Digital night vision. It allows you to see in very low levels of light, similar in function to military night vision devices that you see on TV, except with a totally different technology, or operating method. The technology, this digital system, has numerous advantages.
How does it work?
Unlike military night vision devices that use a fragile glass “tube” to intensify every last bit of ambient light, SuperVision uses a sophisticated electronic sensor to receive the ambient light. It’s called a charge coupling device, or CCD sensor. Rather than simply intensifying the light like tube night vision, the sensor registers the light in a digital format. This data comes in the form of pixels of information, which is getting rather complicated, but it’s basically the same way a digital camera works.
Why is it better to have digital night vision?
The military-type of night vision has what you might call a “dumb” system while SuperVision’s digital system is “smart.” The tube simply intensifies all light regardless of how bright, which leads to a very big problem called “blooming.” Blooming is when the tube encounters a fairly bright light source, like a street lamp, and “stupidly” intensifies the light, causing the system to bloom out, sort of like a white-out in a heavy snow storm. You can’t see anything in a bloomed out tube. A digital system, on the other hand, can discriminate between different levels of light, leaving a bright source alone and only enhancing the darker sources. The result is a nice, even view of the darkness with sharp detail and high contrast.
Does SuperVision have that grainy green look?
Not at all. The green look is only found on the tube-type night vision. SuperVision’s view is a highly detailed black and white look. The image that you actually see is a high-resolution display that has the same resolution as a High Definition TV.
What are the advantages of digital night vision compared to conventional night vision?
First and foremost, digital information is better because it can be processed and manipulated, unlike the “dumb” systems which simply pass the light through an intensifying tube. Our engineers wrote special software that is loaded into SuperVision’s digital signal processor. The DSP is the real brains of the operation. It is the DSP that allows the user to adjust the gain control, to account for different levels of ambient light. There are four levels of adjustment from very low ambient light to virtually broad daylight. Also, you can zoom the magnification of the view. And don’t forget there’s no blooming because of the DSP knows which pixels need enhancing, which need nothing and, perhaps, which need to be reduced in intensity. This is how you get to see into shadows underneath a street lamp, where tube systems would bloom out.
Night Vision Zoom? Explain.
Think of SuperVision like a 2-8x power scope. SuperVision uses a specially coated 35mm optical element— a lens with anti-glare and anti-reflective coatings— that gives a 2x magnification. The DSP then can add up to 4x digital magnification to give an 8x view.
How is the zoom controlled?
There’s an easy-to-use keypad on the top of SuperVision with five buttons. The front two are the gain control, plus and minus. The middle button is on-off. The back two are zoom, plus and minus.
Can you elaborate on gain control?
Think of it like the brightness control on your TV. The essence of digital night vision is a combination of the frame rate, or how many times the image is enhanced by the DSP, and the contrast of the image. Contrast and frame rate combine to form gain, and SuperVision’s gain is fully adjustable by the user.
Do you need some ambient light for night vision to work?
Absolutely. If you are in total, absolute, complete darkness— no ambient light whatsoever— no form of night vision can possibly work. The old tube systems work by intensifying light, so obviously there has to be some modicum of light for the tube to intensify. SuperVision doesn’t so much “intensify” as it does reprocess the pixels of light and enhance them, but the situation is still the same— you need a bit of light for any night vision to function.
You refer to ambient light. Is that some sort of invisible light?
In the context of night vision, yes. We’re referring to infrared light, which is a bandwidth of light that’s undetectable by the human eye. It’s there, but you can’t see it. Infrared light comes from outer space, reflected by the stars and moon. Actually, infrared light is also present during daylight, coming from the sun along with ultraviolet light, x-rays, gamma rays as well as visible light, but we better stop there. This is starting to sound like a high school physics lecture.
What should we know about light?
Light is electromagnetic energy. It’s composed of weightless particles of energy called photons. These photons can be transmitted in various wavelengths, or frequencies, of energy. At the very low end, you have radio waves. Now you can’t see a radio wave, but it’s a form of electromagnetic energy— light. At the high end you have x-rays. In the middle is a relatively narrow bandwidth of light that we call the visible light spectrum. This is the classic rainbow of colors, going from violet to red, that we humans can perceive with our light-sensitive receptors, otherwise known as eyeballs.
And how does this relate to night vision?
So that you understand that “light” is all around us all the time. SuperVision and other night vision devices can “see” in the infrared spectrum and that is basically how night vision works. But remember, there must be some amount of infrared light for either tube-style or digital night vision to function.
So can you sum up the advantages of digital night vision?
It’s a smart system so the darkness is selectively enhanced rather than simply intensified as much as possible by a glass tube. This selective enhancement prevents blooming out the device, or causing the view to blank out. By the way, blooming is permanetly damaging to tube devices, which is why they come with those black lens covers. Of course digital technology allows you to see into shadows much, much better than tube systems— again because of the over-powering of lighter sources. And don’t forget the zoom magnification and adjustable gain control.
What is the power source for SuperVision and what is the length of its runtime?
