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Night vision devices (NVDs) became available to people relatively recently but immediately became indispensable human assistants. Their presence made it possible to carry out simple and complex work in the dark and during the day. Gradually, night vision technology improved, thanks to several generations of useful devices appearing, without which people cannot do without to this day. Recently, there has been much talk about IV-generation devices. Some call them a myth, while others call them tomorrow's reality. On which side is the truth, everyone decides for himself. To make the right decision, you must study this topic's available information.
History of night vision devices
The idea of creating NVDs was born less than 100 years ago. The catalyst for this process was the desire of military personnel to conduct combat operations during daylight hours and at night equally effectively. Thanks to various devices, it was planned to create conditions under which the soldiers would gain a significant advantage over the enemy. For a long time, all ideas remained on paper and did not reach the creation of real devices. The situation changed in 1939 when the German army began aggressive wars against other states. They created and put into practice optics, which made it possible to see the location of enemy soldiers in the dark.
NVDs became a full-fledged part of the equipment of some military units of the Nazis at the end of 1939. These were the simplest devices that bore little resemblance to modern night optics. Nevertheless, they made it possible to see the equipment and manpower of the opponents, as well as to aim various weapons at their clusters. The principle of operation of such NVDs was based on the use of infrared radiation, which helps to detect all living and non-living things within the range of the device. With the help of modern, at that time, technologies, it was possible to amplify natural light hundreds of times. This made it possible to see relatively well in the dark and use this advantage to achieve their goals. At the same time, the first devices were far from modern night optics. Most often, they made it possible to consider only the outlines of the object without a chance to see at least some additional detail.
The first German-made NVDs weighed so large that separate equipment was allocated to move them. In addition, their full-fledged work required the presence of overall infrared searchlights, which also had to be delivered to the place of work. All of the above created many difficulties for the Nazis and any shot in one of the parts of the overall structure made the device unsuitable for further use. Specialists call such NVDs zero-generation optics, but they have yet to be included in the official classification. Four years of improvement in NVDs have led to more compact optics. It was much easier to manage, so modernized devices began to be installed even on German military equipment (for example, on tanks).
The period from the late 40s to the early 50s is a new round in the history of NVDs. At this time, the Americans became seriously interested in night vision. They used the captured German trophies and created their optics based on them. Various design changes were made over the next 20 years. This made it possible to develop devices related to models of the first generation. Their presentation took place in the 60s of the last century. However, due to the secrecy of this development, most people learned about it only after many years. American NVDs were first used in Vietnam. They showed themselves well in action, so it was decided to further work on improving night vision devices.
1960-1970 became a crucial period in the history of NVDs. At this time, the second-generation models were developed, which are often used in our time. They were significantly ahead of all their predecessors, as they could amplify the light several thousand times. The body of the optics has also undergone significant changes. It has become more compact and lighter. The modernization has led to an improvement in all performance indicators of devices, from magnification to resolution. The latter was such that the user could only consider small details of the object of interest in the light of the moon.
Approximately 20 years later, improved models of the second generation were shown. They eliminated noise in the image and increased the resolution to the maximum of that time. These optics was actively used in the military industry. In particular, they became the main addition to the equipment of soldiers participating in Operation Desert Storm. The results obtained and thousands of positive reviews convinced the developers of NVDs of the need for further modernization of such optics.
The late 90s and early 00s were the years of the most significant development of NVDs. Hundreds of new devices appeared during this period, differing from their predecessors in improved characteristics. All of the above led to the creation of models of a new, at that time, III generation. They turned out to be of such high quality that they began to be actively introduced into various spheres of human activity. In most cases, such optics were issued to the military. They spoke positively about the vast possibilities of the devices, as well as their increased reliability and durability. Civilians used such optics for security and rescue activities, construction, and hunting.
In our time, there is a process of modernization of models of the III generation. It is pretty active, so manufacturers present improved versions of various night optics every year. These devices are gradually disappearing from their predecessors regarding functionality and feature sets. In connection with this, many experts are already discussing the need to separate modern NVDs into a Gen IV category. Officially, this has not yet happened, but there will be new attempts to recognize modern optics as fourth-generation models in the coming years. Nowadays, manufacturers of night optics use the name Gen IV only as an advertisement, thereby demonstrating to potential buyers the uniqueness of the products offered. However, such NVDs models should soon replace devices of all previous generations.
Generations of NVDs
There are three essential generations of NVDs. Each of them has characteristic features, as well as its own set of positive and negative qualities. This information lets you easily choose the best option for a particular task. Models of different generations differ not only in a set of characteristics but also in appearance. In addition, discrepancies are observed in the cost of representatives of each of the three categories. Mainly many questions are caused by the Gen IV models. They do not officially exist, but work in this direction is active.
