NaturalPoint's TrackIR head-tracking system has been maturing for several years now and we've always been big fans, mainly because this is one peripheral that's not a gimmick. For the uninitiated, it enables you to translate your real-world head movements into supported games.
A high-speed infrared camera sits atop your monitor, picking up the movements of a three-pronged LED clip attached to your headphones or reflective surfaces fixed to a baseball cap.
It would be a huge mistake to lump it in the same category as those ludicrous gamepad gloves or nausea-inducing video goggles. TrackIR genuinely works and works astoundingly well, and is an essential piece of kit for all flight sim enthusiasts, petrolheads and wannabe soldiers.
The system amplifies your head movements so you can move your head slightly while still looking at the screen, but your in-game head moves more. This is configurable and, with a little tweaking and practice, it becomes so natural you feel lost when playing a game that doesn't support the system.
The range of games supported continues to grow as the system gains popularity with gamers and developers. We tested it on GTR2, ArmA II, DCS Black Shark and Evochron Legends.
The hardware itself, though, is starting to show signs of overdesign. The previous generation – TIR 4Pro – was minimalist and functional, but TIR 5 has been 'pimped' so that we have Batman-esque stylised rubber, LEDs like My-First-Sporty-Hatchback's headlights and – the only real issue – a magnet link between the camera itself and the tripod grip you clip to the monitor.
The force of the magnet is less than the force of friction in the tripod's joints, so when trying to reposition the camera you end up just detaching the magnet.
It's a worrying sign that NaturalPoint are continuing to over-engineer a product that wasn't broken in the first place. This trend started with the Track Clip Pro (the hat reflectors worked almost as well and with no wires…), but at least the Clip actually has some functionality. The design improvements are beginning to detract from an otherwise solid peripheral.
TrackIR 5 is still an amazing piece of kit and these design issues are only in comparison to the previous version. But while it is better than that previous generation, it's hard to recommend to existing TIR 4Pro owners. Newcomers with the means, however, should pick one up without delay.
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