was old and I had some extra cash so I upgraded. I also liked the new Track Clip, there would be no more messing around with those reflective dots! To this day I've never tried a v.3 unit, but the change from the 2 to the 4 was tremendous. It wasn't like a stereo or TV upgrade where the bezels were new but the guts were basically the same. Mind you, this revelation didn't really have the impact it has now since I've tried the TrackIR 5. Trust me on this folks, the 5 isn't just a repackaged upgrade from the 4. There is a noticeable difference. In this case I love to be proven wrong, the crew at Naturalpoint have done a fantastic job with this model. It has a wider field of view than the 4. It feels more refined than the 4 was. I'm not saying the 4 is a bad unit. I'm saying there's a difference between the two models along the lines of how the P-51D was improved over the P-51B. TrackIR 5 is more precise as well. I am using the current version of TrackIR software and I used the same profile that I was using with my TrackIR 4. I did alter my favorite profile as a result of a conversation between Erik (CA site owner) and the folks at Naturalpoint. They requested that I test the new unit with the smoothing slider dropped below 20. Mine was at 40. The reason behind this was that the new unit was so precise that too much smoothing can work against the data the unit it outputting and it can sacrifice precision. He went on to say that the quickness of the tracking might be hard to get used to at first, but in the long run that it will give the user way more control over the unit. I'm glad I was offered this bit of advice. My profile really came alive and I haven't adjusted any of curves in the software. Good call!! The unit tracks fast. As fast as you can move your head. Some of the older units felt like they had a bit of input lag to them, nothing that was a deal breaker because even the TrackIR 2 was a good unit. I equate the input lag to what you feel when you're playing a first person shooter with a wireless mouse. The corded mouse always feels more accurate, quicker to me. Some of you might not even notice it if you own an older unit.

 

Side by side comparison between the TrackIR 4 and 5 .

 

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Installation.

 

Mounting the hardware is a cinch. There is a three legged base for the Tracker Unit that articulates in a wide range of movement. Place the base where you intend to mount your unit and set the Tracker Unit on top. The Tracker is held in place magnetically. You can tilt the unit back and forth to fine tune where the Tracker is seeing the Track Clip. The Tracker Unit is attached to a USB cord, don't plug this in just yet. Software for the TrackIR is not included with the unit. Naturalpoint updates their software so often that they prefer you download it from their website, so you have the most current version. How many of us have bought a video card and thrown away the driver CD right away? I always do as the most current set of drivers are available online. The drivers aren't a large download so bandwith shouldn't be an issue for anyone. Installation is a breeze. Install the program you've just downloaded then plug in your TrackIR unit. It's that simple. TrackIR will run off of a USB hub as well. I recommend a powered hub. Placement of the TrackIR unit can be on top of your monitor, off to the side or even underneath your monitor. All you need is a clear line of sight from the Track Clip to the Tracker Unit. Some people have even turned the unit sideways and mounted it on the side of their monitor. This won't affect tracking as you can change the Tracker's aspect 90 degrees in the software. The Track Clip installs on the brim of a baseball cap. It's a friction fit. I tend to grab my ball caps by the brim and I was continually knocking off the Track Clip. So I punched two small holes where the brim meets the cap, on either side of where the Track Clip fits. I used a small zip tie to secure the Track Clip to my hat. It hasn't accidentally fallen off once!

 

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If you wear a headset and don't or can't wear a ball cap with it, Naturalpoint sells a unit called the Track Clip Pro. It's USB powered and it attaches to the head strap on your headset. It comes in black, white and red. You can buy the unit separately or bundled with a TrackIR 5.

 

Track Clip Pro in Black

 

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Software.

 

The first thing you want to do when you fire up your software is check for game updates. When Flaming Cliffs 2 was released there wasn't a default profile for it in the new TrackIR software. You had to make your own. Within a matter of a few weeks Naturalpoint did a game update that included the FC2 profile. The game updates are small and quick download, and you can do it right through the software. You can also choose to be notified of news updates regarding TrackIR. You can also option whether you want TrackIR to start when you boot up, whether to start it minimized or whether to keep it active in your taskbar.

