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NaturalPoint TrackIR 5
While there's no doubt that a percentage of the hardcore games market has abandoned the PC for the Xbox 360 and PS3, there are a few niches where the big old box will always reign supreme. For fans of simulations, for example, consoles will never really make the grade. Only a certain kind of PC gamer has the thirst for ultra-realistic portrayals of aviation, air-combat or racing, but it's this audience that's most willing to put no-compromise, no-holds-barred accuracy above gorgeous eye candy or immediate enjoyment. These are the people who have kept the likes of Simbin (GTR), Bohemia Interactive (ARMA: Armed Assault) and 1C (IL-2 Sturmovik) in business, and who continue to support smaller independent simulations like rFactor, Live for Speed, X-Plane and Condor. These are also the people who are prepared to shell out for additional gadgets and gizmos that will make the experience more lifelike, whether fully-featured, force-feedback steering wheels and joysticks, mock-up racing cockpits or triple-monitor adapters. If you're one of them, then there's a good chance that you've already heard of NaturalPoint, and heard of TrackIR.
Now in its fifth iteration, TrackIR is a system designed to turn real head movements into virtual head movements. It works with a number of games that provide a virtual cockpit view, and it effectively uses your head as a kind of mouse-look, or like the old ‘coolie hat' controller on a proper flight-sim joystick. Turn your head left, and your view in-game rotates left. Turn right, and your view rotates right. Tilts of the head up and down work along similar lines. However, TrackIR goes further. In games with full support for all six degrees of movement, you can raise your head up and lower it down, lean left and right or move backwards and forwards, and your view adjusts accordingly. And as the system exaggerates small head movements into big ones in-game, you never have to turn so far that you can't see the screen. It might not be quite as convincing as being surrounded by a bank of monitors in a serious, commercial simulation, but it's certainly more immersive than the usual static view.
The actual kit consists of two main pieces; a USB infrared camera which sits on top of your main monitor, where it's held by a simple adjustable mount, and one of two ‘TrackClips.' The first is a passive clip with three reflective areas which hooks onto the brim of a baseball cap. The second - the TrackClip Pro - is an active unit that clips onto the left-hand side of your gaming headset and communicates with the camera and computer via USB. In either case, setting up TrackIR isn't much of a problem; you install the software, connect the camera and the TrackClip, and it pretty much works. The only thing you may need to do is download a patch or an update for any games you want to play with the thing, though some - like Arma: Armed Assault II - work right out of the box.