G-Force Switch Panel: A Product Review
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Thread: G-Force Switch Panel: A Product Review

  1. #1

    G-Force Switch Panel: A Product Review

    This is a review of a G-Force switch panel for use in Microsoft Flight Simulator and other sims. It is a fairly new line of products that hasn't been promoted or reviewed a lot, so I thought you guys might like to read a reaction.

    TL;DR EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The units are good quality and super configurable and the service is good. Recommended if you need more doodads of the types provided.


    I'm too old to have been placed in one of these, but when my son was pre-ambulatory, we dropped him in one of those donut-shaped "activity walkers" with 360 degrees of switches, levers and knobs that made satisfying noises but really did nothing. He played with it for endless hours and I think was sorry to grow out of it. That is how you can spot a future PC flight simmer.

    Whether you would want one of these panels depends on how you fly and what with, so that context for my review will be helpful. I fly mostly in VR, other times with TrackIR, and I still fly P3D and FSX as well as MSFS. I have an X56 Rhino HOTAS. The X56 already is famously festooned in switches, and one might wonder why anyone who has an X56 would want more of them. The answer is that the X56 has few of the types of switches that are most useful in flight sims: persistent switches and rotary encoders. The X56 throttle unit has at least 8 self-centering momentary toggle switches, but only two switches that stay in their switched positions and continuously transmit their status to the sim -- one being the 3-position mode knob and the other a slider. A real aircraft cockpit is dominated by persistent switches, and has few, if any, centering toggle switches. That's why you can look at your switch positions in a real cockpit (or your sim VC) and see which lights and other systems are on and off. With a self-centering toggle switch, it often can be hard to be sure I am switching the item from the undesired to desired status rather than the reverse. Other flight controls, like the Honeycomb Alpha yoke, are better equipped with persistent switches. The X56 also is lacking in rotary encoders, as opposed to axis controls. Axis controls have a limited range of rotation and transmit their position within that range, like a radio volume knob. Rotary encoders turn endlessly, pulsing an up or down signal, like a radio frequency knob. The one we're most familiar with is the wheel on our mouse. In addition to radio frequencies, most nav and autopilot tuning in real aircraft is done with rotary encoders. The X56 has four axis dials/knobs but only one rotary encoder, and it is on the pinky side of the throttle handle, where it doesn't feel like a radio or instrument tuning knob. This means that my usual means of setting these items is to mouse over them in the VC and turn the mouse wheel, which feels unrealistic and results in a lot of head-down time and some erratic flying.

    In my search for more rotary encoder functionality, I looked at the Knobster, a single, programmable, dual-ring encoder that you can stick to your system, and the new Octavi IFR1, a similar encoder with a base and several buttons to change its functions. Both looked attractive and have been well reviewed, but at about $100 for the Knobster and $200 for the Octavi, not great value for what they offer. I started looking on eBay for alternatives, and that's how I stumbled on the G-Force products. Roman Guryca of Slovakia, who trades as g_force_eu on eBay and gforcecontrol.com on the web, makes a series of different switch boxes for sims. They have a variety of different switches and buttons. I chose the one with the most rotary encoders and persistent switches, the CP-34. I ordered from the web site rather than eBay because free shipping is offered on the web site, for a total cost of about US$175.

    I received immediate purchase and shipping confirmations, and the box from Slovakia arrived at my home in New York just six days after I ordered it. Packaging was adequate and obviously done by hand. The main unit was in bubble wrap with foam pads protecting the larger switches. There was a hand-fitted cardboard tray separating that from the accessories, which consisted of a 6-foot USB cable, some printed instructions identical to what can be downloaded from the web site, a couple of allen wrenches, and a cute foil G-Force sticker. The controller comes attached to a simple, 2-piece hinged 3D-printed stand that can position it at a couple of different angles. The stand is stout enough to do the job, but the unit can tend to tip forward when set at the higher angle when some of the switches are operated. I preferred to remove the stand using one of the included allen wrenches and lay the panel flat on my keyboard tray between my stick and throttle. It tended to slip around a bit, so I stuck some rubber feet to the bottom. The screw holes for mounting the stand could serve as attach points for mounting in a home cockpit rig.

