Wednesday, January 27, 2016

ATN X-Sight HD 3-12 Day Night Scope Review The Future of Optics?

ATN X-Sight HD 3-12 Day Night Scope Review The Future of Optics?

One of the more interesting items to arrive on my doorstep for review was the ATN X-Sight. At first glance at the incredible specs of this scope, I had to wonder if this was the future of optics.

The concept of the ATN X-Sight is pretty cool in theory - a purely digital 3-12 magnification scope meaning that there is an HD camera in the front and shooters are actually just looking at a high resolution screen instead of through a lens’ed optic.

Just last week at the 2016 SHOT show I saw the newest Gen 2 X-Sight and many of the complaints I have with this GEN 1 sight have been resolved. I did share the issues I have below with the ATN team at SHOT and the comment back was something like “Well that’s why we have a Gen 2, we heard a lot of great feedback.”

Before I jump into the coolness of the ATN X-Sight, I feel compelled to note more a few things which prevent the Gen 1 X-Sight from being initially reliable and user friendly. It should be noted that one cannot look through or use the X-Sight in any way with the power off. With the power off, you might as well be staring at a pitch black TV screen ½” from your face, because technically you are. Among the host of issues from a tactical and somewhat practical perspective, the need to power on the X-Sight was first on my list of things I found terribly inconvenient as a user of old fashioned glass lens optics.

It is a tad inconvenient that the X-Sight requires power to function at all as even a monocular, because this thing freaking eats four AA batteries at a time like a kid’s new RC car at Christmas. I found that even with the unit off, fresh batteries would be drained a few weeks later without so much as one boot up. Apparently there is some power consumption even while the unit is off. Once you fire up WiFi, my run times were reduced by approximately half. High dollar lithium AA batteries did deliver the approximate 20 hour run times noted by ATN without Wifi, but standard alkalines deliver around 10 hours of use and about 5-6 hours with Wifi on. If you are packing the X-Sight, pack a Costco sized pack of batteries.

The 2.25lb X-Sight is about twice (or more) as heavy as any other comparably magnified optic. Construction of the X-Sight was extremely solid. If you dropped the lardy X-Sight from your rooftop onto your driveway, I am pretty sure the X-Sight would survive and your driveway would have a dent in it. 

It seemed to me that ATN definitely error’ed on the side of durability and it shows and feels like it.  The quality of the included night vision IR illuminator on the other hand feels like a $2 flashlight from the Dollar Store. Mine fell apart while I was mounting it but I was able to reassemble it. Although the illuminator did a really excellent job of kicking out a 200-yard+ focusable IR beam to allow the ATN X-Sight electronics to do their job, most airsoft flashlights feel higher quality. ATN was clearly struggling to keep at the $629 MSRP of a night vision capable optic and the quality of the IR light apparently suffered.

The boot up is not particularly slow, but that 5-8 seconds seems like an eternity while you are attempting to shoot the racoon ransacking your trash can in the middle of the night. I can just imaging this on a hunt where you see that perfect trophy and need to wait for the boot up first.  Despite some pretty glowing reviews of the ATN X-Sight, upon my first boot up the resolution looked worse than a 1960s B&W TV and the night vision did not work at all. My out of the box perception was that the X-Sight was a total piece of junk, however I am glad I kept at it - that would not have been a fair assessment.

One of the initial problems was that I apparently had a bad initial load of a Gen 1 software pack. A quick call to ATN confirmed that I needed to do a firmware upgrade. OK just download the firmware and load it on the MicroSD card which after much searching I realized the required MicroSD was not included with purchase. Off to Best Buy I go. A few days later I had the time to move the ATN firmware from my Mac to my new MicroSD card. The update process was quick simple at that point. Power down the X-Sight, slide in the MicroSD with the firmware loaded and reboot the X-Sight. A few minutes later the X-Sight was transformed from junk to something that matched the manufacturers marketing hype.

The ATN Obsidian Android app has been squirrelly to say the least, but it “usually” works.  My iPhone and iPad Obsidian apps have worked flawlessly. I would say that the clarity ATN shows on the website is highly optimistic from my perspective. It is useable, but not as good as what they are showing online.