The simplest models that can be purchased today are first-generation NVDs. This technique, which has become the successor to zero-generation optics (not officially recognized), attracts the attention of predominantly poor buyers who need more money on more modern devices. Models of the first generation appeared immediately after the bloody war of 1939-1945. The United States is called their homeland, although the basis of the devices created at that time was captured German NVDs. Such devices have several exciting features that are characteristic of most of the existing models.
Devices belonging to the first generation have a short range. For different models, it is 50-75 meters. The capabilities of NVD and the state of the environment influence this indicator. In bright light (from the moon and stars), the maximum range will be 70-75 meters, and in cloudy weather - no more than 50 meters. In the presence of various external influences (for example, smoke, fog, snowfall), this indicator drops to 20-30 meters.
First-generation NVDs always have low image resolution. It becomes pretty dark, and it is almost impossible to see small objects on it. It also often has a noticeable noise that prevents the user from seeing fine details. All this, in total, affects the quality of the resulting image.
Gen I models cannot work in passive mode. Because of this feature, you must constantly keep the infrared amplifier on. Its light is visible from a great distance, so the observer's location will not become a secret to other people. Also, the active state of the IR amplifier reduces the device's battery life.
The image received from the device of the first generation has an unpleasant feature. It is only 60% -65% of the screen, which is not enough for most cases of optics use. Its quality at the edges could be better than in the center. Because of this, blurring of these areas of the image appears, leading to a decrease in the field of view.
First-generation NVDs can only last a few hours offline. This is due to the high energy consumption of the batteries, which occurs due to significant unnecessary losses. Also, the duration of battery life is negatively affected by the previously mentioned infrared amplifier, which is constantly in the active state.
All Gen I models cannot form a more or less high-quality image in the presence of an excessively bright light source (for example, burning in front of a flashlight or spotlight). In such a situation, a backlight does not allow even the outlines of large objects to be seen in the resulting picture.
Different types of optics belonging to the Gen I category are common. They can only be used to perform 1-2 simple tasks. More complex tasks, such NVDs, if they can cope, are of low quality.
Statistics confirm that first-generation NVDs operate for 1400-1600 hours. After that, they often fail due to damage to one of the structural elements. This is due to the relatively low cost of components and the ease of their replacement. At the same time, repairing such optics is much easier than models of other generations.
All Gen I night vision goggles have several significant advantages. They help such optics to remain in demand even decades after their creation. However, they have many more disadvantages, making them the least popular of all existing NVDs.
minimum amplification of light;
not the best image quality;
a short period of work without changing batteries;
the ability to perform only the most straightforward tasks;
the fragility of most structural elements.
Sometimes slightly improved first-generation NVDs are classified as a separate Gen I+ category. In such models, the developers managed to eliminate distortions at the edges, so the resulting image became better. This became possible due to the presence in the design of an additional element - a fiber optic plate, which is not available in standard Gen I models. Also, among the advantages include increasing the light amplification factor by two times. Another difference is the increased sensitivity of the photocathode. This is both positive and negative at the same time. On the plus side, the device captures the available light better, resulting in higher image quality. The downside is the high probability of damaging the more highly sensitive photocathode by the appearance of a sudden bright light (for example, turning on a car's headlights).
Generation II NVDs are more advanced devices than Gen 1 models. There is a vast difference between them, not only in characteristics but also in functionality. Such devices appeared in the 60s of the last century and became a real breakthrough in night vision. They began to use a special microchannel plate, which became one of the parts of the electron-optical converter. With its help, it was possible to multiply the image's brightness, thereby making it more precise and detailed. All Gen 2 devices released share a few standard features. They distinguish such devices from the background of outdated first-generation models.
Optics from the category Gen 2 range up to 200 meters. This is almost three times more than their predecessors. The exact value of this parameter depends on the features of each particular model. On sale, you can find devices ranging up to 200 meters. There are also simpler NVDs, in which this indicator is 140-180 meters.
The second-generation models have significantly improved image quality. This was made possible by including a microchannel plate in the design, contributing to a sharp increase in brightness. In addition, these NVDs have increased resolution, which has reduced noise, and the picture has become more apparent.
Gen II NVDs can work in passive mode. This allows the user to turn off and turn on the infrared amplifier independently. This feature greatly expanded the capabilities of optics owners, making them invisible in the dark. In addition, the ability to turn off the IR amplifier allows you to save battery power, thereby increasing the device's battery life. This led to the active use of second-generation models in the military industry, hunting, and other cases where you must go unnoticed.
