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VIRPIL VPC WarBRD Constellation DELTA Flightstick review

Discussion in 'Papers' started by Stéphane Lenclud, Aug 17, 2018.

  1. Stéphane Lenclud

    Stéphane Lenclud Founder Staff Member


    Purpose & Scope

    We are reviewing here VIRPIL's brand new VPC WarBRD DELTA Flightstick. That's a very expensive computer joystick designed for space flight simulation enthusiasts.
    That document can also be useful as a quick starting guide.

    Background story

    A few years back, before joystick became a thing again, I got a bargain on a couple of Thrustmaster T16000 which I could source for under €30 a piece on Amazon.
    While somewhat satisfied with those they do have some obvious shortcomings. The main one being the very limited number of thumb buttons on the head of the stick. In fact T16K only has 3 buttons and a hat that gives you at most 7 buttons. Until recently there was no serious competitor for those T16K. After doing some research I decided the Saitek range, now Logitech, was not an option considering the pricing and poor reviews, moreover they still don't offer dual sticks solutions anyway.

    Fast forward to November 2017 and a young, but already renowned company named VIRPIL announces the WarBRD base and Constellation Delta grip. They opened pre-order in April 2018 and delivered the first batch of product in August 2018.

    Overview

    Crucially, like the T16K and unlike any VIRPIL product before, the VPC Constellation DELTA grip provides a twist axis so essential to space sim enthusiasts. However unlike the T16K the DELTA provides more thumb bindings than you will ever need:
    • 8-way hat and push (5 bindings).
    • 2 x 4-way hat and push (10 bindings).
    • Analog mini-joystick and push (1 binding, 2 axis).
    • Two stage trigger (2 bindings).
    • Secondary trigger (1 binding).
    • Notched scroll wheel and push (3 bindings).
    • Twist axis.
    • 2 x base axis.
    That's a grand total of 5 axis and 22 bindings. It is most impressive and probably more than anyone would ever need.

    Unboxing

    Here are those two joysticks packed together next to a T16K:
    20180816_184923.jpg
    Here is the box for one of them:
    20180816_185301.jpg
    Packaging was perfect really:
    20180816_185521.jpg
    Once open you get the WarBRD base on one side and the Constellation Delta stick on the other.
    You will find the desk mounting plate laying at the bottom of the box.
    20180816_185636.jpg
    The box also contains three small bags. Two of them containing extra set of cams, more on that later.
    The third one contains two stronger black springs to adjust the resistance of your joystick, four screws for assembling the base plate and four rubber pads to stabilize it on your desk.
    20180816_191106.jpg
    Here are some details of the WarBRD innards:
    20180816_191255.jpg

    Assembly

    Putting the joystick together is rather straight forward, though you will need the proper Allen key at hand:
    • Screw the base plate to the WarBRD.
    • Paste the rubber pads to the base plate back side.
    • Plug the stick to the WarBRD and tighten it in the desired position.
    I was quite happy to find those well designed 3M adhesive rubber pads in the box:
    20180816_192111.jpg
    Et voilà, here is what it looks like next to our T16K:
    20180816_192809.jpg 20180816_192816.jpg
    It's worth mentioning that some of the parts are rather greasy, the spare black springs were quite dirty with some brown grease.
    One of my stick seems to be leaking quite a bit of lubricant onto the plug. Possibly coming from the twist axis mechanism.
    I wiped it clean with some tissue as I was concerned it would reach the plug contacts.
    I'm assuming that's to be expected from a well oiled piece of hardware.

    I also had a very different experience between my two joysticks when tightening the grip to the base.
    The first one I tightened was tricky to control how it would position itself on the base. I had to orient the grip with a proper angle so that it would tighten in the desired position when locking it.
    The second to my surprise would show no such problem and I could very accurately lock it on the base in the desired position.

