There are quite a few things that you don’t know you need until you have them. The head tracker is one such gear that can immensely improve gaming sessions, especially when it comes to simulation games. The gaming head motion trackers help the user turn his head movements into virtual head movements.
Imagine playing a flight simulation game like Digital Combat Simulator and being able to look around and controlling the viewing by moving your head instead of using the keyboard or joysticks. Turning your head left or right will change the in-game view as well.
Most head trackers usually support either 3DoF (three degrees of freedom) or 6DoF (six degrees of freedom). The differences between these two technology are quite significant. In summary, a gaming head tracker with 6DoF is any day better than the head tracker with 3DoF, as it offers more immersive experience in games.
Having said that, head trackers can be a quite expensive affair if the user doesn’t research thoroughly before making the purchase. PC gamers don’t need highly sophisticated and costly head trackers, as one can build an IR (infrared) head tracker themselves for as low as $10. Or purchase a commercial gaming head tracking system for around $150 for that matter.
Today, we will be looking at some of the best motion head trackers for gaming. The list includes both DIY methods and commercial head trackers with 6DoF support.
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NaturalPoint TrackIR 5
- Price – around $150.00
TrackIR 5 is the latest gaming head tracker from NaturalPoint. It comes with an improved tracking system and offers an immersive experience.
It is a 6DoF based tracker which means, in games with 6DoF support, users can raise and lower their head, lean left and right, move backward and forward, and the view in-game will adjust accordingly.
The TrackIR 5 kit includes a USB infrared camera with adjustable mounts, TrackClips with three reflectors and a disc to install the TrackIR software. The USB infrared camera goes on top of the monitor with the help of mounts.
The TrackClip, however, requires users to wear a baseball cap and attach the TrackClip onto to the brim. Those that don’t want to wear the baseball cap all the time can opt for TrackClip Pro clip which can be clipped onto the left side of the gaming headset.
However, the TrackClip Pro costs $10 more (when purchased as a bundle) and the build quality is poor, to say the least. It’s also a wired solution, which means the user has to be connected to the power every time they want to use it.
For those who can shell a little extra, I would recommend a third-party track clip from TrackHat. TrackHat Plus is wireless, custom made and supports TrackIR head tracking system.
Setup and Performance
Setting up TrackIR 5 is easy. After installing the software, mount and connect the camera to the USB port, put the TrackClip in place and you are ready to roll.
TrackIR 5 works smoothly with major titles like ARMA 11, GTR2, Tom Clancy’s HAWX and Race Driver: GRID, X-Plane, etc.
However, if you are planning to use it with other triple-A titles like the Far Cry 2 and Battlefield 2, the experience is not pleasant, mainly due to lack of support from the game developers. The complete list of TrackIR 5 supported games is available on Naturalpoint’s website.
TrackIR 5 comes to life in racing games and flight simulation games. It does take some time getting used to, but once you do, you won’t go back to the usual game-playing modes.
The TrackIR 5 is one of the best gaming head trackers available today, and it is well worth the money spent as it takes sim gaming to a whole new level.
- Get TrackIR with Free Hat from Amazon
The only negative aspect to TrackIR 5 is having to pay extra for the Pro clip which ideally should be included in the TrackIR 5 standard bundle.
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TrackHat Plus Head Tracking Kit
- Price – $92.40 (approx.)
Trackhat is a head tracker company that offers TrackHat Plus Head Tracking Kit, a decent alternative to TrackIR 5. It not only costs 2/3 of its rival but also offers similar head tracking experience in sim games.
The best thing about the TrackHat is a custom-made baseball style cap that has three inbuilt infrared LEDs with a battery integrated into it. The battery lasts up to 10 hours and can be recharged using the USB cable which is built-into the TrackHat Clip.
The company also offers two more products, the “TrackHat Clip” and “TrackHat Clip Plus”, which can be separately purchased from the official online store.
For the head tracker, the company has smartly utilized the already available resources rather than building its own. For example, the infrared head tracker camera in the package is manufactured by Sony.
The complete TrackHat Kit includes a Eye Camera which acts as the head tracker camera that has been customized to work with the company’s own OpenStack software.
OpenTrack is an open source head tracking project that claims to offer joystick and controller key binding, low CPU usage and cleaner UI. OpenTrack uses FreeTrack protocol which makes it compatible with all the videos games compatible with TrackIR 5.
TrackHat also sells TrackHatPlus (baseball cap), without the head tracking kit for those who already have a TrackIR head tracker but want a reliable track clip.
The downside to the TrackHat is that it is not available on any of the leading e-commerce stores as the company prefers to sell its product from its official store with global shipping on offer.
FreeTrack - DIY Head Tracker
- Price – $10 or Less
Gaming head trackers are made of three things: a camera, a track clip with reflectors, and a software. Those that don’t wish to spend hundreds of dollars on buying a head tracking kit, can build themselves, with costs being around the $10 mark.
The software part is covered by FreeTrack. FreeTrack is a free software which allows users to simulate head movements in sim games. It also supports 2DoF and 6DoF for compatible games.
FreeTrack uses the PC’s/laptop’s built-in webcam to track the head movement. You can download FreeTrack software from here.
For the Track Clip, users can either buy a premade track clip from OpticTrack for $10 or follow this guide to build their own IR head tracker. The downside to FreeTrack is the limited number of sim games supported by this free initiative, but for the price (0), we certainly can’t complain.
The gaming head motion trackers are not meant to replace VR devices but offer a similar experience to an extent, without breaking the bank.
Those that need a pre-built head tracking kit with 6DoF support, both TrackIR 5 and TrackHat Head Tracking Kit are good options except for the price, which is a debatable topic though.
For casual users and everyone else, FreeTrack is a good option as it offers a similar experience, almost for free.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2018 and has been since updated for freshness, and accuracy.