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NaturalPoint's TRACKIR 3 Pro

Author:  Jason Jacobs
Date:  2005.07.30
Topic:  Peripherals
Provider:  NaturalPoint
Manufacturer:  NaturalPoint


The TrackIR 3 Pro w/ Vector Expansion is made by NaturalPoint, designers of high performance optical tracking systems, motion capture based video gaming inputs and Hands-Free ergonomic mouse input alternatives. Based in Corvallis, Oregon and founded in 1997, they set out with engineering breakthroughs that have recently made it possible for computer users and gamers to experience technology previously available only to the military and large corporations.

 One of the products they have developed is the TrackIR 3 (Standard and Pro versions) which is an affordable head tracking unit. The TrackIR 3 Pro we received came in a nice packaged retail container which allows the buyer to see everything included with the unit. You get the TrackIR 3 Pro unit, software cd, target stick-on pack and instruction manual.

 If you also get the optional Vector Expansion add-on for achieving a full 6 degrees of freedom (6 DOF), you receive the Vector Expansion Clip, the TrackHat, a Quick-Start Guide and your personal Vector Expansion activation codes. The TrackHat and Vector Clip go together very easily and fit well.

Once you install the software you can then connect the camera in a convenient place in front of you. NaturalPoint have thought ahead for you by making the base of the unit from spring steel for attaching it to the top of thin LCD screens like those found on laptops, as well as being able to place it on any normal CRT desktop display. They have also included a small clip with double-sided tape for attaching the TrackIR 3 Pro to the upper back area of thicker LCD display units, allowing you to be able to remove and reattach the TrackIR 3 Pro without removing the clip.

 Here you can see the TrackIR 3 Pro attached to one of the test systems to show fastening on a thin LCD display. Click on the thumbnail to enlarge.

Starting up the software by clicking on the TrackIR icon, you are greeted by a very friendly software interface which is intuitive and easy to learn. It is very easy to follow along with the instructions for setting up and selecting the profile for your type of application or game (additional profiles are downloadable via the NaturalPoint website)


 Setting up the software with the TrackIR 3 Pro and calibrating it with the Vector Expansion and TrackHat was very easy. Once you sit in-front of your display in the same position that you will be playing your favorite game, you center the sensors within the software by hitting the F12  key (default keystroke which can be changed to any key). Additional keys are programmable ( pause, center &, precision ) from within the interface for controlling the TrackIR functions from within your game without having to exit to the desktop to accomplish this, which is an extremely nice feature I found very useful. As can be seen in the next thumbnails/screenshots, these were taken with my head centered in a comfortable position and then clicking the F12 hotkey for centering everything. As you become more advanced in the features, NaturalPoints software also allows you to customize the 'throw' or intensity and curve of each axis for Yaw, Pitch, Roll, X-axis, Y-axis and Z-axis movements to your liking. The thumbnail on the left shows what the software looks like when it is in a centered configuration, the thumbnail on the right shows what the software sees when I have turned my head to where my eyes are on the right edge of the LCD display.


 The TrackIR 3 Pro with Vector Expansion works excellently with many game titles, some of which are Nascar 2003, TOCA RD2, Collin McRae Rally 2004, F1 Challenge, Battle of Britain II, Combat Flight Simulator, Falcon4 Allied Force, LockOn, MS Flight Simulator and many others. To see a full listing of TrackIR 3 Pro enhanced games go to NaturalPoints page link here . They even have many videos of in-game action for those interested in viewing exactly what it can look like within the game. I used the TrackIR 3 Pro with Vector Expansion on many of the game titles I own, each one was easy to setup and worked like a charm. Using the TrackIR 3 Pro with Vector Expansion was very natural since it made me feel like I was actually in the game. The immersive feeling was much deeper than I had ever felt before, the phrase "PUT YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME" from NaturalPoint is just that. It adds that next dimension within your favorite racing simulation or flight simulation title. As you turn your head, the visual response in the game is immediate and very natural as you look around your virtual world. The overall excitement of being able to look around within the games I tried, made every title I tried feel new and electrifyingly exciting all over again, as if it were a new and exciting game title. To say that the TrackIR device was exciting to use is an understatement. It brought all new excitement to everything I tried it with. If you do not own one of these and like racing car games or flying flight sims, as well as first-person shooter games, then I highly recommend for you to purchase a TrackIR 3 Pro with Vector Expansion to "put your head in the game" with the immersion of your 3D world and 6 degrees of freedom that can only be provided by the engineering genius from NaturalPoint.

 There is a very slight delay in the action but this delay is minor and was approximately 200ms only at most which helped to smooth out the motion effect when turning your head. The TrackIR 3 Pro worked seamlessly with our flight sims tested and seemed to suit these the best since your always scanning around your environment. The device also has visual aids in the form of a green led which lights up to let you know the unit is tracking a source target, and it also has a bright blue led to let the user know when a TrackIR Enhanced title is active.

 The TrackIR 3 can be purchased in the standard version or as the Pro version, the difference between the two is the amount of samples per second the device will work at. The standard version will provide you with 80 fps (frames per second), while the Pro version will provide up to 120 fps. Both versions provide 2 degrees of freedom giving you side to side and up and down movement of your head within the game. To gain the additional 4 degrees of freedom (6 DOF total) you will need to purchase the Vector Expansion add-on which provides you with Yaw, Pitch, Roll, X-axis, Y-axis and Z-axis movements in the game, once you unlock the software with the provided activation codes. The Z-axis allows you to experience looking closer, like zooming in and out, when you move your head closer or further from the device, or your LCD display.

Recommendations:  We highly recommend purchasing the TrackIR 3 Pro with Vector Expansion from NaturalPoint, and using it with your favorite game title. We were extremely pleased with its professional look and functionality, user friendly interface and extremely smooth action of the head movement in every game we tried. This device is what every serious gamer needs presently and in the future as more and more 3D virtual environment games are developed and since many of the latest (and future) game titles are already coming Enhanced for the TrackIR 3 Pro with Vector Expansion experience.

Article by R. Rios






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