 

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There are several tabs in the software that allow you to pick which profile will be your default profile, or whether you want one to be default for racing, flying, shooters, etc. TrackIR auto detects which game is active and will autoload that profile for you. It's possible to not to have to touch the software again once you have it configured. TrackIR knows if I'm playing ArmA 2 or Flaming Cliffs 2. If you don't like the default profile you can create your own. I took the default FC2 profile and modified it for my needs. You can choose to modify each axis in several different ways (one to one, smoothing, etc) and you can also change the curves of each axis independantly. To the novice this may seem a bit daunting, luckily Naturalpoint has done their homework and most people are satisfied using the default profile for the game that they're playing. You can change the hotkeys to toggle on/off the unit, to center and for "precision". Precision is like a slowed down version of tracking and it works well for when you're at extreme zoom. You can choose to not use an axis as well. I prefer to manually zoom in my pit so I have the Z axis disabled. Some games may use the same hotkeys as is default so you can choose for the TrackIR software to "trap" those keybinds. They won't be sent to the game. You can also change the hotkey assignments.

 

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For those that are new TrackIR owners I recommend you spend some time in the software using the head viewing option in the software. You'll have a solid shaped head that mimics your exact movements. Superimposed with that head is a wireframe head that will show you how far your in game head will travel in comparison. You can also choose several different views of your head. Back, side, top are all there.

 

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I found that this addition to the software gave me a better idea of what I wanted for my FC2 profile. I prefer just a tad of deadzone, and for the first 30 degrees of head travel I prefer only about 50 degrees of view change. I like to ramp up my curves as I turn my head farther to the side. Remember, you can do this for every axis so you aren't stuck with the same speed when looking up as you are side to side. The software is infinitely programmable to cater to anyone's needs. Lets say you have limited mobility in your neck the farther you turn your head to the right. You can adjust the right side curves of your X axis to counter that without affecting the left side curves.

 

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There's a speed control that will allow you to turn up or down the tracking rate. There's a smoothing slider that allows you to super fine tune that profile you've completed. You can adjust the intensity of the infrared LED's on the unit. You can adjust a filter to remove extraneous light that might interfere with the Track Clip. The Tracker Unit has LED's that show the user with a glance what mode it's in. One red LED left side shows the user the unit is active but not tracking and not in game. One red LED right and left side shows the user the unit is active, not tracking but is in game. One green LED left side shows unit active and tracking, not in game. Two green shows active tracking, in game. The software even allows you to dim the LED status lights if you like. Naturalpoint has thought of everything!

 

Specs.

 

# Raw Sensor Resolution: 640 x 480

# Reporting Resolution: 96,000 x 72,000

# Field of View: 51.7°

# Resolution/Horizontal Degree: 1850 subpixels/degree

# Sample Rate: 120 fps

# Size (without base): 2" x 1.5" x 0.57"

# Weight: 1.8 oz

# Response Time: 9 ms

 

Comparison

 

TrackIR allows you views from your virtual cockpit that you cannot achieve any other way. An example is the F-15 from Flaming Cliffs . You cannot see behind nor around the Aces II ejection seat no matter how hard you slew your view. Your coolie hat can't help you here. TrackIR can.

 

Stock view, slewed as far right as possible

 

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With TrackIR 5

 

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There's my wingman! Ahh, but what if it was a bad man in a Mig? You'd never know anything was wrong till your jet fell apart.

 

 

Bottom Line.

