Tactical Gamer proudly presents our round-robin review of NaturalPoint's TrackIR 5. TrackIR 5 is the latest in the lineup of TrackIR products that allow gamers to literally use head movements to look around in a game. Allowing superior situational awareness over a plain mouse and keyboard setup TrackIR 5 becomes essential to flight simulators and tactical first-person shooters.
This is a round-robin review with contributed content from Wicks, Dredge, Warlab, and myself (Acreo Aeneas). We have tried to be as thorough and complete in our review as possible, but given time constraints and the sheer number of games that support the TrackIR 5, we were only able to cover the use of the TrackIR 5 in a few select titles.
|Head Positions Tracked||6 Axes (6 DOF)|
|Horizontal Field of View||51.7 degrees|
|Sample Rate (FPS)||120|
|Raw Sensor Resolution||640 x 480|
|Sub-pixel Resolution||1/150th pixel|
|Reporting Resolution||96,000 x 72,000|
|Resolution/Horizontal Field of View Degree||1850 subpixels/degree|
|Unit Dimensions (without base)||0.57" deep
|USB Cable Thickness||2.5mm|
The unit comes in a plain white box that's a bit larger than frustration-free packaged TrackIR 5 it contains. The unit originally shipped from Salem, Oregon on a Thursday morning and arrived at my Chicago doorstep Tuesday afternoon. In all, shipping time was quick taking only about four days. It shipped via FedEx and came with a tracking number.
Once you open up the white cardboard box, you'll see a packaging slip (order details) and the typical clear plastic packaging with the TrackIR 5 unit visible in the top center. Thankfully, the packaging here is not the typical frustratingly hard to open type, but rather very quick and painless. Both sides are taped together with Scotch tape and there's a small sticky ball on the inside that keeps the box from flapping open even without the taped sides.
Once you open the plastic packaging, you'll find the unit in a recessed nook in the top end, the cable leading down to the bottom, the advertisement inserts, and the other parts of the package. In all, you should have the TrackIR 5 unit with a 6 ft cable USB cable, a stand, and a black TrackClip (the reflective hat brim clip-on).
The device itself is fairly small, measuring only two inches across, one-and-a-half inches in height, and about half an inch in depth. The six foot USB cable is already permanently attached to the unit with adequate stress reliefs at each juncture. The front of the unit is covered by a clear shiny plastic face. You can clearly see the eye catching red PCB on the back and the sides have two clear plastic ports with LEDs in them.
Setup and Installation
Setting up the unit and installation is pretty straightfoward. The package comes with almost everything you would need to get up and running. There's even a detailed instruction pamphlet on how to get it all working. The only thing missing is a baseball-style cap to attach the TrackClip to. The stand snaps onto the bottom of the unit. With the adjustable rubberized feet, I could quickly mount it on the top center of my monitor.
Now that we have the unit set up on my monitor, all I needed was a baseball-style cap. Here I used an old cap I had laying around the house and clipped the TrackClip to the front brim. I spent a little time making sure I had the TrackClip centered and then also centered on my head.
With both of those things set up, I now moved onto getting it plugged in and configured. All I had to do was go online to the NaturalPoint TrackIR website and download the latest version of the software. Once downloaded, I opened it up and was presented with a slew of options and even have a live head tracking grid that lets you test it out to get used to it. The TrackIR 5 lights up beautifully as I move my head about while configuring the options to my tastes.
ARMA 2 Testing
With the unit set up and configured, I proceeded to launch ARMA 2 (Armed Assault 2: Combined Operations) to test it out and play on our Bravo server. For the most part, you can begin using the TrackIR 5 immediately without any in-game control customizing. Some might want to go back-and-forth between the game and the TrackIR software to adjust the sensitivity to one's liking. Considering the multiple roles you can play in ARMA 2, we've broken down our experiences into five sections: Infantry Play, Vehicle Play, Aircraft Play, Situational Awareness, and Stealth.
Lets look first at infantry play. The impact is immediate. Without TrackIR, looking around can be a pain at times and can even restrict your movement. Wicks had used the 'free look' option in Arma, bound to a key, to play as infantry. I, however, used to turn left and right while moving to "look" around. While Wicks's solution allowed him to look around while moving, mine restricted me to strafing while looking and often times slowed me considerably. Both of these methods were cumbersome, somewhat counter intutive, and had many other limitations. It was instantly apparent that Track IR both removes said limitations and once adjusted to is extremely intuitive.
