Bring Head Tracking to Your Headset with the new TrackClipPRO TM from NaturalPoint

The perfect TrackIR™ accessory, clips to Creative Lab’s and other popular over-the-ear headsets. Combined with a TrackIR, the TrackClip PRO delivers precise 6 degrees of freedom view control. On your favorite headset, the only thing you will notice about the lightweight TrackClip PRO is your improved gaming experience.

Where did the idea for the TrackClip Pro originate from?
We have often had users recount stories to us where they left their reflective dot or hat w/ vector clip on and went outdoors and were met with odd stares and glances.  On top of wanting to be ‘cool’, many of our users already wear headsets and we had some very positive feedback to a survey we did about a headset based vector clip.  So we went about designing something that would no longer need a hat to interact with TrackIR. What we came up with was a specially designed headset clip that changes the way the world views the TrackIR experience. The TrackClip PRO makes it more natural than ever to integrate TrackIR into any PC setup.

Can you give a brief description about how it works and how it interacts with the TrackIR device?
When using optical tracking something has to be worn by the user to send (reflect) back positional data to the camera which then sends it along to our software.  With a TrackClip PRO attached, a Creative Labs headset is recognized by NaturalPoint’s TrackIR™ camera and software and all of your head movement is put into a game. TrackIR uses proprietary optical motion tracking technology to capture your head’s position in 3D space, with the speed and precision of a mouse. Popular examples include leaning forward to zoom in, or turning mere inches to twist the game view 180 degrees. Motion is captured with all 6 degrees of freedom (6DOF), which means you can lean up/down, forward/back, left/right, while rotating freely with yaw, pitch, and roll.

Can you explain what ‘True View’ is and how it works?
This is a new approach to our head tracking algorithms.  “True View” makes the experience more intuitive in subtle ways. If you rotate the view somewhere, you can just lean forward to zoom in (instead of trying to figure out where your rotation is pointing and having to lean towards that direction to zoom in). If you look behind yourself in the game, leaning controls will flip around, to make things a bit more intuitive. It keeps TrackIR controls relative to where you’re facing, instead of locking everything to where you started. If someone is not comfortable with, or does not like “True View” they can turn it on or off in their profiles.

What are the major differences and advantages of the TrackClip Pro over the established ‘T’ device and what advice would you give a long-term use of the ‘T’ device who is considering upgrading to the new device? In short, why should a ‘T’ Clip user move to the TrackClip Pro?   

  • Active LEDs for precise tracking
  • USB power tap, with USB pass through
  • Ultra light weight
  • 2 position headset clip (fits over-the-ear style headsets)

Some users have initially had a few issues when first using the TrackClip Pro, while others have had no problems. Can you perhaps highlight a few of the ‘issues’ that users may incur and offer any possible solutions?
So far no real issues have been reported. The handful of reports that TrackClip PRO isn’t being recognized or causes erratic tracking have all been fixed by upgrading to the proper software version. If anyone needs help with this, we’d encourage them to email our technical support personnel [email protected].

Please describe a little of the history behind NaturalPoint.  What was the genesis of the TrackIR project?
Well, back in 2001 someone used our SmartNAV product with Microsoft Flight Simulator. These days SmartNAV has options to relieve wrist strain, and can run the TrackIR software, but back then it was designed as a mouse replacement for people that absolutely could not use their hands.  So we really hadn’t investigated simulation or gaming that much, before this fellow contacted us (one of the reasons we’re extremely thankful for the flight sim community!).

He pointed out how great the experience was when our tech tied into the sim’s mouse-look option. We saw that flight sims had so many controls that you just didn’t have time to reach for the mouse. At least not as often as you might like.  It quickly became clear that head tracking easily improved your immersion in the reality of the simulation.

Most would say that approaching reality is the goal of any good simulator, so we figured we were onto a good thing. There was also a lot of excitement from our engineers that we could deliver a new approach to the VR experience, without all the drawbacks of strapping on VR goggles. But it was also clear that your average PC user liked using their mouse and wasn’t keen on their head sharing control with it. With these three things in mind, we started talking to developers, one by one, to establish TrackIR as its own separate control.

Are there any future plans for TrackIR products (not including the headset clip) that you would like specifically to pass on to Avsim readers?
So soon after the release of headset clip, we would just like to make it clear that there are in fact a lot of plans for TrackIR. Although TrackIR has come a long way, it is still just taking its first baby steps towards where it could end up. We’re focusing a lot of our brainy guys on this other OptiTrack product line at the moment, but not all of them. In the second half of 2007, after we release OptiTrack’s motion capture and animation software at SIGGRAPH, I expect we’ll make some big announcements regarding TrackIR.

I don’t want to be too much of a tease, but I’d love to start saying “It’s only science fiction until NaturalPoint builds it.”