SuperVision runs on a rechargeable lithium ion battery, like your cell phone. The big advantage of lithium ion batteries is that there is no “memory” like ni-cad batteries and the cycle life (the number of times the battery can be recharged) is appreciably higher. SuperVision comes with one lithium ion battery and a dual-cradle charger that can hold two batteries. Additional batteries are sold separately. The runtime is two hours.
What are the technical specifications for SuperVision?
Resolution 380K Minimum Illumination 0.0003 lux Magnification 2x to 8x zoom Range of Focus 15 feet to infinity Diopter Adjustment +2 to -6 Exit Pupil 14mm Eye Relief 25mm Field of View 40° Weight 20 ozs.
Can SuperVision be helmet or weapon-mounted?
No. The first model is designed as a handheld monocular. The eye relief at 25mm is far too short for weapon mounting and the unit is too big for comfortable helmet mounting. SuperVision engineers are developing a low zoom magnification, lightweight, longer eye relief version for weapon mounting. A helmet version may be developed if there’s sufficient demand.
With its digital technology, is it possible to download the images from SuperVision?
Yes of course, and that’s another of the big benefits of digital night vision technology. SuperVision engineers are developing a follow-on model with a wi-fi or Bluetooth type of wireless transmitter that will send the images directly to a viewing screen, a laptop, a hard drive, any source you choose. This model will launch in 2008.
You hear about different “generations” of night vision. What does that mean and what generation is SuperVision?
To understand the “generation” reference, you first have to understand the history of night vision. The U.S. military developed night vision devices during the Vietnam war. The situation was dense tropical rain forest and the military wanted a device that could “see in the dark” under the triple canopy of the jungle. Very little infrared light could penetrate the triple canopy, so the emphasis was on amplifying or intensifying every last photon possible. This is vital to know, because it explains why the different “generations” of night vision all focused exclusively on intensifying whatever light is available. With that in mind, night vision manufacturers worked to improve the quality of the glass tubes and their receptors. As improvements were made, the U.S. Army tested ensuing models and began to refer to them as first generation, second generation and so forth. The term is usually abbreviated to Gen One, Gen Two and Gen Three.
Can you give a quick rundown on the different generations and what they mean?
The main difference is measured in what they call “line pairs of resolution” and this is basically a sort of eye chart with lots of lines on it. Depending on the amount of light present, measured in lux, and the number of line pairs the device can see, that’s the generation. Gen One is total junk. That’s the crappy Russian surplus stuff that’s literally not worth using as a door stopper— a brick is cheaper and does the same job. Gen Two is just a slightly improved version of Gen One. Gen Two also tends to be Soviet Union hand-me-downs. As for Gen Two quality, let’s put it this way: would you feel confident using a 1970s vintage second-hand Russian parachute? Gen Three is much better. Gen Three is what the U.S. military currently issues to troops in the field. It’s good for what it does— intensify every last drop of light. (Remember the jungle canopy?) But therein lies the rub. In an urban environment with street lights, burning cars and all sorts of different degrees of light and dark, everything from dense black shadows to bar room dimness, Gen Three suffers from “blooming out” when it encounters any sort of bright light. You can’t see into the shadows at all with Gen Three, which is a very bad thing since bad guys tend to hide in the shadows and don’t just stand around under the street lights.
All of these generations use a light intensifying tube, right? And none of them can zoom or magnify like SuperVision?
Right. You can screw a bulbous looking lens on the end of some Gen Three devices to get 3x magnification, but it turns the thing into a Hubble telescope. Far too unwieldy for practical use, plus you have to call time-out to unscrew the damn thing if you want to go back to no magnification. SuperVision would have zoomed from 2x to 8x and back again just in the time you read this sentence.
How would you describe SuperVision in terms of generation?
Digital technology defies the generational nomenclature, but you could call it Gen Next. It’s just so superior in every respect to even the best Gen Three.
Cost and availability are big issues with the Gen Three stuff, aren’t they?
Bring your Visa because they don’t take American Express. Gen Three runs anywhere from $4,000 on up to $6,000. Some models are even in the $10,000 range. And that’s if you can get them because all the production goes to the U.S. military.
But I see Gen Three advertised. Is it the same as the military night vision?
Not even close. The manufacturing process of image intensifying tubes, known in the business as I-squared tubes, is highly inconsistent. There are lots of blemishes, flaws and defects in tubes as an inherent part of the manufacturing process. The tubes are graded for their flaws, like diamonds, and only the best ones go to the military. The rejects go to commercial production, either by the manufacturers themselves, like ITT, or by vendors who buy the junk tubes and put them in their own housings.
What about thermal night vision?
You watched a rerun of Predator, did you? Thermal night vision detects the heat signature of objects and you, my furry little hominid friend, are a heat producing object. The heat is radiated in the form of electromagnetic energy— light— and the thermal sensor can pick up your infrared emissions. There are a couple of problems with thermal, though. First, the object has to be hotter than its surroundings. Second, there is no ability to discern detail. What you see is just a blob. Camel? Child? Insurgent? Third, thermal devices cost an arm and a leg. You’ll think military-grade Gen Three is downright cheap at $5,000 a pop compared to thermal at double that.