One of my first thoughts is how much more connected to the game and game world I instantly feel. I am struck by the new level of physicality. I am much more aware of my physical presence in the game space. As I move around, I naturally adjust to obstacles and shift position according to my enviroment, not my key bindings. My movement is smoother and more natural due to my ability to look around. I find myself looking before I move, just like I would in real life.
It is somewhat hard to describe but the game enviroment feels so much more three-dimensional. My view is no longer locked into where my body and weapon points. This much more natural body position, where I am carrying a weapon instead being dragged around by it actually allows me to survey my enviroment and then point the weapon where I need it. It feels logical and within a short time it becomes muscle memory and you do it because it 'makes sense'.
I too agree with Wicks impression that you feel more involved with the game and game world with TrackIR than you do with just a plain old keyboard and mouse. For me, I had to spend several hours unlearning and trying not to swivel side-to-side and instead look around with my head. Just like Wicks, after a while, it becomes second nature, and my head whips to the side when I hear a explosion to my right or to check on a squad mate as rounds fly past my head.
After a while, I found I played better if I restricted the TrackIR 5 to just allow me to turn my head and lean. Otherwise when I fidgetted around in my seat, I would start zooming in and out in-game. At one point, this started causing me motion sickness and played havoc with my ability to aim and shoot. Perhaps the most invaluable addition to infantry play is my ability to lean while moving. This was something I couldn't easily do while moving from cover to cover before. Now I could move towards a corner while staying behind the cover of a wall and lean to the side so I could peer past and potentially shoot at any enemies approaching the corner.
With TrackIR, vehicles like the ATV and Humvee are more natural to drive. You can easily look around, side-to-side, and backwards just like you can in real life driving these vehicles. There's even a added benefit of better situational awareness while on a mounted weapon in a vehicle.
Unlike my lack of skill with aircraft, I feel comfortable enough behind the wheel of most vehicles. I spent a few hours driving various vehicles, but remember having the most fun behind a tank and ATV. Driving a tank with TrackIR helps so much. I can pop open the blast canopy so I can look out while driving. Here I had to tweak my TrackIR settings again so I could zoom by simply leaning forward or backwards in my seat. It's a huge time saver when I'm trying to spot enemies on a hill or just want a closer look at upcoming terrain. Both of these, I feel, are crucial to any tank driver or ATV driver. While in the ATV, I could quick look behind me or look side-to-side to help spot potential enemies laying in the tree line or bushes waiting to ambush my squad and I. As a gunner in a Humvee, it affords me to ability to look around while suppressing an enemy. This is something I struggled with before as I would have to stop my suppressive fire to look around. With TrackIR, I could do both and not have my squad leader yelling at me for the lack of supportive fire.
Whether you are a pilot, gunner, or just a passenger, we felt the aircraft play in ARMA 2 was markedly improved with the addition of the TrackIR 5. Most notably, we could now fly and look around or shoot while looking around.
I have long heard of the advantages of using TrackIR as a pilot in both ARMA and flight sims so I was looking foward to trying it for myself. Whilst I am no expert pilot, it became apparent very quickly how much using TrackIR improves your ability to fly. I was impressed by how natural it felt to be able to check my surroundings whilst flying and orientate myself, simply by turning my head. It was all very intuitive and natural.
Flying became much more pleasurable as I was able to judge the aircraft's position relative to its surroundings more easily. In fact, it wasn't long before it became second nature to constantly check above and below the aircraft and to each side. Difficult landings became much less of a guessing game as I was able to confirm clearances and adjust accordingly. Again, effective and incredibly immersive.
With my inability to fly, my experiences with the TrackIR in aircraft have been mainly restricted to the passenger side of helicopters. I found I could easily look around hanging out the side of a chopper (like the Little Bird) or turn my head to talk to fellow team mates while my hands and arms could take a rest.
Situational awareness, as many ARMA 2 veterans will atest to, is crucial and important. This is especially true when one plays in the infantry role or one are working on stealth or infiltration missions. With just a plain keyboard and mouse setup, we found we were constantly moving our mice rapidly back-and-forth all over our desks or even getting up just to look behind us. This was frustrating at times and infuriating at other times. With TrackIR 5, we were giddy at the prospect of not having to constantly move our mouse about, use the free look keybinds, or giving away our position by getting up.
It enhances your awareness and provides much needed freedom especially while flying. Being able to look at where you are landing or check on your squad while keeping your weapon up and ready is the best advantage one can have.
