Format reviewed: PC
Other formats available: None
Developer: NaturalPoint
Price: $149.95
Website: www.naturalpoint.com/trackir/products/trackir5/

If you're serious about your gaming then you need some serious hardware to take your fragging to another level.

For decades the FPS and flight sim market have released more and more technology to assist with our virtual warfare. But when it happens, it always seems to be the same thing. A new controller with vibration, force feedback in a steering wheel, replica joysticks and 7.1 surround sound headsets. There never seems to be any peripherals that take it to a new level. This is of course until Nintendo Wii, Xbox Kinect and Playstation Move.

But let’s face it, their actual use in the likes of Call of Duty, or Battlefield 3 is completely negated. Killzone had a go at using the Playstation Sharpshooter, but too much depended on your accuracy, and on multiplayer, most would just leave it well alone.

So if you’re gaming on a PC, then there really isn’t anything out there to help out, right? Wrong. We’re reviewing the TrackIR 5 by Naturalpoint. Now, fundamentally, this isn’t designed for use with golfing or dancing games, in fact it seems to have been targeted at a particular audience at first, the flight sim community.

However, as we’ve found out, this device unlocks a huge potential when used in first person shooters. With slight movements of your head the camera will pan a complete 180 degrees in the chosen direction, whilst your avatar’s direction, and more importantly, your weapon continues to face forward.

This not only allows those in the simulator community to feel more immersed into the experience, but we believe, provides far better situational awareness, and subsequently gives a massive tactical advance in the mainstream online multiplayer world, over those that are locked looking down the sight of their weapons all of the time.

Hardware

The actual unit comes in two pieces. The first is a USB IR camera that sits on top of your desktop monitor and receives IR signals to relay back to the software. The second is a lightweight metal clip that attaches to a baseball cap.

This clip has three reflective panels that are the source of tracking your head movements in game.

This unit can be replaced by an active clip called TrackClip Pro, which is designed to attach to your headset. This uses a passive USB cable to glow three IR LEDs that replaces the need for a cap, and some would say, make the experience slightly more reliable.

Software

The software package wasn’t in the box, but it is a small download from the Naturalpoint website, which means that the end user is always getting the most up-to-date version. In these screenshots you can see the setup. Essentially, you sit comfortably and press F12 to centre your vision.

From this point all of your head movements will be tracked through six directions, allowing you to look up, down, left and right. Whilst also being able to lean from side to side, and zoom in and out, if the game allows it.

However, making those sorts of movements at your desk is going to mean that you’re no longer looking at the monitor, therefore the idea completely useless.

The software is designed so that the slightest movement is needed to make a complete movement on your in game avatar. For example, we are able to look approximately 10 degrees to the left, whilst my avatar is looking 90 degrees to the left, and we still have a clear view of the screen. This is adjustable, but if we're honest, it was pretty well setup straight out of the box.

Gameplay

We tested this on two titles. Lock On Flaming Cliffs 2, and Arma 2 Combined Operations. First off, it was a complete nightmare.

We had absolutely no idea what was going on, and in the heat of battle we would get confused as to why we were suddenly looking up, and would forget that our heads were in control of the camera. In actual fact we removed the device twice as we felt we were actually at a total disadvantage.

However, after a few hours of getting used to it, the feeling is as natural as moving a mouse, and pressing WASD to move. In Lock On, without thinking about it, we were able to scan a skyline, zoom in on little dots on the horizon, and look out of the side of my aircraft at the ground, all whilst keeping my course steady.

Not to mention, that this has freed up our eight direction hat switch on our joystick, allowing me to allocate various weapon commands instead.

Arma 2, which is a little like Battlefield 3, has a mixture of vehicles and ground combat, we found this to be the most impressive. In a PVP environment, we were far more difficult to spot whilst hiding in long grass, moving our heads scanning for targets, than we would be if we were using the traditional method of swinging our rifle around to get better angles.

The only problem we found was when playing during daylight the camera would sometimes get confused with light coming through the window and would suddenly send our view all over the place. This is remedied simply by pulling a blind, but we're also told that the IR filters are adjustable on the unit to filter out excess light, particularly if you’re using the TrackClip Pro.

At the moment, TrackIR is being utilised by the hardcore sim community only with a massive attraction for racing and flight sims. But as shown in Arma 2, it would be an extremely advantageous tool to have in the likes of Call of Duty, or Battlefield 3 among other great and more mainstream titles.

The price for the unit is fairly high, but once you’ve used it you wouldn’t want to be without it and also considering the cost of PS Move, or Xbox Kinect, it is fairly well lined up. We also imagine that if TrackIR was used in more mainstream titles, then the price would probably fall with it.

If you want a total immersion experience in simulators, or you want to have the added edge of situational awareness, and some of your games are listed as supported, then this is definitely one avenue we’d consider looking down.

Review by party liaison for BCS

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