Review: OCZ Neural Impulse Actuator (NIA)

Last week I excitedly posted about finding the OCZ ‘nia’ while browsing through PC Case Gear, and now that I’ve had a bit of a go with it I figure it’s time to post some more information about the thing.

Firstly, it’s worth it if you’re a gadget enthusiast. Regardless of any of the shortfalls I’m about to comment on, it is new technology and it is probably the best 1st-to-market consumer level devices I’ve had the chance to play with. It’s fun to mess around with but I wouldn’t buy it if you think it’s going to improve your response times in a competitive environment – it’s highly responsive, but it’s so easy to flinch or breath differently or something which then makes your character do something you don’t want it to. False positives, etc, gotta love them.

In a non-competitive environment or for simple games though, it could be brilliant. I was using it out of combat in World of Warcraft for a while and after a little practice I could move my character around even if he constantly ran into things or went the wrong way.

The basic idea is that you strap the thing to your head and it tracks electrical impulses under your skin, which at it’s positioning on your head means it just tracks facial & eye movements, which isn’t really as you might have expected. You can configure it to run keyboard presses when you do certain things then, essentially mapping facial movements to keyboard buttons. E.g. grit teeth is W, glance left is A, glance right D, etc. Configuring your own movements to buttons is very difficult though, because there doesn’t seem to be any ‘record’ function that you can then use to map to a button, e.g. I would prefer to click record, then grit teeth/glance/whatever, click stop, then save that movement with a name so I can map it to a button later. Makes sense yeah? Well it doesn’t work like that (yet?), you have to use a series of bars to set a frequency of muscle, alpha, beta and glance that matches whatever move you want to make, and then record a keypress.

On the upside though you can make the actions very subtle if you like, even if that would increase the false positive rate which is already quote high unless you spend hours configuring it. So you could maybe use tongue movements or something, instead of getting into a bad habit of gritting your teeth at various pressures.

There is functionality there to track alpha and beta brainwaves but so far I haven’t managed to figure out how that works properly (the manual says that comes naturally after you master the muscle movement responses).

That’s about it really, it’s a fun little gadget if you have some spare time but it’s not yet practical for most gaming applications. There may be future software updates to help with this, and there is already a lot of how-to’s on youtube worth seeing before you buy one or to get more out of it if you already have one.

Tip: It’s also worth mentioning if you own one of these, that the crown you wear doesn’t do a good job of grounding itself so I have been getting better results by resting my hand on the metal box that the crown connects to.

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