"Designed for use along with a standard mouse, 3D mice accelerate performance
as users no longer have to position models step by step. Using the 3D mouse controller
cap, models can be simultaneously panned, zoomed and rotated while the standard
mouse is used for selection, creation and editing tasks."
-3Dconnexion company history page
It's been exactly two decades since the first commercial 3D mouse (the "spacemouse") was made available. During that time, 3Dconnexion has been at the forefront in developing 3D mouse technology. The company recently celebrated the sale of it's "1 millionth 3D mouse," which they accomplished by making sure that their 3D mouse hardware not only produced extremely precise control, but also by "ensuring an intuitive and natural connection to today's 3D applications and design environments."
Currently compatible with over 100 software applications, 3Dconnexion's 3D mouse line-up consists of the basic SpaceNavigator, the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks, the more advanced SpaceMouse Pro and the top-of-the-line SpacePilot Pro. Each product is designed for a specific kind of user and work environment. 3Dconnexion's well-designed website lays out exactly what each 3D mouse does and how you can benefit by using them.
This review will focus on the SpaceMouse Pro which is the latest addition to 3Dconnexion's 3D mouse line-up. While not as advanced as the top-of-the-line SpacePilot Pro, the SpaceMouse Pro borrows a lot of functionality from it's big brother. And after working with this excellent piece of hardware, it has more than enough features to satisfy most 3D artists and designers. The SpaceMouse Pro, introduced in November of 2011, is not only elegantly designed hardware, but it's features are so well integrated and the price is so good, that it hits the sweet spot for a professional 3D mouse.
The SpaceMouse Pro isn't intended to be a replacement for your mouse. It's primarily used in conjunction with your keyboard. Your main mouse is on the right side and the 3D mouse is on the left side of your keyboard (if you are right-handed). The distinctive controller cap sits in the center of the SpaceMouse Pro and is the tool that allows you to move 360 degrees within your scene. 3Dconnexion calls this their "6DoF" (six degrees of freedom), named after the sensor in the device.
Standard keyboard modifiers Esc/Ctrl/Alt/Shift sit to the left of the controller cap and 4 large, fully-programmable function keys sit within easy reach above the cap. In addition, a cluster of QuickView keys fit just to the right of the controller cap which allow you to switch to 12 different views of your 3D scene. The SpaceMouse Pro is designed to help speed up your 3D work-flow, and this is exactly what it does.
A full list of SpaceMouse Pro features are available on the 3Dconnexion website.
I really like how easy and relaxing it is to use the SpacePilot Pro. It's obvious a lot of thought went into device design and placement. The device is just small enough to fit onto your work desk, but also large enough to allow full use of your left hand without any awkwardness. The soft coated hand rest is quite comfortable and just the right size for my left hand.
The Virtual NumPad, which allows you to input numbers in your 3D program, and the on-screen display that reminds you how your function keys are programmed, are sweet additions to the SpaceMouse Pro and shows that 3Dconnexion pays attention to detail in a 3D artist's work-flow. It's a shame that these features are "windows-only," though.
I'm very impressed with 3Dconnexion and the SpaceMouse Pro 3D mouse. Although there is a bit of a learning curve if you've never used a 3D mouse before. But, once you get up to speed, you have to wonder how you ever worked in a 3D program without it. And at $299, this advanced 3D mouse is a bargain.
SpaceMouse Pro worked perfectly in Cinema 4D R14, Maya 2013 and Modo 601 (my current 3D program base) and even allowed me to do some pretty neat camera moves in the virtual world of Second Life. I think one of the keys to 3Dconnexion's 3D mouse products is that they make a concerted effort to integrate with as many programs as possible. Mechanical engineering, media and entertainment, architecture and construction, gaming and even support for geographic information systems like Google Earth, all of these areas of 3D graphics are well integrated with 3Dconnexion's 3D mouse products, including the SpaceMouse Pro.
The SpaceMouse Pro is an excellent addition to any 3D artist or designer's toolkit. This review has only touched the surface of what this beautifully designed hardware can do. It's not only effective in speeding up your 3D work-flow, but the SpaceMouse Pro is fun to use!
3Dconnexion's SpaceMouse Pro is highly recommended.
Full tech specs for the SpaceMouse Pro are available here. Pricing for all 3Dconnexion products are here. The 3Dconnexion website is a great place to learn more about their entire line-up of products and to see what 3D software is supported.
My thanks to 3Dconnexion and John Moseley in particular. 3Dconnexion is a great company and I'm very proud to be able to review their products.
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
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