 

TrackIR 5 outperforms all previous TrackIR units. By a wide margin. Resolution is more than doubled, FOV is 20% larger. Subpixel resolution ten-fold. What does that mean to those of us that aren't stats junkies? It means that if you're able to upgrade from a 4 or were thinking about purchasing a TrackIR now is the time to do it. Price difference between the 4 and 5 is $50. Spend the $50. I promise you'll be happy you did. The TrackIR 5 is cheaper now than my 4 was when it was brand new. That's another reason to buy. TrackIR is supported by more and more games, 105 at last count. TrackIR isn't cheap. It's roughly the cost of a quality joystick/throttle combo. It's also a peripheral that will see as much use as a joystick or HOTAS setup is. In the importance of peripherals to get I rate it number two right behind a quality joystick. You won't be disappointed.

 

A few thoughts and ramblings.

 

The TrackIR takes a little bit of getting used to. Some users experience minor motion sickness until they get used to using the unit. I'm one of those that isn't affected by motion sickness but I did experience a bit of disorientation when I first started to learn how to use the TrackIR. It didn't last long and I have yet to hear of anyone who couldn't get over any disorientation. I had no idea I moved my head around as much as I did when I flew until I got my TrackIR. I got used to the unit very quickly (a couple of hours) and I haven't had any negative effects since. One of my closest friends had a check ride in an F-16, he had use the barf bag. He gets motion sickness, even in automobiles. He had very little trouble with the unit as well.

 

I've tested or used TrackIR in Lock On, Flaming Cliffs 1&2, Black Shark, ArmA 1/2/OA (Operation Arrowhead), TK's series of flight sims, Microsoft FSX the IL2 series of sims and Dirt 2. It works flawlessly in all. You can visit the Naturalpoint website (www.naturalpoint.com) to see if your sim or game is supported.

 

There's nothing else I can say except that TrackIR 5 is a MUST HAVE for anyone who is a serious gamer. The amazing thing about reviewing the TrackIR 5 is that I have no negative opinions on it. No negatives about the software either. I can't even think of a "wish list" item for Naturalpoint to add to a software upgrade. Not even the price is a con. It's cheaper than the TrackIR 4 was when it was first released. This is a first folks. I rate the Naturalpoint TrackIR 5, 10 out of 10 points.

 

Shot of my pit with TrackIR 5 active, this unit is a keeper!

 

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Good review Rugg, I feel bad for the poor sucker that puked on that F-16 ride. But I don't think it was much and he only gets sick in cars if he isn't driving and going around curvey hills. I feel like getting one right now after reading this!

Edited by Cali

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A well written and comprehensive review - I hope to be upgrading from 4 to 5 over the coming months.

 

For your info there was a big step going from Tir3 to Tir4 - the 4 was much easier to use, worked a lot better and was smaller.

 

 

This is almost as important edition as a joystick in combat simming.

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There were several improvements from the 3 to the 4 in addition to the expanded FOV, which the 5 again adds over the 4. The "Vector" upgrade that had to be purchased separately for the TIR3 came standard with the 4, plus the unit was so much smaller. I never used a TIR3, but I know someone who has one. They still use it, they bought it used from someone who'd upgraded to the 4.

Another nice thing about it--unlike a mouse, keyboard, HOTAS, or most any peripheral, other than plugging it in and setting it on the monitor there's no moving parts! Your unit just won't wear out from heavy use like a HOTAS can,

 

I'd earlier just written off upgrading to the 5 as a "don't need to" item, now it's moved into the "wish list".

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I wanted to say also that I've tried some of the other head tracking "solutions" out there over the years. The only thing I can say is that you should just pony up the cash and buy one. There's nothing out there that does the job as well as Track IR does.

 

Additionally, the friend I spoke of that had the check ride....................that's Cali.

 

And Cali, come on over and try it out.

Edited by Ruggbutt

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Uncleal makes a good point. You have to expect that a device that uses reflected light as a means of operation will be affected by other light sources. There are several adjustments in the TrackIR software that will allow you to fine tune LED output as well as reflector size. They're a filter of sorts which helps when you're in an environment that isn't dark or dim. I happen to have blinds on my office windows because I hate glare on my computer and touch screens. That also happens to be a bonus when using TrackIR. Nothing interferes with it in dim light. I equate the TrackIR unit to a seeker on a Sidewinder (AIM-9). It's best not to use it when you've got the sun pointed directly at the seeker head.

