by Tom “20mm” Hayden
A familiar phase says that good things come in small packages. True for things like diamond rings, but what about tiny technology, in particular the new TrackIR 4 Pro just released by NaturalPoint? We’re going to take a look at this little gizmo and do some comparisons between it and it’s older, larger sibling, the TrackIR 3 Pro with Vector Expansion.
TrackIR is really revolutionary in playing computer simulations, and it’s evolution has been quite rapid. Just within the last year or so, we’ve seen the TrackIR 3 Pro (TIR3), then the Vector Expansion (also known as Vector Pro) add-on for the TIR3, and now the TrackIR 4 Pro (TIR4) with built-in 6 Degrees of Freedom (6DOF), which is what Vector Pro is all about.
For those not familiar, TrackIR is the remarkable engineering that transfers the movement of your head into similar view motion on a monitor playing your favorite simulation. The TIR3 enabled you to look up and down, and side to side, two axis motion. With the Vector Pro, which is the software upgrade and a metal clip attached to your cap or headset, you get those two axis, plus tilting side-to-side, leaning left and right, lifting up and down, and zooming in and out. If I counted all my axis correctly, that’s six, and they’re really something you have to experience.
Imagine looking out the side of your favorite tail-dragger aircraft and seeing the runway, or lifting up out of your seat and taking a look over the hood of your Shelby GT350 to better see that dip in the track ahead, or moving your face up closer and actually zooming in on that cockpit MFD so you can better see the bogeys like fireflies.
All of this is possible by way of a small sending/receiving unit that looks to me like a robot with electric red, green, and blue eyes and three small reflective squares on that metal clip I mentioned. If you have just the two axis, without Vector Pro , you only need one reflective square or dot. NaturalPoint previously made their caps with a built-in reflective square on the brim for this purpose, or you could just peel off one of the adhesive dot papers they supplied and stick it on a cap or on the middle of your forehead for that matter. Some people would forget the dots were there, which was slightly embarrassing if you had to get up and go answer the door when the pizza delivery man arrived and had this thing stuck on your forehead.
I believe in TrackIR, so much so that I couldn’t envision playing flight simulations, especially combat flight sims, without it. I was never even decent at using padlocking. It was more hazardous to my health by way of ground collisions than the enemy aircraft were. With TrackIR, all I do is look in the direction of the object I want to follow, than move my head naturally as it’s position changes and keep it in view. Lose sight, lose the fight is another familiar phrase in air-to-air combat parlance and anything that helps you with that is good.