An essential feature of the second-generation NVDs was the high-quality display of images on the edges of the screen. This allows you to maximize the field of view and see more than with the Gen I model. Also, the absence of blurring at the edges has significantly improved the overall image quality.
The battery life of the second-generation NVDs has increased significantly compared to the Gen I models. This value averages 30-40 hours, almost ten times longer than its predecessors. This was achieved by minimizing losses and the ability to turn off the infrared amplifier. In addition, greater autonomy has become available through more capacious batteries.
Devices of the second generation have become resistant to light. They can form a high-quality image even if a bright light source appears in the field of view. Also, the developers managed to eliminate other distortions due to various external factors affecting the device.
Models from the Gen II category are the most versatile. With their help, you can perform almost any work in the dark. Such universalization was also facilitated by increased strength and security (from moisture, dust, and other external factors) of the entire structure. Because of this, second-generation NVDs can be operated even in the most extreme conditions.
On average, Gen II models can work for about 4.5-5 thousand hours. After that, the likelihood of breakdowns will become relatively high. Compared to first-generation NVDs, this figure has increased by 2.5-3 times, which has become a real breakthrough for night optics.
Devices of the second generation are used everywhere. This became possible due to the optimal combination of price and quality, as well as the presence of a large number of other advantages. Models of this type also have several disadvantages everyone needs to know about.
high quality of components;
dozens of hours of battery life;
the ability to work in passive mode;
absence of defects on the edges;
the ability to perform a variety of tasks;
reliability of all structural elements;
poor perception of point light sources (glare appears on the screen);
inefficiency in performing specific tasks.
Second-generation devices with improved performance are often categorized as Gen II+. Such NVDs are usually more compact in size while equal to standard models in terms of image quality. Another critical difference is the increased range. In some cases, it can reach 300 meters. Also, positive changes are noticeable in the battery life. The downside is only 3000-4000 hours of operation instead of 5000 hours for standard models.
III generation NVDs are the most adapted to today's realities. They appeared relatively recently but have already become popular with representatives of various professions. Such devices perfectly show themselves when performing any task. They are more versatile and functional than their predecessors. There are many varieties of Gen III instruments. All of them have several standard features.
With the help of third-generation devices, it is possible to see in the dark at a distance of about 300 meters. The exact value of this parameter depends on the characteristics of the model being used. Now there are already optics with large-range indicators.
Devices from the Gen III category can produce a clear and detailed picture even in low light conditions. Thanks to this, the user will always see a rich image with excellent contrast. Also, it will be free of noise and other possible defects.
Generation III NVDs can work effectively in passive mode. In this case, they will give high performance, which models of previous generations can only envy. The ability to turn off the IR amplifier on its own also guarantees the invisibility of the user in the dark.
Most Gen III models can operate in all lighting conditions. Even if a bright light source appears in the field of view, such devices will automatically change the power settings of the transducer tube. This guarantees high image quality and reduces the chance of flaring to zero. At the same time, some third-generation devices lack this option, so you will have to change the settings manually.
Modern third-generation NVDs are as versatile as possible. They are perfectly combined with various additional equipment and can be installed on scopes, cameras, and other devices. These NVDs do their job perfectly in all cases, guaranteeing the user a high image quality.
Third-generation devices are the most in demand. They are suitable for most types of work where people need to see well in the dark. They are already being actively implemented in dozens of industries. They are also used on construction sites, hunting, and gaming events. Demanded models of the Gen III generation remain in the military sphere. This feature is observed even after more modern devices with improved performance and richer functionality appear.
Gen III models are the benchmark for reliability and durability. They are made from high-quality components, which have a long service life. In addition, such optics have complete protection, which excludes unpleasant surprises from the impact of any external factors on the body (high degree of protection against moisture and dust, resistance to mechanical stress, etc.).
The service life of any Gen III device is 8-10 thousand hours. These are big numbers compared to the second generation's top models. Such durability of devices compensates for the significant financial costs required to purchase a particular model.
Models of the third generation consist of continuous advantages. They are widely used in the performance of various jobs. Therefore, they are considered the most in demand today. A large number of positive qualities cover the existing shortcomings. Nevertheless, they exist, and it is not recommended to forget about them.
excellent operational characteristics;
high quality and incredible image detail;
increased resources of work;
efficiency in the performance of any job;
compatibility with different types of optical devices;
long service life.