    Changing cams

    Cams are mechanical parts in your WarBRD that defines the feel of your base axis. If you want to change them I recommend you take a good look at this The Noobifier video first.
    Here are the the tools I used, you will need two size 8 spanners:
    20180817_221715.jpg
    The Noobifier mentions you should take care not to damage the electronics. I would like you guys to make sure you don't damage your fingers. I find the pliers are needed to remove and put back the springs. I would advise against trying it with a screw driver. The cams are drenched in lubricant so things will get dirty.
    20180817_210923.jpg
    I had an horrible time changing my cams to the softer, one notch, cosmo cams. I'm not sure why they are not installed by default since this is a space sim product anyway.
    I took me more than 3 hours to operate on both my joysticks. Some of the cams don't come out so easily once you removed their nuts. The springs can be tricky to remove and even harder to put back in place. Once I was finished with the first base I thought the second one would go faster. It didn't as I struggled to remove some cams. One of the cosmo cam also had an issue with its hole not having been cleared properly. At some point I thought I would have to give up and get it replaced. I eventually managed to screw it in place. You are supposed to be able to just slide them on the bolt.

    However once it's done it makes a huge difference from the harder default two notches cams, well worth it.

    20180816_193457.jpg

    Hardware

    My first impression of the assembled hardware is just plain awesome. It smells like an excellent quality hardware all around.

    Desktop use

    VIRPIL claims the DELTA has a "Compact Design for Desktop Use". By that they mean you can just put it on your desk and use it without need to mount it using specialised equipment such as their Desk Mount. The key to desktop use is low profile, ideally the grip should be as close to the desk surface as possible for maximum comfort. If it's too high you will need to raise your shoulders to grab it and it will quickly become uncomfortable or even painful. I'm glad they aimed for that but I don't think they have quite achieved it. In fact the grip is about 5cm higher than the one from our venerable T16K and the top 8-way hat is like 10cm above it.

    Personally I can't recommend using the DELTA sitting at a desk, I know I would break my back doing that. However if you have an adjustable sit and stand desk and a descent monitor mount you should be able to find a comfortable position.

    Yes you can use the DELTA without desk mount but not on your regular sitting desk. Then again that's just my opinion and I'm known for often standing at my desk anyway.
    The provided rubber pads are doing a good job stabilising the joystick on your desk, they are quite large and thus provide more resistance. However much like the rubber pads from the T16K they loose their resistance overtime as they get dusty. To fix this, and for best stability, clean them with a wet cloth before your gaming session, you will be amazed how well that works.

    WarBRD base axis

    Both WarBRD axis are amazing to use, far superior than the ones from T16K and those were great already. The default cams installed are the ones with two notches, they offer too much resistance on the edges for my taste. I'll have to try those one notch cosmo sim cams, I understand they should offer less resistance. In fact with the default two notches cams and without desk mount it's fairly easy to displace slightly the base when hitting the edge. Though I reckon once you get used to your joystick it should not be a problem while gaming.

    DELTA grip twist axis

    That twist axis is one of the key feature from this product. It is works great and is satisfying to use. It needs more strength than the twist from the T16K. I reckon it should still be comfortable to use over time and I'm hoping it would loosen a bit.

    DELTA grip analog mini-joystick

    Feels like great quality hardware here again and should be very convenient for some game. I'm planning to trying it out for playing MechWarrior Online.
    Unlike on XBox and Play Stations gamepads the travel area is square rather than round, it feels also shorter. I find the push even less convenient to use than on XBox controllers, it's too resistant. That makes it the least convenient button to use on this hardware. Even with training it's hard to hit without generating noise on the analog mini-joystick and the WarBRD base axis. Still it's nice to have though.

    20180817_190023.jpg

    DELTA grip notched scroll wheel

    I feared that scroll wheel would be too much and that it would get in the way generating unwanted input. However it is notched rather than smooth so it has some stability to it and in fact is very smartly placed. Push button is very usable mostly without unwanted input. Up and down scrolling actions translate in fact into normal button actions. I could easily control the throttle in Elite Dangerous with it.