What is your returns policy?
We’ll take a product back in the first 30 days for whatever reason, even if you just don’t like it, because we want to encourage people to try it. We do ask people to contact us for an RMA number before shipping it back.

This policy doesn’t include hats or clothing though, because you wear them (health issue). We also don’t take software returns, because there’s no way to ensure software has been completely removed from your system. And while this is our returns policy, I can’t speak for our dealers around the world.

We also offer a 1 year warranty on our products, so if anything should break or stop working we’d be happy to replace it.

This is all on our website, by the way, here:

How does the TrackIR work? Will it interfere/be interfered by things such as lights and televisions/TV remotes?
TrackIR works by only seeing infra red (IR) light. The main device, which sits on or near your monitor, is basically a specialized camera with a brain. It captures 120 images, each second, of the infra red light that it can see in the room. That black plastic on the front of TrackIR is a filter that only lets IR light through. If you slip a TrackClip on your hat brim then TrackIR sees the IR light that is bouncing of its three reflectors. If you clip a TrackClip PRO on your headset, the three bulbs project IR light directly at the camera.

A chip (the brain) processes this high speed video and turns it into simple data, and this simple data is sent off to the computer through a USB cable. This preprocessing is how you can get such precision without a noticeable slowdown in your game. The TrackIR software on your computer takes the incoming data and applies your tweaks and adjustments to it (saved in a profile), and sends the final 3D position of your head off to the game. It’s like your head is a 3D joystick, with the speed of a mouse.

It’s possible for TrackIR to pick up other sources of infra red light in its field of view, but it not that common. The sun pumps out tons of IR, so that’s the main thing to consider (may need to close some blinds, or if you have a window directly behind you, consider putting a tint on it). Some halogen bulbs also put out enough IR to show up. Nothing else should be an issue though. I haven’t tried pointing a TV remote at the TrackIR (or heard any complaints), but I believe those remotes that emit IR only do so when you press a button. But keep in mind that TrackIR has a field of view (picture a cone with a 46 degree angle), and your head and shoulders are filling most of it. If you’re sitting 2 feet from the camera (average distance) that’s about 3 feet square to move around in. If some other IR light is going to show up, it’ll have to be behind you in that square.

The thing to do when setting up your TrackIR is open the “Tracking” window, which shows exactly what the device sees. If anything shows up besides the three dots on your TrackClip, click the window’s “Settings” button and crank up the light filtering. 9 times out of 10 this solves any problem. But if not, see if you can tilt or twist the device so it no longer sees an IR source, or see if its a light behind you which can easily be switched off.

Does it matter what type of USB I use (i.e v1 USB2)?
Nope. TrackIR still uses the old USB 1.1 standard, so it is compatible with any USB port out there. (All USB 2.0 ports supports the 1.1 standard). It is important to note that TrackIR draws it power from USB, so we don’t recommend using it with a hub that doesn’t have it’s own power source.

HEADSET CLIP: Right now, I am in the process of testing the clip on as many types of headsets I can find.  Some headsets hold the clip, others don’t.

What can I do if I buy the clip and discover that it won’t fit on my headset?

Well, be aware that the TrackClip PRO’s clipping mechanism can expand for thicker headset bars. Not just that it flips open, but that you can grab the top part and slide it out and around so the whole mechanism covers a larger area. It should easily fit headset bands up to 1.25" wide and up to 0.5" thick.

Creative Labs has been cooperating with us on the headset research side of things, so we primarily tested our prototypes with all the various Creative Labs headsets we have, and didn’t have any issues. We probably should have purchased one of every brand and model out there, but figured it was better to get something out now and see what the community said. And we love Creative Labs, so we figured if it at least worked with their models we were in a good spot.

Again, if you have an issue like this with the TrackClip PRO, we’ll take any return in the first 30 days. I wouldn’t wait more than 30 days before seeing if it fits. So far they’re selling very well, and I’ve only read one note on our forums that it wouldn’t fit a particular headset model (and that’s 1 out of 5 different headsets the owner had). So I’d encourage anyone who encounters this to please let us know which set(s) you are using, so that we’re aware of it and can pick one up for testing.

Why are there LED’s on the clip instead of reflectors?
Several Reasons. Since they’re emitting the light, instead of reflecting it, they’re much brighter and more consistent in the camera’s eyes. When using reflective material, the further away you get: the more light you had to pump out to keep the reflectors illuminated. So the active LEDs on the TrackClip PRO will let you get further away.

Also, when you turn the reflective tape on the old TrackClip far enough, the amount of surface that is visible to the camera changes. The bulbs on the TrackClip PRO stay much more consistent in size when you’re moving around, which helps with all the math and processing that’s going on behind the scenes.