Third-generation devices are available in dozens of different configurations. Thanks to additional design elements, manufacturers achieve universalization of optics and make it suitable for performing the required tasks. Military personnel, law enforcement agencies, and rescuers often use such devices. Among the civilian population, such NVDs are also the most popular (for example, among professional hunters). At the same time, their high cost sometimes scares potential buyers. It is due to the use of high-quality components made of modern materials with improved characteristics. At the same time, all financial costs are compensated by the efficiency of the optics and its long service life.
The most significant number of questions are asked about IVDs of the fourth generation. Many manufacturers of such optics have long announced its appearance, claiming that new devices will revolutionize night vision. In the end, a few years ago, the presentation of the fourth-generation models was held. Initially, they seemed to many unique, so there were a lot of good reviews. However, when the US military began to test these devices, the situation changed dramatically. It turned out that such optics did not meet the army's expectations and needed to meet their requirements by 100%. The main problem was the need for more reliability of the new NVDs and their relatively short service life. After much debate, US Army officials have decided to drop the Gen IV term.
Despite the backlash from the military, manufacturers have not abandoned their idea of placing the latest devices in the Gen IV category. In reality, they are Gen III + devices, and using Gen IV in the names is only a profitable marketing ploy. However, the singling out of NVDs in a separate group indicates to buyers their improved performance compared to third-generation models. There are also changes in functionality. Now almost all night optics sellers can find models they call IV-generation NVDs. Currently, such devices are widespread. They have a very high cost but are slightly superior to their predecessors in most respects.
Critical features of models that manufacturers classify as Gen IV:
All the latest NVDs use an ion barrier film design element. It is applied to the surface of the microchannel plate, thereby preventing the release of positive ions. Due to this, the gallium arsenide photocathode becomes protected from exposure to excessively bright light. This ion barrier film is three times thinner for Gen IV models than for Gen III devices. At the same time, the efficiency of its work was maintained at 100%.
The 4th generation devices use an improved version of the microchannel plate. Outwardly, it does not differ much from its predecessor, but it enhances the flow of electrons more efficiently. This slight change has a positive effect on some characteristics of the device.
All models, often called Gen IV, have a lower voltage image intensifier switching power supply in their design. This makes it possible to make the device even more resistant to intermittent overloads. At the same time, these changes did not affect the efficiency of the optics and its long service life. A switching power supply reliably protected NVDs from the negative impact of bright light sources that accidentally fell into the device's field of view.
All NVDs, which some manufacturers call the fourth generation, have an increased light gain value compared to Gen III devices. This amplification is relatively small (no more than 10,000 times), but its presence is an essential feature of the latest optics.
Minor improvements can be seen in terms of the range of devices. Compared to the third-generation models, Gen IV has about 100 meters more. This is relatively small, but in some cases, it can be an essential factor in completing a particular job.
This became possible thanks to introducing innovative production technologies and using components of the highest quality. Most of the models, which many consider being representatives of the IV generation, have a service life of 10-12 thousand hours. This is about 2000 hours more than third-generation NVDs.
Generation IV devices are as reliable and durable as Gen III models. They are maximally protected from various external influences and resistant to overloads and the power of bright light. In addition, most devices are comfortable with operation in extreme conditions.
An essential feature of the models that are commonly called Gen IV is the possibility of their widespread use. With their help, you can perform any job where you need the help of night vision. Such versatility in the future should make fourth-generation optics the most in-demand, however, while it is used only in some places. This is due to the excessively high cost, which is very different even from the price of the previous generation models.
NVDs that fall into the Gen IV category have quite a few advantages over 3rd generation models. All of them improve the performance of optics and make devices truly top-end. At the same time, you should never forget the shortcomings of even such high-quality NVDs.
resistance to overloads;
improved operational characteristics;
protection from external factors;
very high image quality;
increased resource of work.
decrease in work efficiency at the maximum settings of various parameters;
very high price.
Gen IV devices are primarily used by military personnel. With their help, various soldiers can conduct exercises and perform combat missions in the dark. The improved characteristics of such models give a noticeable advantage over the enemy, who uses outdated NVDs models. In some cases, such optics are used by law enforcement officers. With its help, hazardous criminals are identified and caught. Gen III devices are most often used in all other areas of activity, the capabilities of which are enough to complete the tasks. However, shortly, models with improved performance will become just as popular among the civilian population.
The Future of night vision
Various NVDs have yet to reach the peak of their development. Therefore, shortly, we can expect the emergence of innovative devices that will become an alternative to modern night optics. It has yet to be determined what these NVDs will be, but the directions for their modernization can already be identified.
