It’s not every day that the flight sim community gets a new, high-end controller product introduced to the market (heck, its been nearly a decade), but this month sim controller producer Logitech has introduced a very nice product aimed squarely at the hard-core simulation hobbyist. And they’ve done it in style, allowing a fellow flight simmer to lead the design and development of their new product.
Mark Starrett is no stranger to flight sim controllers. Formerly with Saitek, Mark now works for Logitech, and a year ago he was placed in a leadership role to design and produce a sophisticated HOTAS system. For Mark this was a labor of love — for the past 15 years his gaming passion lies in combat flight simulation titles. Armed with a long wish-list of HOTAS features, Mark eagerly led every process in the product’s development to ensure it captured his vision of what a HOTAS rig should be. Mark broke down his product’s feature list by component:
Force feedback system with software being developed and optimized for upcoming flight simulations that can emulate pre-stall buffet, tire vibration, etc.
Non-contact magnetic position sensor offers precision and longevity as the parts don’t wear out like potentiometers.
Design based on research of real world HOTAS systems, incorporating best concepts from several systems.
The Joystick HOTAS controls include several buttons, a hat switch and a dedicated ‘mini-stick’ that incorporates an integral button. In addition there are three programmable “trim wheel” knobs that actually report as separate control axes on the stick system.
All other HOTAS component connectors daisy-chain into the joystick with plugs similar to those used on the G25 wheel. The joystick then connects to the PC via USB.
Split-throttle design allows for separate engine control on twin engine aircraft (if the game software supports it, e.g. LOMAC).
Incorporates a tension wheel on the bottom of the base, to allow players to tailor their throttle’s resistance (but not on the fly).
Eight back-lit buttons behind the throttle hand grips are fully programmable, and can be assigned different back lighting colors individually, AND they can change color when game situations change. Also, removable button covers allow for custom-made labels to be inserted, and a PDF configured for button-label-making is also provided with the HOTAS kit.
Throttle includes two 8-way hat switches and two programmable rotary controls.
Three-position program mode switch on throttle grip allows for on-the-fly mode changes
The Rudder Pedals
4 bar rudder linkage and steel bearings give the rudder movement a solid and precise feel.
Large, stainless steel foot plates with toe brakes give the rudder unit a look of military durability.
Tension knob between pedals allows users to adjust resistance to their preference.
Bottom of rudder unit has deployable rug-grabbers just like the G25 pedal base, as well as bolt grommets for hard-mounting to a simulator cockpit.
All three devices together give the virtual pilot 14 analog axes and over 250 programmable button positions (using three modes plus a shift button).
Mark fired up a desktop computer running LOMAC and IL-2 Pacific Fighters and Chunx, Joe and guod all took turns putting the A-10, SU-25 and P-38 through their paces with the G940 HOTAS. The three quickly lost track of time, and set about the task of exploring the various functions and responses of Logitech’s new product.
Overall, the entire SimHQ team appreciated the sturdy, stable feel of the joystick and throttle base units. With a wide stance and hefty-but-not-heavy feel, there was no tipping sensation at all with the joystick at full deflection, and even under heavy vibration the stick’s base unit stayed exactly where it was placed on the desk. Goud liked the placement of the hand rest on the outer edge of the joystick and felt it was positioned perfectly for comfort and control. The five rotary/trim wheels on the stick and throttle had a liquid-smooth action and crisp on-center detents that really gave the unit a feel of quality and precision. In fact, every moving part on the G940 system had a ‘just right’ feel to it, and the overall look of the unit simply screamed "quality".
We have noted some comments that express concern over the G940’s rudder pedal spacing. Chunx, Joe and guod all felt that there is absolutely no problem with the spacing between the two pedals; they are far enough apart to be comfortable. Joe did note that the pedal footplates seem wider than they are in other products, so it is possible that images of the product are misleading. Another thing Joe noted was some wiggle in the footplates in the plane of the plate (i.e. the motion you would get if you rotated your foot about the axis of your lower leg). Mark assured us that Logitech was aware of the issue, that we were dealing with beta hardware, and that everything that could be done to reasonably remedy the issue for the final product would happen.
Although Chunx thought the joystick’s resistance to motion felt a little on the light side (for HOTAS veterans, think more of a Fighterstick’s feel than a Cougar‘s), and the force feedback strength felt a little weak to Joe, Mark Starrett should be justifiably proud of his impressive new product. SimHQ eagerly plans to give the G940 a full review in the coming months, and we‘re sure there‘ll be a fight brewing to see what member of the staff gets this choice duty. The Logitech G940 Flight System will be available in September and will have an MSRP of about $300.