Those are my gripes with the X-Sight, but if you can have some patience with the technology it is quite incredible what ATN has packaged into the sight.

You can go ahead an kill your visions of night vision like the high speed military Spec Ops guys have, this is a very useable night vision when used with the IR illuminator. Even then it is more like looking through a magnified toilet paper role - the peripheral vision is limited.

If you get all retarded excited that you can have a $629 night vision optic, then you should probably calm down a bit. The capabilities of this scope are amazing considering the price, however the X-Sight is not a replacement for a $2000+ MilSpec night vision scope. After the firmware updates the night vision functionality works pretty well “IF” you use the IR Illuminator and ATN notes just that in the instructions. The sensors do an OK job picking up ambient light or moonlight for environment illumination, however for any practical night vision use a separate IR Illuminator is required. With the IR Illuminator focused properly, the ATN X-Sight does a pretty amazing job of offering night vision out to 200+ yards. Actually amazing considering the $629 price tag. The screen capture picture included clearly shows the division between where the illuminator shines and where it does not. Unless there is a pretty bright moon light, the night vision is useless without an IR Illuminator.

The zooming feature is a digital zoom and my perception is that clarity suffered as soon as you moved the magnification above the lowest setting. My preference would have been a simple night vision equipped 1X unmagnified red dot without all the extra features. Beyond hog hunting, anything I would likely shoot in the middle of the night I can hit out to 200 yards with just a red dot. On the lowest magnification the resolution was decent for an all digital scope, however a $60 budget 3-9 scope would still deliver exponentially better clarity.

ATN is making giant leaps with bringing technology to firearms. Their Gen 2 was twice as good as this Gen 1 version. If you like gadgetry and technology, then you will love the X-Sight. Included on board is are HDMI, MicroSD and USB interfaces, GPS, digital compass, Wifi connection to your mobile devices, upgradeable firmware/features, multiple reticle choices, day night settings, digital picture and video capture capabilities, interfaces and programming via a mobile device, one-shot zeroing, and even bullet drop compensation. All of which actually work. I can only imagine that ATN will keep updating the software to add new features. It is an amazing piece of technology which I would absolutely use for the darkest hours of a hog hunt and for the first six hours of the zombie apocalypse.

One of the coolest features is the ability to watch exactly what a shooter is seeing via a mobile phone or tablet within the X-Sight’s WiFi range. I have found this to be a really handy training feature and if you have video running a handy tool for figuring out where your shots are going. I have even taken a few shots from cover using my cell phone as the sighting viewfinder - very cool.

We must make the jump from mechanical sighting into the realm of digital sighting without making comparisons between the two - these are two different animals. I caution readers that when they look at the ATN X-Sight or any other digital optic that they need to realize they are not getting a 3-9 variable scope with digital capabilities, instead owners are getting a digital scope with digital capabilities. I have no doubt that in as little as a decade that digitally magnified scopes will be a typical optic solution for firearms and the ATN X-Sight represents the first real “affordable” step in that direction and definitely represents the future of digital optics.

This is cool technology without question, however I am not sure I would recommend readers sprint out to buy the Gen 1 X-Sight just yet as a primary optic for a firearm. If you have the cash this is a really interesting shooting tool to play around with for training and hunting. It is a cool piece of tech, however I think the useful window on this sight is very narrow as a night vision optic and thus has become an optic I swap on an off my Tavor and Ruger 10/22 rifles. To be completely honest, after six months of reviewing the ATN X-Sight, it has become one of those odd ball accessories which I use occasionally, but when I do it comes in really handy.

SENSOR HD 1080p ATN L130 Sensor
FIELD OF VIEW @ 1000 YARDS 617 ft
CORE ATN Obsidian
IP RATING Weather resistant
MICRO USB External Battery Pack
RETICLES Multiple Patterns & Color Options
MOUNT Picatinny, Included
BATTERY LIFE (LI-ION) 8 - 12 hours
BATTERY PACK LIFE (16000MAH) 22+ hours
BATTERY TYPE 4 AA (Lithium Recommended)
DIMENSIONS 9.5" x 3.19" x 3.35"/242 mm x 82 mm x 86 mm
WEIGHT  LBS 2.25 lbs
WARRANTY Two years
MSRP $629


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