Priority areas for upgrading NVDs:
Universalization. This trend will remain relevant for many decades to come. Every year, all manufactured devices will become more versatile and have a wide range of applications. Models are already being developed that can equally effectively perform various tasks. The possibility of combining civilian and military NVDs in one device is often mentioned. Such universalization will make it possible, with the help of one model of optics, to fight, protect the territory, search for missing people, protect one's own home, and do much other work.
Minimalism. This direction is relevant for any technology, including NVDs. It lies in the desire of manufacturers of such devices to minimize the size and weight of the structure. This will make it possible to obtain more compact models that will be comfortable to hold in your hands for a long time (for example, during reconnaissance or observation of potential prey on a night hunt). Minimalism is already seen in all modern NVDs. However, we should expect the appearance of even lighter and more compact devices in the future.
Wireless technologies. Manufacturers of modern technology need to remember that wires as a way to transfer information from one device to another. This trend also affects the creators of various NVDs. Already, the first models are on sale that can instantly transmit an image visible to the optics. All night vision devices will be endowed with this ability in the future. In addition, wireless technologies will enable remote control of NVDs. This will open access to a quick change of settings on all devices connected to a shared network (for example, it will be possible to instantly adapt the night optics of military personnel participating in a combat operation to changing environmental conditions from a specific command post).
Speed up work. The quick response of NVDs to any actions taken by the user is a priority for any manufacturer of such devices. Most manufactured models have yet to reach the maximum results in this direction. In this regard, further modernization of NVDs is expected to speed up their work.
Increasing reliability. Modern NVDs cannot be called ultra-reliable devices. Very often, they fail, due to which the quality of the work performed is reduced. In the future, the creators of such devices will strive to reduce the likelihood of any adverse outcomes. This should lead to the emergence of the most reliable optics that will work without failures and breakdowns for several decades. This will likely be achieved by using equipment components made from modern materials in production.
Improving the quality of the picture. Not all modern NVDs can provide the user with an ideal image quality. Because of this feature, work in this direction continues for a minute. Developers are constantly coming up with new ways to improve image quality. Now the priority is the option with the possibility of maximizing the resolution. In addition, there are separate attempts to enhance image detail significantly.
All the listed areas of NVDs modernization are a priority, so work on them is already underway. However, in the future, several more essential areas may become relevant to which developers will want to pay increased attention.
Suggested directions for upgrading NVDs:
Use of infrared spectrum. Already today, many NVDs have IR sensors. They are used to improve the quality of the image the user sees. Some manufacturers of NVDs are working on new designs that will make even more active use of the infrared spectrum. This task is not a priority, but its implementation in the future can make all devices as helpful as possible for its owner.
Ability to choose the color of the image. Many new and legacy NVDs display a green photo to the user. It is considered the safest for the eyes, so most device manufacturers use it. At the same time, recent studies indicate that prolonged observation of a green picture will lead to eye fatigue. This will negatively affect the state of the entire visual system and gradually reduce visual acuity. Most manufacturers need to pay attention to the results of such a study, so they are already looking for options to replace the green color with others. Also, in the future, the development of NVDs will begin, in which the user can choose the optimal color of the output image.
A combination of several technologies. Enough attention is already paid to this direction today. However, it is planned to combine different technologies more actively in the future. The most exciting option is the possibility of combining thermal imaging and the technology of forming an illuminated contour. This combination will make it possible to simultaneously see a thermal image of the surrounding area and a bright outline around each object that enters the device's field of view. This will help single out specific things or people of interest from the general mass, simplifying the observation and identification of a particular person as much as possible.
Augmented reality. Shortly, this direction may become the main one, but so far, it is only assigned a spare role. It is expected that the presence of augmented reality in NVDs will make it possible to simplify communication between users at any distance from each other (for example, military personnel conducting a training or combat operation will learn about command orders instantly in real-time). For civilians, introducing augmented reality into NVDs will open up new opportunities to perform dozens of tasks.
Night vision is a promising area that will be actively developed in the coming decades. Gradually, this technology will become more accessible to ordinary users due to the constant increase in the production of such devices and the inevitable decrease in their cost.
Developers of NVDs of various types already have a vast number of orders for creating devices with specific characteristics. Much money is being invested in this business, guaranteeing the industry's further prosperity and attracting new investors. The peak of night vision technology development and devices of different generations supporting it has yet to be passed, so all the most interesting is yet to come.
Fourth-generation NVDs are the subject of much controversy. Some people are sure such devices are just fiction, which is impossible to bring to life. At the same time, others argue that Gen IV is an inevitable reality of tomorrow. Both theories have many supporters, and it is impossible to say which is correct. Meanwhile, NVDs continue to improve, so in the future, mankind can expect a wide variety of surprises.