We met with an NVIDIA representative today that showed us two interesting products, one new and one existing.
The new product is the Ion, an incredibly small motherboard. It is powered by the NVIDIA 9400 chipset (the same chipset used in the MacBook and Mac Mini) and an Intel low-power-consumption CPU. The motherboard has the following integrated features:
This is a pretty standard list for onboard motherboard features these days, but the interesting point here is that NVIDIA has achieved all of these things in a motherboard that is only about 3”x5”. You can see a cardboard mockup of the board in the image below, along with a tech demo version of a computer built using the Ion. An entire computer, capable of running Windows 7 according to NVIDIA, is inside that black box.
Acer, a laptop company known for pushing the boundaries of portable and small-form-factor computer technology, has used the Ion platform in their new Aspire Revo computer. Looking decidedly like a Wii, the Aspire Revo has many of the Ion platform features in addition to a 7,200 RPM hard drive.
The existing product that NVIDIA showed us was their 3D technology. Up until the 8000-series GPUs, NVIDIA offered stereoscopic 3D support for many of their high-end graphics cards. This support, in the form of a stereoscopic 3D driver that installs on top of your normal video driver, allowed users to use simple anaglyph 3D (i.e. red/cyan glasses) or more advanced shutter glasses. The anaglyph solution is extremely affordable, but comes with the tradeoff of color saturation and shallow depth of field. The shutter glasses solution offered the best stereoscopic 3D there was, by rendering frames that were slightly different for the left and right eyes, and syncing the glasses to the display so that the correct eye only sees frames intended for that eye.
As LCD displays permeated the market, with their prevailing 60 Hz refresh rate, the ability to use shutter glasses disappeared. NVIDIA never even released stereo 3D drivers that supported the 8000-series GPUs. Recently, though, advances in LCD technology have given us 120 Hz displays. NVIDIA has welcomed the arrival of this technology and has developed the GeForce 3D Vision system. This are the first stereoscopic 3D shutter glasses marketed by NVIDIA directly, and the product is very nice. The glasses themselves communicate with the PC via and IR transmitter, and are powered via an integrated lithium ion battery. The battery provides about 120 hours of use before it needs charging. Charging is via USB.
We used the GeForce 3D Vision glasses with a Left for Dead demo. Sure, we were blasting zombies, but that’s not the point. The added dimension (literally) that these glasses add to gameplay is breathtaking. There are certain things that developers need to take care of inside their software (this makes things like HUD elements display at screen depth instead of showing in the game world), but for the most part any game can be used with stereoscopic 3D. It’s not a technology that can be shown in pictures or through video, however, so to see what it looks like you’ve got to try it out yourself.
Currently the GeForce 3D Vision is only supported under Vista. NVIDIA’s website states that support for other operating systems may be implemented based on user demand. We were also told by NVIDIA at E3 that new 3D drivers would be out soon, and they would support anaglyph 3D. The GeForce 3D Vision has an MSRP of $199.
Although the unveiling of the Alienware M17x performance laptop yesterday made a splash, there has been a constant crowd surrounding a very wide curved display nearby. A second display of this type is being used to demo DCS: Black Shark at the CH Products booth. The hardware is certainly impressive.
The Ostendo product is called the Curved Gaming Display, and it is a 2880x900 ultra-widescreen monitor. The display is driven by four LED-lit DLP rear projectors that achieve a 10000:1 contrast ratio. Each projector outputs a 1024x768 image rotated 90 degrees, and the projectors are aimed to overlap each other at the edges. The screen itself has a 4-foot radius of curvature and 43 diagonal viewing inches. The response time is 0.16ms (effectively zero), the refresh rate is 60 Hz, and the power draw is 200-225W. Input is via single-link DVI or HDMI.
When examining the Curved Gaming Display, light discontinuities between the projector sections are evident. However, when we met with Erhan Ercan, Senior Director of Product Marketing for Ostendo, we learned that the display is optimized for viewing at a sweet spot located between 24 and 36 inches from the center of the monitor. At this distance the display provides 90 degrees horizontal and 30 degrees vertical field of view. Sure enough, when we stepped up into the sweet spot ourselves, a great deal of the light discontinuity vanished. It was still visible, but it was much less distracting.
