Before really going into the details and thoughts on CH Products, i’d like to take a brief moment to explain that this article will be looking mostly from a Star Citizen point of view. As such it is worth note that in my opinion a HOTAS will never be able to effectively compete with the accuracy mouse and keyboard offers, however a HOTAS is a lot more fun to use and does feel more intuitive to fly with. That said let’s take a look at CH Products….products.
CH Products have been around for over 30 years, manufacturing joysticks and HID (Human input devices) for various industrial applications. They are an industry standard and highly regarded for their reliability and rugged endurance. There are users who have even have COM port converted to USB models as the company offered the upgrade for free and they just work still! It won’t stop a bullet from a Desert Eagle at point blank range though.
From left to right: Fighterstick (their top end), Flightstick Pro and Combatstick
Let’s tackle the elephant in the room. They look hideous. That’s just fact and can’t be helped. They’ve been using the same design since forever now, but the point of a HOTAS is to be able to use it without really looking at it, besides the fact that if you’re playing Star Citizen and would rather look at your HOTAS than what’s going on in-game then something has obviously gone wrong! Ergonomically speaking the stick is a joy to use. Buttons are placed in easy to reach places and have a nice tactile response, something which can be overlooked on other sticks. The stick itself utilises a yoke gimbal as opposed to the ball gimbal commonly seen in most sticks on the market, which can add a slight moment of confusion for movement if you’re used to using another stick. It isn’t too much of a big deal to get used to though, and in fact can aid some people in maintaining their x/y axis linearity when compared to a ball gimbal that can slip more easily. CH Products use very high quality internal parts, so while they may not use the HEART (hall effect) sensors that Thrustmaster use in the Warthog you can rest assured the sensors inside are at least as accurate and will last longer. Although the stick does not have a dual trigger, it has enough buttons on the stick itself for most anything you can think of, with the addition of a mode shifter wherein you can change the button layout of the stick on the fly and gain access to additional buttons that way and easily switch back.
CH Products are sold individually, meaning to have a full CH setup you have to make 3 different purchases. One for the stick, one for the pedals and one for the throttle. Selling the units like this can help offset the cost of making a large purchase in one go and also lets you mix and match. The throttle is just as rugged and reliable as the stick counterpart and is far cheaper than the Thrustmaster Warthog throttle unit. However it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles the Warthog does either and some people do not like how the throttle is on a flat base, preferring instead a more rounded approach such as the Saitek x5X series. Like the stick the throttle does have access to more buttons through a mode switch utilised on the analogue stick.
The analogue stick is one of the biggest appeals for this throttle. Unlike most other throttles on the market the CH throttle features a true analogue input, which is fantastic for strafing or even other exotic functions if the user is brave enough to experiment around with it. It would be remiss of me to not mention the fact that some recent models that CH have sold have a ‘sticky’ analogue input, meaning in games sometimes despite you not using the stick it will still register input unless you give it a quick flip in the opposite direction to correct it. Some users have varied success with different methods, with the easiest to implement just being a small deadzone on the input that covers you. The throttle action is quite loose and there is no factory implemented way to tighten it or loosen it more to one’s liking. There are a large group of enthusiasts that have found ways to mod their throttle more to their liking, especially over at CH Hangar, but for the average user who just wants to use it, it may take a slight adjustment but it isn’t a major drawback. Just like the stick the buttons have nice tactile response when pressed. The throttle has three 4-way hats; two for your thumb and one for your finger, and one 8-way hat. This gives you lots of things to be able to bind with, though the 8-way hat can be a bit tricky to use accurately in a tense situation.
Destroying knees and other lower half body parts for 30 years.
The infamous CH pedals pictured above have gained a reputation in the HOTAS community for being far too close together for use if you are even vaguely tall. Thankfully i’m only tall in the Elf Kingdom so I didn’t have to worry too much about this, but anyone of normal height should take this into consideration before purchasing them. Once more, enthusiasts have modified theirs to be more comfortable, with solutions ranging from the simple: raise the base and place it an angle, to the complete rehousing of all the internal components! The pedals do come with some stocks that you can insert in the pedals rails so you can use them for driving games or just keep them in place if you so wish. The toe brakes themselves function exactly as you’d expect pedals to, and return to centre very quickly. Once again during use they just feel tough, and they need to as well, during flying you may need to make full and fast use of them and you don’t have time to think about if you can be this rough on them. CH Products give you that piece of mind; these pedals will rarely break through normal use and will just keep working at their best to the very end, though no one has yet lived long enough to see their CH gear die of wear and tear! There’s not much else to really say about them, they simply work really well and with the addition of scripts you can get a lot really amazing results and tricks out of them.
Though it looks like it is a throwback to Windows 3.11 this software is extremely powerful.
CH Products and Thrustmaster scripting software was written at least in part by the same person. In fact you can still go to CH Hangar and ask him direct questions about the software and help you may need. With this software you can combine any CH Products you have, which is useful in older games where only one hardware input can be used, such as the old Mechwarrior games. You can then reassign the buttons on each device to do anything you want in that game. Thanks to this I’ve had some great experiences on Mechwarrior 4 (combined with Voice Attack you can really nerd out).There are already some scripts out there for Star Citizen/Arena Commander written by members of the community which can be great starting stones to teach yourself or even just make use of. One of the advantages of doing binds and script through this software as opposed to through Star Citizen is so long as you’ve used the CIG default layout as a template, barring control changes with a patch you don’t have to rebind your controls as they are saved in this not Star Citizen.
To conclude, CH Products are reliable, customisable, sturdy and modifiable. However, they are ugly. There is no HOTAS on the market that will be able to really compete with the accuracy you can get in mouse and keyboard, but a master with a HOTAS can really make another pilot sweat and work hard for a kill. The potential for fun once a new comer has got over the initial learning curve associated with training your muscle memory is through the roof. Being able to make a profile in the software to enable a full HOTAS use in an old game is a big bonus I think many Star Citizen fans will come to appreciate as it can breathe new life into an old game, you may find yourself revisiting Freespace 2, Mechwarrior or even Wing Commander just to experience the thrill of using your new HOTAS.