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Free headtracking software and hardware construction

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Of course there are several free programs for headtracking, using different principles, from IR-pointers and clips, to face-recognition and it would be a lot of work to test and describe everything.

For my own system I build an IR-pointer and tested this with a couple fo programs and I think I found a decent working setup and for the ones interested, I'll give a step-by-step description on how I did it.


I work with P3Dv2.3 myself and for this sim I encountered a couple of issues I will explain how to overcome, but this setup can also be used for FSX with Acceleration.


I started looking at Free-Track and build a 3-LED IR-pointer, as is described on their website: http://www.free-track.net/english/

And this is a direct link to all the manuals: http://www.free-track.net/english/freetrack/manuel.php


Everything you need to know about different models and how to construct them can be found on the Free-Track website, including lots of pictures from every model as other users build them.

Also there is a list of advised materials and componants: http://www.free-track.net/english/hardware/point_model.php


One tip for the IR-LEDs: Make sure your LEDs have a very wide angle over which they spread the light/signal. If the angle is too narrow and you turn your head, the light surface gets smaller and will disappear from your webcams view. On my test model, I used LEDs with a 60 degree angle and this is not enough. I recommend 80-120 degrees and it might take some time to find what you're looking for. A good IR-LED (as advised on the Free-Track website), is the OSRAM SFH485P.


For the circuit you'll probably need one or more resistors and on the Free-Track website is a calculator that can help you find the right resistors and a plan on how to connect them: http://www.free-track.net/english/hardware/calcled/


You can use batteries, but to prevent annoyance when you're mid-flight and your tracking goes down, I used a conntection to a USB port on my computer. If you connect the pointer to a headphone, you already got a wire going from your head to the computer, so it's easy to tie both together. Here's how to wire it up: http://www.mytempfiles.info/hdkeychain/USB_Special_Cable_11.gif


What you need besides the IR-pointer, is a webcam that shuts out normal light and responds only to Infra-Red (You can also get it working with orange/red LEDs and a normal camera, but it gets a lot more difficult to shut out interfering light sources from your suroundings). The way it's described on the Free-Track site is to remove the IR-filter from the camera and glue a piece of floppy disc in front of the lens. Removing the IR-filter is not a bad idea, but not all webcams need this. I managed by just glueing a piece of floppy-disc in front of the lens and it works just fine.

Here's a video on how to make the modifications:


When I started with the Free-Track software, I found it to be very jumpy and the movements of the VC camera were far from smooth and even with several hours of tuning, I didnt get even close to what I thought to be useful. Another option is to use FaceTrackNoIR. One advantage of the FaceTrackNoIR software is that FaceTrackNoIR is still in development and Free-Track is not.

Earlier I tried FaceTrackNoIR with the face-recognition function, but it was so sensitive that I couldnt use it in my sim, because it was so jumpy I couldnt click any switches in the VC. Now I found that FaceTrackNoIR does also have a point-tracker function, which works with the same LED-pointers as Free-Track and this is much more stable!


I used the FaceTrackNoIR 1.7 version (with the hotfix), which can be found here: http://facetracknoir.sourceforge.net/information_links/download.htm

If you scroll down a little, you'll find the hotfix.


Now for FSX users, it's quite simple. You need to install the SDKs from FSX and Acceleration. The first can be found on the FSX Disc 1, in the SDK folder. Now on the Acceleration CD-rom, go to the SDK folder and from there install the SP1a and after that run the sdk.msi (this is SP2)

Now you should have the right SDK installed on your computer.


For P3D (I'm not sure about v1.4, you should give it a try if it works with only the P3D SDK, or if you also need the FSX SDK) I didnt get FaceTrackNoIR to work with the Simconnect protocol. I kept getting a message saying: The protocol is not (correctly) installed. If this is the case, you need the FSX SDK with SP1a and SP2.

I wasnt able to find a download for the basic FSX SDK Package, so I guess you can only get this from the FSX CD-roms. Maybe you have one, or see if you can ask a friend. (If anyone knows a download for this, it would be great if you can post it, if this is legaly allowed, of course. I'm not sure...)

SP1a download: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=10027

SP2 download: http://www.microsoft.com/Products/Games/FSInsider/downloads/Pages/FSXSDK-SP2Update.aspx

Of course P3D users need to run the P3D Simconnect.msi files, which you can find in your P3D root directory in the redist/Interface/FSX-SP1/retail/lib folder and the redist/Interface/FSX-SP2-XPACK/retail/lib folder. At first I thought, from the folder names, these would be the same as the ones from the FSX CD-roms, but apperantly they arent.


