Head Tracking!

When you start in a flight sim the first of the sensations is a bad case of tunnel vision. How can I look up, down, left, right and so on? if you were lucky enough to start with a joystick that had a hat switch you probably started using that to control your point of view. Now that's great and correct use of this technique will mean you can compete at top level. Others among us started using the mouse and there are still some neandertahls around that use this technique. No doubt evolution will make them grow a third arm to hold that mouse if they survive another million years.

Personaly I went looking for some technology to help. Now this is where head tracking comes in. It's simple realy, I move my head left and my view moves left, right and my view moves right and so on. In this case we are talking about x, y and z axes. Now if you have lots of money you can go and buy a product called track IR - it's excellent and probably the majority of the squad have one of these. However, at the begining I was trying to keep flight simming as a cheap hobby so track IR sounded expensive. This meant that I used webcam technology and lowcost or freeware software to build my own

Currently I use a 10 Euro webcam, free software, a 4 euro USB extension cable and a 2 Euro USB light. I've tried out Redvo's track-IR system and my 16 Euro one works as well - however it did take 4 years of tuning to get it that way. What we are going to look at in this page is exactly how it is done.

Let's start with the basics. Here we have a nice cheap webcam pointed at an awsomely famous pilot. I like this one because it has a nice clip that holds neatly on the freznel lens in front of my screen.

Next you get a male - female USB extention cable and an USB light. These are basicly a male-female USB socket with an LED light built in.

USB extension cable and USB lightUSB extension cable and USB light

This needs attaching to your head some way - to some kind of hat or strap it to your mike boom.

Now before you start messing around with the headtracking software you must sort out the lighting in the room. The cam must pick up the light on your hat and not any other light-bulbs or table lamps or windows that are behind you. I use a directionaly adjustable table lamp shining onto the wall behind my PC screen. So all of the lighting is indirect except my hat light. I then set up the cam on minimum resolution, 30 FPS, black and white, then turn down brillaiance and contrast to pick up the head light and nothing else. To do this I use the driver software that comes with the cam.

Finaly you download and install the head tracking software. www.freetrack.net

Now if you have got your lighting right you have to change very little in the default setup. Basicly I'm using single point light source, Direct game interface and have the K key set up to centre it before I start to play.

What I haven't told you is the realy tricky bit. You now have to only move your head when you want to adjust your point of view. This will take you about two weeks of playing to master.