Top Shot Elite Viewing Angle Fix

I realize this isn't anything like my normal rants, but this blog is a catchall space for me, and this is the sort of information that would have been helpful for me about a year ago, so I'm putting it here in the hopes it will catch the eye of others with the same problem. It's about a video game controller, so if that's not your thing, feel free to ignore all that follows.

I own a Top Shot Elite. It's a controller that Activision made primarily so that Cabela's games on the Xbox 360 and PS3 wouldn't suck.

I bought it in this bundle from Amazon a while back.

It's pretty actually a pretty nice piece of kit. It's essentially what would happen if you put a child's idea of a really cool tactical space assault shotgun, an X-box controller and a Wii controller in a blender.

The aiming system works almost exactly like a Wii controller. Infrared camera at the end of the barrel searches for two points of Infrared light (supplied by a very nice auto-sleeping wireless "sensor bar" that is included in the kit), this image is processed then aiming information is transmitted back to the Xbox along with the data from the buttons and sticks. I say almost because as far as I can tell, the effective vertical viewing angle of the camera in this thing is less than 2/3rds of the viewing angle of a Wii controller(1). The collapsible stock works quite well, and the whole kit is pretty cool. It gets cooler if you make a couple of modifications though.

First off, the detachable Red Eye Lens system is hilariously stupid. I recommend you take a multitool and cut/tear out the red plastic filter. This will give you a straight look-through scope on top of the gun with a simple cross-hairs built in. The red lens effect doesn't work worth a crap in the games, and all the red lens does is make the scope really hard to actually use as a sight.

If you have a small enough television, this is the only mod you'll really need to make. The gun will track well to anything under 37" from what I can tell, and aiming/shooting in the Cabela's galleries is actually quite easy and fun. At some point I will talk more about how ridiculously weird and borderline horrific the galleries in Dangerous Hunts are, but for now, I'll ignore the software issues and just talk about the gear.

As mentioned above, the FOV on the camera in this thing is very small. This is why it works well on smaller televisions, and terribly on larger ones.

If you have a larger television, it's very disappointing. This is obviously a huge problem, as most modern gamers have real jobs and real TVs these days, and the fact that the system has shit performance on anything approaching a decent sized TV has meant that a really excellent peripheral and game market is remaining largely unimpressed on account of one bad spec (on otherwise quite excellent gear).

My television is 50". So I had the option of playing with the system and having it be frustrating but semi-playable, or just leaving it on the shelf for ages.

I chose the later for about 8 months.

Then while talking to a friend about another problem, I had an epiphany and remembered these things.

The AGPtek lenses are simple fisheye lenses that allow you to get a wider field of view out of a cell phone camera or the flip-cam style video recorders.

You attach a metal ring with an adhesive back around the lens, and then you just snap the fisheye lens in place, (since it's magnetic) and you're good to go.

I was worried at first because the tip of the Top Shot Elite is covered in a shield of IR-passing, visible-spectrum blocking plastic. I assumed that the camera inside was probably tiny (it is) but wasn't really sure at first. So I dug up the Activision FCC filing. (Yes, you really can Find Anything On The Internet). The FCC filing photographs confirmed my understanding of the camera's size. My other concern (also resolved by the FCC filing) was that the camera was inset in the body of the controller somewhat, meaning that the FOV was being limited by the physical chassis and not the camera's actual ability. Thankfully the pictures gave me a pretty clear indication that the camera controller board was flush with the back of the IR shield, so I wasn't too worried.

When I got the lenses in the mail, I first held them in place by hand and played with the calibration software for about fifteen minutes to confirm that it worked correctly, and everything seemed to be in order.

It took about sixty seconds to actually press the ring carefully onto the center of the IR cover over the pinhole camera, and then pop on the lenses and test. Here's a picture of the metal ring in place on the IR shield. It seems pretty solid and hasn't shifted at all in the time since I mounted it (about an hour of play/test time, plus 24 hours sitting on the rack). Note that I cleaned the IR shield first by wiping it down with a paper towel, and then installed the metal ring freehand, just by estimating where the exact center was, uncovering the adhesive back, and then pressing down hard, using a small piece of flat round plastic (the back of a screwdriver handle) so I didn't smudge the shield with my fingers.

There's a "wide" and a "fisheye" lens, and I suspect the "wide" would work great for a 42 or 46 inch television. On my 50", with how close I am to the TV in my setup, the full effect of the fisheye was required. You can find that out after the fact, as they both work on the same ring, so you just toss one on, see how it does, and then swap it for the other.

It's a flawless match. The lens does a fantastic job of letting the controller keep the IR emitters in view at all times. And hey, presto, pop the lens off at any time, and it'll work like normal, the metal ring doesn't effect performance in any way. Since multiple rings come in the lens kit, you've now also got a set of handy lenses you can borrow and us on other projects.

The alignment still isn't perfect. This is effectively a $25 controller, after all. The sight on the screen will move around inside the scope based on where you point it, but it will always stay inside the plastic ring, visually, so it makes it much, much easier to shoot. Within just a couple of minutes of adjusting it, I was beating my previous high scores in the galleries, no problem.

For anyone else that either bought one of these and couldn't get it to perform in their setup, or wants one but heard it sucked on the big screen. . . this is your solution.

Happy hunting!

(1) That's a rought estimate, here's the math if you're interested:

Johnny Chung Lee (hacker titan extraordinaire) puts the Wii horizontal field of view at 45 degrees in his "Hacking the Nintendo Wii Remote" article. The camera is described as having a 1024x768 resolution, assuming it scales linearly (it's probably pretty close) then it's vertical viewing angle should be (45*768/1024) or 33 degrees.

Meanwhile, I did some really simple math to determine the viewing angle of the Top Shot Elite. On my 50 inch TV with the sensor placed at the top, I had to stop about 6 inches short of the bottom of the screen, giving me an effective vertical viewing angle of 20 degrees. This marks the first time I have actually made use of any form of trigonometry in about a dozen years.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012