Justin Lemme of TechtalkRadio takes a look at the Saitek X-55 H.O.T.A.S Controller
I was recently playing some games with some good friends over TeamSpeak one evening, and they were all playing this new space simulator called Elite:Dangerous and were going on and on about the game. I decided to give it a try, so I purchased it and dusted off my trusty old Thrustmaster T.1600M joystick from years ago.
After many a futile attempt to fly (not to mention land) a large spacecraft using the T.1600M, I grew extremely frustrated. I found that using a standard joystick to navigate a 100 thousand ton spacecraft, was like trying to drive a Ferrari with a touchscreen tablet…it just wasn’t happening. I asked my friends what type of joystick they were using, and like a men’s chorus during Christmas morning Mass, they all sang out in unison: “Saitek X-55 Rhino H.O.T.A.S, dude!”
I was completely unfamiliar with this joystick, and had no idea what H.O.T.A.S meant (for the naïve, H.O.T.A.S. stands for “Hands On Throttle And Stick”), so I had to Google it. What I found was something out of a movie. This joystick, err, controller (I really can’t even call it a joystick, it’s so much more) had so many buttons and switches that my inner child got giddy with excitement at finding out what each switch does. (I should mention that as a child, I had a fascination with light switches. Everywhere I went, I had to find out what each light switch did, no matter the repercussions…and it definitely got me in trouble from time to time, just ask my mother about the little red pull down “switch” at the hospital….)
The X-55 Rhino H.O.T.A.S. controller is definitely not for the casual flight simmer, it is for the enthusiast who has to have the best of everything to make their experience as realistic as possible.
Let’s dive into the guts of this product, shall we?
THE MAIN JOYSTICK
The X-55 Rhino is a plastic base stick with a rubber coating around the grip to give it the feel of a high end joystick (which it really fits into the high end joystick category, at least in my opinion). It consists of 5 buttons and four hat switches that are fully programmable depending on what game you are playing. It also has a full X/Y/Z axis (Yaw/Pitch/Rudder). .
The highlight of what makes this joystick so special is the spring loaded base that comes with interchangeable springs, giving users a choice on how stiff or loose they want the joystick to feel. Saitek calls this the F.E.E.L. system (don’t ask me what that stands for). The process of replacing springs is very straight forward, and there are even YouTube videos that show users how to do it. After watching the video, I was able to replace my spring to my liking easily.
THE THROTTLE QUADRANT
The second part of the X-55 Rhino H.O.T.A.S controller is the separate throttle controller. This is where all the bells and whistles are located, and those of us (see above) who love switches and buttons find this exciting. The throttle base is plastic like the main joystick, and has another handle wrapped in rubber for a solid feel to it. It has three hat switches, five rotary knobs, nine rocker switches, and three buttons, all which are fully programmable. As with the main joystick, each button or switch is backlight with green LEDs, to make night time use easier.
The look and feel of this part of the controller can be very intimidating at first, but once the user learns how to program the switches it makes it a bit easier. The sensitivity of the throttle is excellent and really feels like you are flying an aircraft or spacecraft.
Before plugging in the controller (2 USB 2.0 or 3.0), the H.U.D. software and drivers must be installed. The software is found on the Saitek website for download. Once installed, the controller can be plugged in and Windows will automatically set up the proper drivers for it from the ones downloaded.
For reasons unknown, Saitek uses the Windows Joystick Calibration utility to calibrate the controller, but I have heard that they are redesigning the software to include their own calibration utility. While the Windows Joystick Calibration utility works, I am eager to see if Saitek’s calibration utility works better.
Using the H.U.D. software, users can create profiles based on which game they are playing and define each button to their liking. When I was setting up my profile for Elite:Dangerous, I had to refer to a guide someone else had used because there were so many buttons and controls in the game, I didn’t know what I really needed.
After creating and saving the profile, you can actually export the configuration to send to friends so they don’t have to create one from scratch, which is a nice feature of the software.
THE PLAY TEST
So after I set up my new X-55 H.O.T.A.S. controller, I fired up Elite:Dangerous again to see how I faired with flying spaceships. Immediately I was amazed at how much easier it was to control the spaceship, and how sensitive it was to every movement I made with it. Flying, dogfighting, mining, and landing were much easier. In short, I was sold immediately on this purchase.
This controller is worth the steep price tag ($199 USD) in every way, but it doesn’t pass every test with flying colors. I found that having a H.O.T.A.S style setup with two separate quadrants that are not bottom weighted did make it a bit difficult for me to keep the controller steady on my desk.
I decided to build a mounting bracket for my controller, using a 1” thick piece of particle board and painted it black. I then mounted 4 long screws for each controller, lining them up with the mounting holes that are located in each corner (I found this to be a very nice addition to the controller), thus allowing me to sit each controller on four posts to keep them in place. I then simply set the board on my lap while sitting at my desk and have had no problems since.
Other than the slight awkwardness of the controller base without having it mounted to anything, the only other minor complaint I have with this is the use of the Windows Joystick Calibration utility. I would love to see Saitek make their own and make this product completely controlled and configured with proprietary software.
Overall, this is an excellent joystick and for flight enthusiasts such as myself that have used products like CM Products and Thrustmaster before, this is a very welcome addition into my arsenal. -Justin Lemme, TechtalkRadio
Purchase from Amazon - Saitek Pro Flight X-55 Rhino H.O.T.A.S. (Hands on Throttle and Stick) System for PC
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