Perhaps the greatest advantage Track IR provides is enhanced situational awareness. As I hold at a corner of a building I am able to look freely around, above, below, to my left and right. My weapon remains at my shoulder, ready to be used and scoped in, yet I am able to survey my surroundings.
It quickly becomes apparent that this is a major advantage over the 'scope locked' situation. As I pass doorways whilst advancing with my rifle at the shoulder I am able to check openings. I spot enemies as soon as they enter my possible field of view. I hear a sound and without taking my front sight off target I am quickly able to glance in that direction and assess.
Like Wicks, my own situational awareness improved greatly. I am able to do so much more as a infantryman, vehicle driver, and even a gunner. With the ability to lean and move as a foot soldier, I could spot trouble and respond quickly and easily. In vehicles, I could offer suppressive fire while looking around for leaks in a defensive line. As a passenger in vehicles, I could give my hands and arms a rest while using my head to look in the direction of team mates I was conversing with.
One of the classic problems that FPS games/simulators suffer from is the having to look around when the player is in the prone position. For example, you are laying prone, observing the enemy from a distance. Suddenly you hear a sound to your right. Before Track IR you would use the free look keybinds or spin to your right and take a look. Unfortunately your entire body moves when you spin without free looking. Your distant opponent, and in fact everyone in view distance, is now watching you do a little breakdance as your body rotates like a compass needle, your legs wildly spinning behind you as you appear to be attempting vertical liftoff.
Now with Track IR you simply turn your head, in game your avatar does exactly the same. A barely persceptible twist and you can safely check out the origin of the sound. No unnecessary use of one fingers to free look or spinning and break dancing, no thrashing legs sticking out of a bush and a greatly reduced chance of you being spotted. In fact if they haven't spotted before then it's highly unlikely they will notice you moving your head in game a few inches. Simple, logical, highly effective, and immersive.
I have also used TrackIR while playing Dirt 2, as well as other racing sims, and being able to look through turns proved to be instrumental in being a competitive racer.
In addition to ArmA2, I often fly the World War One flight simulator Rise of Flight. The immersion and increased playability are astounding. Whilest take-offs are always easy, the extra perspective TrackIR allows when landing makes getting my wheels back on solid ground that much easier. When flying in combat, scanning the sky 360 degrees around you is essential for spotting the enemy before he spots you. Spotting the enemy and keeping him in visual contact is what TrackIR was born for. Just one turning dogfight with TrackIR and you'll be sold for life.
Overall, the TrackIR package is probably one of the single best peripherals on the gaming market second only to the mouse/keyboard combo. I highly recommend anyone who has thought about it, get one and see for themselves. Once you have used it, there is no going back to normal gaming.
Without any trace of hyperbole I can honestly say that whilst I had high hopes for my test of TrackIR I was not expecting to be blown away like this. It truly is a game changer. Both immersion and effectiveness are increased enormously. You really feel in the game space, you can operate more realistically and effectively. It just makes sense.
TrackIR has now risen to the top of my list of 'must haves', my order will be going in shortly.
With the advantages I gained and the fact that my gameplay becomes less frustrating, TrackIR 5 has already made it to my must have accessories list. Given that Battlefield 3 and Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad will be also supporting the TrackIR, I look forward to buying my own TrackIR unit in the future and having a much more enjoyable experience in ARMA 2, Battlefield 3, and Red Orchestra 2.
TrackIR 5 Promotional Discounts
Tactical Gamer has managed to secure an extension of our two TrackIR 5 Promotional Discounts. These discounts expire on Friday, January 6th, 2012.
TrackIR 5 - 10% Off
TrackIR 5 Pro Bundle - 15% Off
Would you like to win your own TrackIR 5? Are you a Supporting Member of Tactical Gamer? If so, read on for your chance to win your very own TrackIR 5!
In conjunction with our round-robin review of NaturalPoint's TrackIR 5, Tactical Gamer would like to offer its Supporting Members' a chance to win our review unit via a random drawing to be held on January 15, 2011. If you are interested, please post in this thread "I'm in!" only once. The winner will be announced on January 15th on our homepage. He or she will be notified via Private Message to confirm.
Note: Only one entry per SM allowed. Last date for entries is January 14th, 2011 @ 11:59 PM GMT.
This review would not have been possible without the TrackIR 5 unit given to us by NaturalPoint Incorporated. A special thanks goes out to Seth Steiling for making this review and giveaway possible. Many thanks as well to our Content Development Team, Wicks, and Dredge for their hard work in contributing to this review, and to TMan for getting the ball rolling with NaturalPoint.
Here are some more screenshots of the TrackIR 5 in action.