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Excellent review Ruggbutt.

 

I think everything you have said is true. I am a complete noob at the TrackIr system and decided a few weeks ago to get the 5. Im not having as much sim time as id like at the moment so I am still getting used to it, but so far it has been awesome. It just puts the immersion into a whole new level.

 

I would recommend this system to anyone who, like me. has never used trackir before. It was easy to set up, install the software and I have yet to have any issues with it.

 

As far as the motion sickness goes, I did have a slightly qeasy stomach after my first hour or two. Afterwards it was fine

 

Mike

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I use Track IR and have since the first version.

 

The system is solid and really makes a diff in game.

 

I later upgraded to TIR 3 and then to Vector. IMHO TIR3 w Vector still runs AOK and I see no immediate reason to spend another $150. It seems the Natural Point folks may agree as they have not upgraded the software for the TIR3 w Vector since July of 2009. The site reports that the version 5.1 software will support TIR3, but that appears to be a recorded announcement. TIR 5.0 was released in August of 2009.

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It seems the Natural Point folks may agree as they have not upgraded the software for the TIR3 w Vector since July of 2009.

I wouldn't expect that they'd update software for an outdated product. Is Microsoft still supporting ME?

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"No more feeling that your head is seatbelted in place in the pit."

 

I really want to get the new version, but I'm hung up on the following problem;

 

My tendencies from normal playing was to tilt my head left or right in turns to keep the horizon level while banking. I had a IRT2 unit, and found that it would interpret this motion as my head turning left or right, usually left, but would not go back to forward look. I ended up eating that device (not using it).

 

Does the TIR5 fix that old problem, or would I just have to learn not to tilt, or the dead zone adjust sounds like it would work?

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My tendencies from normal playing was to tilt my head left or right in turns to keep the horizon level while banking

In sims that support 6DOF (which is most of the new ones) if you tilt your head to keep level with horizon your virtual head will tilt and keep level with the horizon.

or would I just have to learn not to tilt, or the dead zone adjust sounds like it would work?

If you don't want to use the head tilt, you can always disable that axis. The first picture in this review shows me tilting my head to keep even with the horizon.

Edited by Ruggbutt

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After using TIR5, I feel that the alternatives I used to use (FreeTrack and FaceTrackNoIR) are laughable. They are good starter programs though.

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http://www.computerbild.ru/content/1358404860/gametrix-vtrack-mki-upravlyay-golovoy

Bought a Gametrix v Track MK1. Works fine in Wings of Pray. In Wings over Israel, but harder to configure. A manufacturer like a great headset for War Tunder. Sold for $83.

 

Bought a Gametrix v Track MK1. Works fine in Wings of Pray. In Wings over Israel, but harder to configure. A manufacturer like a great headset for War Tunder. Sold for $83.

http://www.computerbild.ru/content/1358404860/gametrix-vtrack-mki-upravlyay-golovoy

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I got mine, it's FANTASTIC!. Even though in SF2, it only works in cockpit views, weras in War Thunder it works in and outside. It's a huge fix from the TIR2 I had way back when.

 

One of the gimbals on the Trackclip Pro broke after about 2 weeks, and I wrote Natural Point's support center. They asked for a picture and the order or serial number, and the next day wrote back that a new clip was on the way! It took nearly 2 weeks to get it, but it arrived today. I don't even need to send the broken one back!

 

High praise to Natural Point!!

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I can't imagine playing any flight sim without 5.1 now.

I always used the trackclip that came with TRI5 but

got tired of wearing a hat. Got the Trackclip pro. Much

better without the hat, but I don't see that it works any

better. And the design of the locking clip really sucks.

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