Using the TrackClip PRO also consumes less power, because the 4 infra red LEDs inside the TrackIR camera shut themselves off. Which also means you won’t see vaguely reddish shapes glowing behind the black IR shield of the camera.
Also we just thought it looked cooler. :)

Why does the headset clip use USB power instead of a battery?
Because it costs us less money to make it that way. It may seem strange in this day an age to hear that using batteries costs more, but keep in mind that everything we’ve built runs on USB power, so we’re very familiar with that power mechanism and are used to manufacturing it. If we went with batteries we’d have to research and buy new mechanisms for handling battery power, and a design a mechanism for housing the battery so it could be changed out when it runs down. Might also have wanted to consider mechanisms for monitoring the remaining battery power. And we’d have to figure out where on the persons body to have the battery pack, as we wouldn’t want it weighing down your headset. And while figuring where on the body to place the battery we’d have to consider safety and health concerns in case a battery leaked it’s acid. And the battery pack would become it’s own design concern with regard to “cool factor”. Ie. If it goes in your pocket then we’d want a textured plastic so you wouldn’t notice scratches, whereas if it’s on your belt it’s probably better to go shiny so it looks cool. And then there’s the question of how long to make the cord to the battery pack, and puzzling out what people are going to do if it’s too long or short for their body type.

And on and on. Basically we figured people usually plug their headsets into the computer so it was best to have a cord that runs along the headset cord and also plugs into the computer.

How will the cooperation with Creative Labs benefit the TrackIR product?
Time will tell. I can’t speculate on where it will lead, but right now they’re a company we’re happy to be associated with. Just being mentioned in the same sentence as Creative Labs is great for NaturalPoint.

The future for TrackIR will most likely be simplifying the software features, improving the technology, and pursuing broader support.

* We’ve just released an Alpha build of new software (Monday September 25,2006), which offers a different take on the 3D view control.

This new approach, which we call “True View”, makes the experience more intuitive in subtle ways. If you rotate the view somewhere, you can just lean forward to zoom in (instead of trying to figure out where your rotation is pointing and having to lean towards that direction to zoom in). If you look behind yourself in the game, leaning controls will flip around, to make things a bit more intuitive. Basically it keeps TrackIR controls relative to where you’re facing, instead of locking everything to where you started. It’ll be a feature people can turn on or off in their profiles.

* On the technology side, We’re currently finalizing the design for a headset clip, which will look very different from the current vector clip. This headset clip will attach to the band of your headphones, and hang over your ear. Hopefully this will be less obtrusive in appearance, and appeal to those people who don’t want to wear a hat to use TrackIR.

And to improve the TrackIR experience, we’re putting 3 IR LEDs on this headset clip (instead of reflectors). This will make the headset clip much more bright for the TrackIR to see, and could let people get further away from the TrackIR (hopefully helping with some of the giant projection screen setups we’ve seen flight simmers setting up).

* On the broader game support side of things, we’re very excited about the release of Armed Assault. This is a living battle field simulator from Bohemia Interactive, which is the crew that made Operation Flashpoint. ArmA uses TrackIR in planes, helis, cars, and First Person Shooting modes (and more). It’s more about realism than twitchy reflexes and wanton carnage, so we hope it’ll appeal to those flight and racing simmers who already have TrackIR.

We expect a lot of Tactical FPS players will enjoy how TrackIR increases their immersion, and that this game will be a great example for other FPS developers. We can’t go into details, but we’ve talked to quite a few different FPS developers and expect that ArmA will grease the wheels for much broader support in the new year.

We’re also pursuing support in tons of other genres, from RTS to pinball. But I guess simHQ isn’t the place to go into that. :) Also, if you want a blue sky prediction of where we may be in 5 years…

I think in 5 years you may see usable optical tracking that doesn’t use markers(reflectors/IR LEDs).  But will these devices be more precise than the methods that do use markers? Will it be as reliable or as fast or as cost effective? We don’t think so.

We’ve also looked into other tracking methods (like gyros, accelerometers, etc.) and see optical tracking as the clear winner.

So I expect we’ll see new novel ways to integrate more markers into the things you’re already wearing, or using to control games. And we’ll see new enhancements to what you can do in simulations, to make things more intuitive. What’s great about simulations is that you aren’t trying to simplify all the controls down for 2 year olds. The goal of a simulation isn’t to create a single “mission success” button. So developers can take the risks of adding new control schemes, and if they do indeed improve immersion in the simulated reality, then they’re a win. And if new controls are an improvement, they may trickle down to all the other platforms as simpler minds accept their value.

For further information, please contact:
Kevin Fox
NaturalPoint Inc.
888-865-5535 ext 14
fax: 541-753-6689
[email protected]

Source: NaturalPoint
For further information about NaturalPoint, click here

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