Smokeless Range Review
It is currently Summer time here in Texas, which means 100 degree weather for days. And as much as I love shooting, staying out in that heat is a beast, and indoor ranges are usually packed, loud, and have bad ventilation. So during these summer months I spend less time outside shooting than I would like. In order to combat this I have been looking into different at home solutions. Being a big fan of airsoft and SIRT lasers I have come across the Smokeless Range by Laser-Ammo. What the Smokeless Range does that other similar products like L.A.S.R. does not, is allow you to use a projector or large screen TV. So instead of just placing a piece of paper, and pointing a camera to catch the light. This lets you practice against moving and reactive targets. Such as a Dueling Tree:
What’s in the Box
Lets start with the cost. The software and camera costs around $400 from laser-ammo.com where it comes with a USB camera and a software license code for the base Smokeless Range. $400 bucks is not cheap, and NRA instructors can get a pretty decent discount on the package. But it does not come with everything you need right out of the box. In addition to the camera you also need a projector or a large enough screen to make it worth your time. The projector needs to be capable of at least a 1280×720 resolution and 2000 to 3500 ANSI Lumens, and the one they recommend starts around $2500, which is quite the investment. Cheap Chinese $100 LED ones off Amazon will not work, but I found a decent Viewsonic for around $400 that works just fine. I have also been able to get this to work just fine off my 27 inch monitor, and will soon try it on my larger 72 inch DLP TV, which I also expect to have no issues with. Add in a SIRT or one of their not cheap airsoft adapters and you are looking at $1000 plus the computer. The computers the recommend are also not on the low end, but I think this is due to the lousy 3D optimizations they have on a lot of the apps this program comes with.
For me though, the camera and drivers alone are worth the price. What the Smokeless Range comes with is a USB camera, and drivers that turns the laser into mouse clicks. This allows for almost unlimited customization that allows you to build your own personal smokeless range. Which is great because the drill software they come with sure are lacking. And the DLC, oh boy, some of them are in excess of $300 for something that looks like a 2001 Flash game. Luckily the camera can be used without the main Smokeless Range, though i do wish they would let you buy just the camera and drivers by themselves. As long as the lighting is correct in the room, the camera has a quick and easy auto configuration set up that gets you up and running in no time. If there is something wrong it will give you some hints on how to fix it, such as to much ambient lighting. My initial issue was that the wall I was projecting to was to shiny and reflective that it had trouble picking up the laser. Once I got that fixed, it was almost perfect. The only issue I came across with, and it gets better or worse the amount of lighting in the room. Is that the camera may sometimes pick up one laser shot as multiple shots. With the heavy default trigger on the SIRT this was sometimes a big issue that would count hits as misses. The darker i made the room, the less it happened, but it still happened. I wish there was a way for the software to be modified to adjust the sensitivity. It has way to adjust the shot placement, but not the sensitivity.
By default it comes with 10 drills, almost all of them are pretty useless. At the bottom you can see my video review which will go into each one in detail, so for right here I will just be brief. There are a few “games”, such as where you shoot a bouncing “bomb” that moves faster as you shoot it. But the ones I found more useful are the ones that allow just endless repetition drills. But they look like a kids first attempt at a Flash game in 2001. They are usually a static image just moving around the black screen. And the ones in 3D are almost worse, its no wonder they recommend such a high spec computer, because they are terrible optimized. The drills are either to basic for the cost, not accurate enough (some you just have to hit ‘close enough’ to be a hit), or to gamey to be a good drill. For $400 dollars I would expect that these drills would have had much higher production values. Luckily it allows for Downloadable Content, some which are even worse, and some are really neat. I will be covering those DLCs over the next few weeks. But it causes me to be more glad that the camera system is not completely tied into the Smokeless Range. Because I fully plan on writing my own drills for this software using the camera to get exactly what i want out of it.
The expand-ability and possibilities of customization of the Smokeless Range is what really sold me on this system. They have even developed a scenario system add on that you see in a lot of Use of Force classes that cost ten times as much, but here its only a $700 add on that allows you to even build your own. Since it acts like a mouse input the possibilities could be endless. I have a long list of things I want to try ranging from implementation into already existing games, to my own custom software. None of which could be much worse than the default drills it comes with. With a laptop, projector and a camera i have a range that i could take anywhere. Laser Ammo also has adapters for airsoft that allows you to get really close to simulating the real things, for a price.
What you will get out of this system will depends on what you can get out of it. If you are hoping for something complete out of the box than you may find this lacking. The camera and driver software is pretty good, but I don’t think the ten drills are worth all the money and work by themselves. Its much easier and quick to just use a iTarget Pro if i just want to get a few repetitions in. Yet as a instructor I can see some benefit to help my students (and myself) work with certain drills, and plan on bringing this to a few classes to get other peoples opinions. So if you already have most of whats needed, projector/big TV, SIRT, laptop, etc, and can get the instructor discount then sure its not a bad investment. But I don’t think I would recommend putting down $1000+ for what you would need if you where starting from nothing.
Keep a eye out for updates as i try out some of the DLC, airsoft add-ons, and even write some of my own code.