Now go to C:/Program files(86)/Microsoft Games/Microsoft Flight Simulator X SDK/SDK/Core Utilities Kit/SimConnect SDK/Legacy Interfaces. In there you'll find 2 folders, FSX-RTM and FSX SP1, and in both folders there is a file called SimConnect.msi. Run both those files.

In C:/Program files(86)/Microsoft Games/Microsoft Flight Simulator X SDK/SDK/Core Utilities Kit/SimConnect SDK/lib you'll find a third SimConnect.msi, run this one as well. FSX would need those for any software connecting through Simconnect and for P3D, this fixes the error messages from FaceTrackNoIR, when using the Simconnect protocol.


Now just install the FaceTrackNoIR software on your computer, launch the program and select 'PointTracker 1.0' under Tracker Source and 'Simconnect' under Game Protocol.

When you start the camera, you might see some other light sources than just the IR-LEDs. If this is the case, open the settings under Tracker Source and on the Camera tab, draw the Point Extraction Threshold slider to the left (I got mine about 1/2 inch from the left), but make sure you still see the 3 red crosses from the IR-LEDs and ONLY the 3 red crossed from the IR-LEDs. I also changed the min and max diameter settings to 1 and 20, just in case.

Now you start up your sim and you should notice that the VC camera responds to your headmovement and from here it's just spending some time to finetune the movement of the camera.


If you prefer any other software, this is not the only way to make things work and to everyone their own, of course, but I hope this will help some people on their way and that it works as well for them as it does for me and that I can save those people a lot of time trying several programs and testing different setups, since it took me about 2 weeks to gather all information, order materials and troubleshoot the whole thing.

I cant make any promisses that this will work on every system, since I only can test it on my own, but on my system it works even better than I expected after the first couple of programs I tried and it comes very close to what I've seen from TrackIR.

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I have been looking for those Osram IR-LEDs, as advised on the Free-Track website, but on the sellers website I see they are mentioned to be just 40 degrees, which is very narrow for this project.


So scratch my advise on the Osram LEDs and for replacement I can advise on the Harvatek HE3-290AC, which has a 90 degree angle.


I'm also going to test another type of IR emitter with an angle of 140 degrees, if those test succesful I'll post the results.

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I used the FreeTrack system because Im cheap and I simply like DIY projects. Getting the 3-led system as lightweight as possible was the fun part. I used ballpoint pen barrels to set up the LEDs (great way to hide wire leads) and connected them to a round, plastic eyeliner case (forgive me, wife) and attached whole thing to an old headset. The venerable Radio Shack is good source of LEDs and stuff.

 Oh, and cellphone chargers are great power source. Flattening ends of LEDs helps spread light.

It worked great, but for the life of me, I don't remember why I stopped using it. I think maybe it was lack of 64-bit compatibility with Xplane (didnt try it with P3d yet).

It seemed to work better in ambient light that the TrackNoIR's face-recongition setup, which  I also tried.

Both are really good systems and work well if you're just patient and take time to tweak. Be careful if using USB to power. Risks motherboard if miswired.

Anyway, that's my 2-cents' worth.

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Indeed a good idea, using a phone charger. Also if you're using a usb-connector and you're not absolutely sure if you wired it up right, especially newer phones and tablets, but also electronis cigarettes, more often have chargers with USB connectors. Nice way to test them, or permanently use them.

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Any luck getting it to work with P3D v2.4? I too get really smooth movement on the Freetrack screen but nothing in the sim.

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Just follow my explanation in the top post. Free-track software is very jumpy, that's why I use the Free-track hardware construction with FaceTrackNoIR software, with Pointtracker selected as tracker source (the middle box int he left row). :)


My PSU died last week and I'm still waiting for replacement, so I havent been able to test anything with v2.4 yet. I so hope to get confirmation it's send out, today.

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Yeah, works good in P3d V2.4. Kinda jittery; sure it's just that I need to play around with the curves.

It was kind of a DUH moment because I didnt read all your instructions carefully. (And me having spent 32 years as a newspaper copyeditor).

Anyway, thanks for the effort.

Now, I've still to decide whether I like headtracking or not.... EZDOK kinda made it unnecessary.

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