Below is a video of someone using the Ostendo Curved Gaming Display at the Alienware booth.
Although we briefly covered the Fanatec wheel for Xbox 360 yesterday, we had a detailed discussion with Thomas Jackermeier, Endor CEO, today. We learned a great deal about the 911 Turbo S force feedback wheel and its associated accessories.
Fanatec is offering three price points for their products. All are compatible with the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. The first product is the wheel by itself. The price is $200, and Xbox 360 or Logitech G25 pedals can be connected. This offers the intriguing possibility of using G25 pedals with the Xbox 360.
The second price point is $350, and includes the 911 Turbo S wheel, the standard Fantec pedals, a sequential shifter, a gated 6+R shifter, and a wireless RF dongle with a 30-foot range. These pedals are plastic, but there are three of them.
The final price point is $500. This includes all of the above except that the standard pedals are replaced with Clubsport pedals. The Clubsport pedals are an impressive technological device. First, they have vibration on the brake pedal, which means that locking up a wheel will results in brake pedal motion that can be felt. Thomas explained that, in rFactor, the brake pedal vibration is calculated by examining vehicle telemetry and comparing the car’s ground speed to each wheel’s rotational speed. Second, the clutch and throttle pedals use indestructible non-contact magnetic sensors for position reporting, which mean there are no pots that can wear out and/or spike.
Third, the brake pedal contains a load cell, which is a device that measures applied force. This means that braking force in your racing title is conveyed through true brake pressure (not brake travel), as it is in a real car. The force at which the brakes report maximum application is user-selectable, allowing a stiff pedal or a soft pedal. A block of specialty foam gives the pedal a realistic small amount of travel. Clubsport pedals are the first commercially available product to offer a load cell brake pedal. Finally, the pedal plates are adjustable in many ways. Thomas said that, for example, the pedals could be moved closer to or farther apart from one another, or the brake could be moved closer to the driver to facilitate heel & toe technique.
Since the 911 Turbo S wheel works with multiple platforms, it contains a nice feature wherein appropriate lights illuminate on the buttons so that their labels are indicated. When the wheel is connected to an Xbox 360, “A”, “B”, “X”, “Y”, etc. backlights illuminate. When the wheel is connected to a PS3, circle, square, triangle, etc. backlights illuminate. When used on PC, all backlights are off.
In total the wheel has ten buttons, a D-pad, and two paddle shifters, totaling 16 programmable positions. The force feedback is via belt drive and uses belts made in the UK and sourced for life support equipment; according to Fanatec they will not stretch. The wheel contains a built-in LCD; this can be used to adjust wheel response on-the-fly, and in titles where there are no software adjustments, this is the only way to adjust game response.
Joe was given the opportunity to drive Forza 3 using the Xbox 360 wheel and the Fanatec wheel with Clubsport pedals back-to-back. The difference is absolutely night and day. The Fanatec product has no detectable deadzone, extremely resistive steering motion (this can be adjusted per user preference), and an extremely smooth response. Driving the exact same track and car with the two different wheels was more different than driving different tracks and cars with the same wheel. SimHQ hopes to receive a Fanatec 911 Turbo S wheel and Clubsport pedals for a full review.
We found a new, easy to use wheel and pedal stand called the Xlerator Wheel Stand. It tilts forward to the ground for storage, and you simply pull it up to you while sitting on the couch to use it. It has two medal handle bar type ends that rest on the couch or chair on which you’re sitting, making it easy to use your racing wheel in a living room environment. It wasn’t as secure or steady as other stands, but it is functional.
We met with Jason Johnson, the head of creative development for Split Fish Gameware. He showed us a great new mouse/controller device called FragFX for the PS3. Magnum got some time on it playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and the device was fantastic, truly incredible, and very functional. He had some of the best kill scores in the game, and he believes it was because of the mouse/controller device used on this console. They’re working with Microsoft to try to bring the FragFX to the Xbox 360, but that’s proving to be a little difficult due to Microsoft, as usual. But if you play shooters on the PS3, we highly recommend that you check out this device.
We discussed D-box motion platforms yesterday, but we didn’t have any video with flight titles. Below is a video showing someone flying Tom Clany’s HAWX on PC, using an Xbox 360 controller. Unfortunately that’s the best flight title that D-box is showing on their platform. D-box does recommend a 3-actuator platform for best results with a flight sim, because the added motion will enhance the feeling of flight better.
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