Head tracking is something that isn't exactly new and you cannot speak or think about it without bringing TrackIR to the table. There are other solutions out there, though, and I was lucky enough to get access to a TrackHat Clip Plus for reviewing purposes.
If you're not familiar with head tracking, it's a way of interfacing your head's movements with the in-game camera. Whenever you move your head, the camera inside the game (or sim) follows and replicates your movements. It provides you with a very realistic way to interact with the camera, removing the need to use your joystick hat switch.
More recent head tracking systems allow you to also pan and zoom, besides supporting pitch, roll and yaw movements, so you can "lean over" your panel and get closer to it to read it better.
It's a very handy asset and a must have for those that want to increase the immersion (and fun) of their sims.
The TrackHat Clip Plus kit is comprised of the TrackHat Clip Plus, a PS3 Eye camera, a camera/monitor clip (which can be used to place the camera on your desk pointing up as well) and a very sturdy USB cable. Oh, and velcro. Yes, velcro.
With the exception of the camera, the kit is built by means of 3D printing, which shows. It's something you can kinda see on the pictures in the website and you can certainly see when you manipulate it. Is it a bad thing? Not really. TrackHat claims to be using a new 3D printing technology that makes it so that the kit is very sturdy and light. It will not win any design prizes, but that's not the goal, is it? A head tracking system must be good at its job. Especially since you'll probably not going to look at it that often.
Although I didn't try to break it, it does have a very sturdy feeling and it's not that heavy at all. Considering that it has an internal, rechargeable battery, I would say it's pretty light. Speaking of rechargeable battery, the TrackHat Clip Plus does not require you to have a cable connected to it while you're using it like the regular Clip. You can charge it, using a micro-USB cable (which is included) and you're all set to go.
The kit comes with a small piece of velcro that you can glue onto the clip and your headset so you can remove the TrackHat easily. It may feel like a bit of a hack, but it works very well.
You'll also get a little leaflet with instructions and links for some videos and software that you need to install to get it all to work. More on that later.
You can get all this for £57.00 (which, at the current rate, will be around US$73.00). Really not bad of a price tag and it's less than half the price of the obvious competitor: TrackIR will cost you US$169.99 for a similar kit.
The camera is a regular PS3 Eye camera with the IR filter removed (you can see a video about it here). If you have one of these cameras, you'll just need to do this modificaton and get the Clip, which will only cost you US$58.00, instead of the US$73.00. That's almost 3 times less thank the TrackIR kit.
Installation is not too hard but will need you to follow a few steps. You will need to install the drivers for the PS3 camera and the TrackHat Opentrack software as well.
After installing both the driver and the Opentrack software, you will need to configure the camera software. Make sure you don't miss this step like I did or your camera will not work properly. You will need to enter the Options -> Video Capture Filter menu at the top and then disable both the Auto Gain and Auto exposure.
After this, you just need to select the protocol you need to use. You will mostly use the freetrack 2.0 Enhanced protocol. If you are using FSX and P3D, you will need to use the Microsoft FSX SimConnect protocol.
If you are using FSX: SE, You may need to install the legacy SimConnect drivers that you can find inside your FSX folder (probably something like C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\FSX\SDK\Core Utilities Kit\SimConnect SDK\LegacyInterfaces).
After this, everything should work fine.
I have tested the TrackHat Clip Plus in several sims: FSX: SE, X-Plane, DCS and ARMA 3 without any issues. I could not get it to work with FlightGear but I suspect I may need to fiddle with some settings or plugins. I am not comfortable with FlightGear yet, so this is something I need to investigate a bit more. I have seen people use TrackHat with FlightGear so I know it's possible.
I found no issues whatsoever with TrackHat. The system is very smooth. The PS3 camera has a very high refresh rate (up to 120Hz, although I am using it at 75Hz with no issues) and it's very accurate and smooth.
As with TrackIR, different sims need different settings. For me it's usually on the yaw control. I like to be able to look back in the sim by moving the head about only a bit, but without moving too much for the first few degrees. Every sim will need a slightly different setting so it's a good thing that you can create profiles, which you can even have loaded automatically when you start your sim.
If I had to compare it with TrackIR, I would say it's pretty much the same -- but at a lower price. The only issue I found in TrackHat is not actually an issue and TrackIR also has which has to do with a window that is located behind me, on my right.
At a certain time of the day, the light entering the window acts like a jammer and both the TrackIR receiver and the TrackHat PS3 camera start working erratically, making the in-game camera move all over the place. I can't blame the hardware or the software on this one. It's an environmental issue and I have to close my shades a bit to prevent this from happening.
If you already own TrackIR, you can use the TrackHat Clip instead of using the TrackIR clip. This can be handy in environments where the reflectors may have issues. I have tried it with my TrackIR 4 with absolutely no problems whatsoever.
TrackHat is not pretty, I give you that. But it's sturdy, reliable and smooth. It works great with all the sims I tested it with (with the exception of FlightGear which I still need to learn how to make it work) and it's being sold at a great price (less than half the price of its competitor).
You pay for what you get, right? In case of the TrackHat Clip Plus, though, you are surely making a sweet, sweet deal. If I didn't have my TrackIR already and I would have to buy a head tracking unit, I would get a TrackHat for sure.
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