    DELTA grip 4-way hats

    You get two of them left and right on the head of the grip for your thumb to control. They basically offer five bindings, four directions and the push. I was concerned the push would be hard to use without hitting one of the direction. That's not the case they both appear to be very usable. Noise and haptic feedback like most buttons on that joystick are very gratifying.

    DELTA grip 8-way hat

    That's the top widget surrounded with that LED lighting at the very top of your joystick. That one is even more usable than the previous two. Though I'm not sure what makes it 8-way other than the fact the cap is better shaped to be used as 8-way.

    DELTA two stage trigger

    Haptics are great on both stages. However, and to me this is the biggest let down of that otherwise fantastic product, the first stage is unpleasantly noisy. So much so than when using it to navigate UI options in Elite Dangerous menu it would cover the gentle UI noise from the speakers. I'll keep an eye on that flaw, maybe it will get better over time.



    DELTA trigger button

    Smartly recessed to avoid unwanted input. I find it is still usable using the intermediate phalange of your middle finger. However here again we have some inconsistency across models. On one of my sticks that button is just right on the other it is recessed way deeper, like 2 mm deeper which is too much and makes it far less usable.

    Software

    As of writing the software does not come with an installer. You just need to unzip the package and run the executable. I was using the 07-08-2018 version.
    I assume there is no update mechanism so you should probably check online from time to time to see if there is a new version out.
    Using VPC Configurator Light at first can be a little bit overwhelming but I find it very powerful and surprisingly stable, especially when compared to Thrustmaster abandonware.

    Firmware update

    First it would require me to update the sticks firmware. Do that by plugin only one stick at a time to your computer's USB. I find that until you do the dual stick configuration mentioned below it gets confused when you plug two identical sticks. Head for the Firmware tab, select the firmware you want to flash, it's a .hexc file at the root of your unzipped archive, and follow the on screen instructions.

    Import DELTA profile

    At the bottom of screen you have an option to import a profile from a file. Select the WarBRD + DELTA profile and flash it using the "save device profile" button at the top of the screen.

    Dual stick considerations

    I find that for games and software, including VIRPIL's configuration tool, to deal properly with two identical hardware you need to make sure they are uniquely identified. This is best done by changing the PID or Product Identifier of one of your stick in your profile. Don't forget to update your profile after flashing it. Once that's done VPC Configurator Light should be able to properly distinguish both sticks, enabling you to easily configure both as you which. I'd recommend changing the name of your sticks too. I just added R and L prefixes as it would not take more characters.

    upload_2018-8-21_10-39-26.png upload_2018-8-21_10-41-38.png

    Axis calibration

    Next you need to calibrate your axis. For that purpose there is a button on the axis tab taking you to a calibration screen where you can conveniently calibrate all axis at once in no time by following the on screen instruction.
    upload_2018-8-21_10-49-2.png

    Buttons mapping

    From the Buttons tab you can conveniently remap hardware buttons to logical buttons. I simply cleared to 8-way hat buttons to remap them with the logical 8-way hat as this is often used by default by games. That's all I did for now if you flashed the DELTA profile as mentioned above the trigger should already be mapped to logical Button one which is convenient for using in-game default mappings.

    upload_2018-8-21_10-47-24.png

    LED

    You can change the colour and brightness of the DELTA 8-way hat LED.
    You have a choice between 7 different colours, 3 levels of brightness and you can turn it off too.
    I hoping the limitation to seven colours could be removed with a software update. I would be nice to be able to input any RGB colour.
    Also if it would be great if there was an API that would let game developers and moders make use of that LED.

    upload_2018-8-21_10-51-25.png upload_2018-8-21_10-56-0.png

    Configuration options

    It looks like you can really go mad with all sorts of more or less complex configuration options which I won't address in this getting started guide.

