Better 3D navigation with SpacePilot Pro

Ever since I’ve been using a 3D mouse by 3DConnexion, I have a hard time going back to the standard “keyboard + mouse 3D space navigation,” as I’ve become very dependent on the device. Recently, I’ve been testing the SpacePilot Pro, the latest addition to their 3D navigation devices.

Up to a certain point, all the navigation devices are the same, as they all are used to navigate your 3D scenes. The real difference comes with the extra features, as the more expensive editions will offer speed control as well as customizable buttons.

If you’ve read the review I wrote about the SpaceExplorer last year, you should have a very good idea how the device works. The 3D mouse has a “cap” that you can move in all 6 different axes to make your camera navigate in that direction. You can also twist the cap to make your camera rotate either around the object or around its own axis. You can even combine movements, which means you can rotate your camera while zooming in or panning.

Just like the SpaceExplorer, the SpacePilot Pro has different “modifier keys” on one side (Ctrl, Alt, Esc and Shift keys). These are very useful, as you sometimes find yourself navigating your scene while making multiple selections. In Maya, sometimes you can combine your Ctrl key with a right click, so the Shift and Ctrl buttons in that device are the ones I use the most.

The SpacePilot Pro also includes 5 different function keys and 5 camera function keys (which can also be turned into standard function keys). What’s amazing about these keys is that you can actually map two different functions to each one. Each one of the buttons has two numbers written on it (one in white and a small one in blue). What this means is that if you just tap the button, the first function is executed, but if you hold the button, you activate the second function. This makes the SpacePilot Pro the most versatile 3D mouse to date, as you can easily setup up to 20 different functions to your keys.

Another nice feature is the ability to enable and disable the rotations and translations independently. There are three buttons on the right of the device, each one with the drawing of the cap on them. The first one is used to enable/disable the dominant axis setting. The second one is used to enable/disable translations, and the third one does the same for rotations. The reason I like this feature is because sometimes you will find it difficult to maneuver if you try to translate and rotate your camera at the same time, and these buttons make it easy to concentrate on just one movement.

The device also features an LCD display at the top. This small screen will display your current button configuration for the active application, which is extremely useful as it is impossible to remember the configurations you’ve made for every one of your applications. If you have more than one application open, the display will update whenever you switch to a new application. However, that’s just one of the many uses for the LCD display, as you can also run little applications in it.

When you install the device’s driver, you will notice it allows you to install “Applets,” which are small applications you can access directly on the LCD display. The applets include a mail viewer for Microsoft Outlook (I couldn’t test this one as I use Live Mail to get all my mail), an RSS reader, a slideshow presentation and a calendar.

Since 3DConnexion is a Logitech company, you can download the applets made for their consumer products and use them with the SpacePilot Pro. I downloaded the driver for the G19 gaming keyboard and installed the applets included with it, and now I have a resource monitor, a clock, and a YouTube player among other things.

There is no easy way to use the LCD display applets as a “launch pad,” though, as you can’t create “shortcuts” in it. If you want to add your custom applications, you’ll have to code them yourself with the help of the SDK that 3DConnexion has made available to developers.

If you take a look at the size of the device, it is obvious this is not made for portability (it’s barely slightly smaller than a netbook, and slightly heavier), so if you’re thinking of using a SpacePilot Pro for your work on the road, think again. If you find yourself in the need of a portable 3D mouse, 3DConnexion offers two different portable devices that will surely fit your needs.

As I said when I first reviewed a 3D mouse, it takes a while to get used to it. However, once you’re familiar with the navigation and speed controls you will become more productive as you will work faster thanks to this device.

For more information about their products, please visit the 3DConnexion website.

Read Sergio's review of 3DConnexion's SpaceExplorer.


Sergio Aris Rosa [nemirc], is Sr. Staff Writer for the Renderosity Front Page News. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields. You can follow him on Twitter, and if you want to see what he's up to you can visit his blog.

July 6, 2009

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Member Opinions:
By: nickcharles on 7/12/09
At first glance, that is one scary looking piece of equipment, for sure.
Excellent review, Sergio! I can see how this could make some of your work easier. I especially love the LCD screen! Very cool!

By: nemirc on 7/12/09
yeah, the LCD is totally a killer feature!


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