Often the advantages and disadvantages of one night vision device over another are explained via their technical features. A wide field of vision and low power consumption are characteristic of image intensifier tube NV devices. Digital NV operates well with invisible IR illumination and are in principle more functional, allowing, for example, external powering of the device or video recording. Resolution and sensitivity parameters depend in many respects on the standard of the components – generation of IIT, digital sensor parameters, software, circuit solutions etc.
If we look at trends, then the digital direction and thermal imaging as a part of this appear much more dynamic than the ‘analogue’ one. If in previous years the dynamic could be explained by the constant development of the component base, principally sensors, then in the near future we should expect developments to the ‘intellectual’ aspect of NV, including their integration with other devices.
Interest in this topic was inspired by a visit to the IWA exhibition, which is so iconic for the market. The optical section of the exhibition demonstrated that today thermal imaging is setting the pace. It also showed that life is simmering away in the less expensive digital segment.
It is no exaggeration to say that the phrase ‘digital night vision’ is most often associated with the Yukon Company. Its first night digital Yukon was released at the beginning of the 2000s and has since given no reason to doubt their claiming of the role of leader in this area. It was at the last exhibition in spring 2017 that two innovations were released at the same time – the Yukon Ranger RT 6.5x42 and the Pulsar Digiforce 860RT monoculars.
External devices are practically indistinguishable from previous models. The entire difference is hidden within. The Ranger RT and the Digiforce RT are the first NV devices in the Yukon product range to support integration with smartphones and tablet computers.
The Stream Vision hardware and software platform, which allows this integration to take place, consists of several parts. In the device, Stream Vision is ‘represented’ by some internal electronic components and a Wi-Fi module for linking to a mobile device, and in the smartphone and tablet it is represented by a single free app for the Android and iOS operating systems, the two most common systems.
To begin with, the app needs to be downloaded and installed on the smartphone. Then the device and Wi-Fi module are turned on. On the smartphone, select the network that displays the name and last four digits of the device serial number from the list of available networks. After a connection has been established between the device and the smartphone, the user is presented with a number of interesting possibilities.
First of all, the image ‘captured’ by the device can be viewed on the display of the mobile device. When hunting from a tower when the wait for an animal to break cover may last for hours, Stream Vision allows the NV to be placed in a window opening on a micro-tripod and, by pointing it in the direction of the feeding area, the arrival of the animals can be monitored by simply glancing at the smartphone display.
In addition to monitoring, the device can be remotely controlled, allowing in particular magnification change, adjustment of the infrared illuminator operation, engaging video recording and taking stills (both the Ranger RT and the Digiforce RT feature an integrated video recorder). Video recording files and stills are saved to the night device’s internal memory card. Stream Vision can function as a file manager and provide the ability to review and delete photographs and video recordings, as well as downloading to the smartphone memory. If there is a mobile connection where the hunt is taking place, Stream Vision enables live broadcasting of the image being monitored to a YouTube account, with the video files being saved there also.
Digiforce RT and Ranger RT are primarily field hunting devices. They have a high starting magnification (x6.5) plus a double zoom. As noted above, both devices are equipped with a built-in video recorder and the video recordings can be accompanied by a voice commentary (there is a built-in microphone). For long-duration observation, such as waiting in a hunting tower, it is advisable to power the Ranger and Digiforce from external power sources. Any 5-volt power bank with a microUSB connector is suitable.
Whilst functionally similar, these devices contain many differences. The Ranger RT 6.5x42 is equipped with an invisible IR illuminator with a wavelength of 940 nm which allows a hunter to observe animals without the risk of scaring them off. Power adjustment makes it possible to vary the distance range of the device over a broad range of up to several hundred metres. The Digiforce 860RT has a less powerful 805 nm IR illuminator, but it is at the same time designed for the attachment of an external illuminator.
The Digiforce 860RT is powered by 4 AA batteries. The Ranger RT, given its more powerful built-in illuminator, is powered by 6 of the same type of battery. Depending on the operating mode (IR power or Wi-Fi operation) battery power is sufficient for a period of 5 to 10 hours. The Ranger is also equipped with an additional battery container: a container with discharged batteries can be quickly replaced with one prepared in advance containing fresh batteries.
The third aspect of the Stream Vision platform must not go without mention – the remote update server. The Ranger RT and Digiforce RT devices are equipped with the ability to update the device software. The Stream Vision application checks for updates and advises the owner of these, as well as enabling the installation of new firmware that provides new functionality or improves the existing functionality.