    Test drive

    I took those two bad boys on an Elite Dangerous space ride. As usual it takes a while to redo your bindings and get used to them but once you are there its an awesome joy ride.
    Those are amazing toys and a perfect fit for a game like Elite Dangerous where the game is basically all about enjoying the flying experience.
    20180825_105728.jpg
    That was however not without a few bumps. One of my grips was not tightly enough secured to the base and came loose during a tricky landing. Thankfully I still made it to port safely for repairs.
    Sadly after a couple of hours of flying one of my grips twist axis developed a nasty squeak. That and the trigger awful click noise was just too much for me. I had to take a look inside that DELTA grip.

    Disassembly

    I already considered to get inside that grip to try and fix that horribly loud trigger. When the twist axis started squeaking I thought I must do it now and fix both issues.
    It's fairly easy to disassemble that Constellation DELTA grip.

    First remove all height screws making sure you remember which one goes where.
    20180825_142708.jpg

    Then pull out the thumb keys panel from the top.
    20180825_141200.jpg

    Using a flat screw driver separate the two halves. Be careful cause they are glued together for some reason. You will need to carefully apply some force and use a flat screen driver to open it.
    20180825_141824.jpg 20180825_142843.jpg

    I used some lubricant to fix that squeaky twist axis mechanism. Mounting it on the base is handy to test it.
    20180825_145746.jpg 20180825_145751.jpg

    The trigger spring is responsible for that loud noise which echos in that empty chamber.
    To fix it, I used some rubber pad held in place using bits from discarded packaging.
    I also stuffed the chamber with cosmetic cotton pads, one in each half.
    The result is surprisingly pleasant. Our trigger first stage now makes a gratifying muffled noise much like any other buttons on that grip.
    20180825_153222.jpg 20180825_153626.jpg

    Now you can put everything back together. I find you don't need to glue anything the screws are doing a good job keeping all parts in place.
    I did take a quick look to see if I could somehow fix the issue with the secondary trigger button being too deep. I think it has to do with the button assembly itself so you can't adjust its positioning really.
    Instead I just pasted on the button a piece of the rubber pad left over from the original assembly. It does the job just fine effectively raising that button by two millimetres.
    20180825_120821.jpg

    Pros

    • Awesome build quality.
    • Serviceability, easy to take apart for repairs and customisation.
    • Twist axis.
    • High button count.
    • High axis count.
    • Notched scroll wheel.
    • Analog mini-joystick.
    • Top quality rubber pads for desktop use.
    • Great for dual stick setup.
    • Usability, ergonomics.
    • Most flexible software configuration.
    • Badass.

    Cons

    • Annoyingly loud trigger first stage.
    • Squeaky twist axis after two hours use.
    • LED stays on when PC goes to sleep.
    • Recessed trigger button inconsistent across models.
    • Grip locking mechanism inconsistent across models.
    • Grip is glued together, it makes it tricky to open the first time you need to service it.
    • Pre-installed cams too resistant.
    • Changing cams is a pain.
    • Sit and stand height adjustable desk needed for dekstop use.
    • Price.

    Conclusion

    VPC WarBRD DELTA Flightstick is a fantastic piece of engineering and a delightful toy. However it requires some time, customisation and DIY skills to turn a good experience into an impeccable one. Nevertheless I would not hold any grudge on VIRPIL for those flaws. In fact I believe the greatest strength of that product is the fact it has been designed to be easily repaired and customised.
    Moreover I got units from one of the very first production batches, mines are numbered 63 and 81. Hopefully VIRPIL will take that feedback and improve upon it. To me they really need to do something about that trigger noise. When you buy a €300 joystick you want every push of a button to feel great out of the box. The depth of the recessed trigger button should also be looked at and fixed.

    All in all I'm very thankful this world was blessed with a company like VIRPIL capable of delivering such dream hardware to gamers worldwide.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2018

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