What Is a SpaceNavigator?
Generally, you'd put the mouse in your right hand and the SpaceNavigator in your left, although it would work equally well the other way around for left-handers. The SpaceNavigator is used for manipulating the 3D environment, such as rotating objects or panning and zooming the camera. Your mouse hand remains on your mouse for all other functions.
You could do most of those actions with your mouse hand and keystroke combinations. However, the 3D motion controller saves you time because you don't have to switch between modes to manipulate 3D space. The SpaceNavigator also gives you finer control and allows you to perform two or more actions at once. You can zoom while tilting, for example.
- Intel Pentium 4/III or AMD/Athlon processor based system
- 140 Megabytes free disk space
- Windows XP, Vista, or 2000
- Intel Dual-Core or Core Duo processor based system or 1Ghz G4 or higher
- 512MB RAM
- 10 Megabytes free disk space
- Mac OS X 10.4.6 or later
- Redhat Enterprise Linux WS 3, SuSE 9.0 or greater
Installation was fairly painless on both Windows and Macintosh computers. The installation process concludes with the Configuration Wizard with an interactive tutorial on using the SpaceNavigator.
I usually like to skip tutorials, but this one is worth exploring. Otherwise you may not understand why your scene is tumbling out of control rather than moving in the direction you intend.
Using the Controller
The SpaceNavigator controls tilt, zoom, pan, roll, rotate, and just about every other way you can manipulate a 3D object or camera. This control comes with a very steep learning curve.
The controller differentiates between rolling the handle side to side, sliding it horizontally, and twisting it. This can get very confusing as you're learning it. Fortunately, you can disable tilt/spin/roll actions if it's too hard to avoid them. You can also slow the controller's reaction speed, if you find yourself being a bit too heavy handed with the controls.
The other potential piece of confusion is up/down and zoom. You can control these actions by either forward/backward slides or pulling the controller straight up and down. You can pick which direction controls which action. I tried using both arrangements. For me, pulling the controller up for zoom was easier to manage, but that's a matter of personal preference.
In addition to the joystick control on the top, there are two custom buttons on the side of the controller. You can set either of these buttons up with keyboard macros, which is really handy if you're using 3D applications and find yourself constantly using the same keyboard commands.
Navigating Google Earth
Google Earth comes to life with the SpaceNavigator. It's much easier to fly around the globe and move in two directions at once. I don't think it was coincidence that Google installed SpaceNavigators at the Google Earth demos for SIGGRAPH 2007. When you're using the SpaceNavigator, it really does feel like you're flying.
I did check, and it doesn't work as a joystick for the Google Earth flight simulator.
Like Google Earth, the drivers should install themselves the first time you launch Google SketchUp. This worked on both the Macintosh and Windows Vista machine I tested.
If you are a heavy user of SketchUp, you really do need some sort of navigation device. Otherwise it gets very annoying to switch between orbit mode and object manipulation.
With a SpaceNavigator, you're always in orbit mode with one hand, so you can easily switch your vantage point without switching tools.
I did have to lower the reaction speed for the controller to use it in SketchUp. Otherwise, I found myself getting seasick with the rapid motion and losing track of objects.
The 3Dconnexion software lets you change the controller reaction speed on an individual application basis, which is a really nice feature. Slowing down SketchUp did not slow down Maya or Google Earth.