    Roman is explicit on his web site that his products are 3D printed by himself. He does not commission the production of these things from some factory in Shenzen, so don't expect mass-produced quality. When you open it up, you won't go "Wow" at the finish of the molding like some reviewers do of the Octavi or Steamdeck. But, for a garage 3D-printed unit, it isn't bad. The plastic colors are nice, the textured surfaces can pass as decorative, and only at the tops of some of the rounded switch caps is there a bit of ridging that you might wish were filled in. There is even a little holographic authenticity foil sticker on the bottom. Visuals were not very important for me with this unit. I use it mostly in VR, and would rather pay for more functionality rather than LED backlighting or a shiny finish. Even so, the thing is quite presentable and looks fine next to my X56 when playing in pancake. More importantly, the quality of the switches and other components seems okay, perhaps not as good as on my X-56, but not put to shame by it. The slider switch covers might have a little more wobble than I would like, but everything else has the right amount of resistance and precision and conveys the impression of durability. I frankly was worried that it would look and feel a lot cheaper than it does.

    The CP-34 model that I chose has four rotary encoders (two knobs, two wheels), four persistent switches (two paddle switches, two sliders), six momentary switches, and a 5-way mode selector. A nice thing about Roman's switch boxes is that the switches are of different shapes, making them easier to locate blind when in VR. Even the rotary encoder knobs at the top are different, one having three knurls and the other eight. Printed labels on the device are mostly generic, although the five modes have labels that reflect the way Roman likes to use his for playing DCS. Counting all the different values for all the switches, there are 34 different button-press signals that the panel can send to the PC.

    The rotary encorders on the CP-34 are single encoders with a push-button feature. The knobs have 20 detents per 360 degrees of rotation, which feels about right, and send one pulse per detent. One of the recommendations I would make for an upgraded model would be to replace these with dual concentric encoders like those on real aircraft radios or the Knobster or Octavi, allowing gross tuning with the outer ring and fine tuning with the inner knob. It would take too long to tune a NAV or COM radio using just one of the CP-34's encoders set for fine tuning. There are a couple of possible solutions. One is to set the left encoder to grose tuning (whole MHz) and the right encorder to fine tuning (fractional MHz or KHz). Another, which I adopted, is to use the push button to modify the function of the encoder so that it gross tunes if you push it when turning, and fine tunes if you don't. This works well, but it uses up the push-button feature, which you might prefer to use for swapping the active and standby frequencies.

    I paired the encoders with the 5-way mode switch, conveniently located between the two of them, so that I can get up to ten functions out of the two encoders. Right now I have them mapped to (1) COM1/NAV1, (2) COM2/NAV2, (3) HDG/ALT, and (4) OBS/VS, with one mode still unused. For the HDG/ALT and OBS/VS functions, there is no need for separate gross and fine adjustment actions, so the push-button function is freed up to toggle the autopilot to the relevant hold mode. These rotary knob functions are, to me, worth the cost of the panel, and I think it is better than single-knob controllers such as Knobster or Italio because it is easier to change the function of the knobs, especially in VR, when you have two knobs and an analog function-switcher rather than a bunch of buttons that all look and feel the same.

    When using the G-Force in MSFS, there are two ways of using the mode switch to change the function of the other controls. One is to use the FreeJoyQT software recommended by Roman for configuring the panel such that different virtual buttons are pressed when the mode switch is in different positions. The other is to use MSFS Control Options to set combination key bindings, so that, for example, Mode Switch=1 + Knob=Up is bound to something different thant Mode Switch=2 + Knob=Up. I used the latter setup, in part so that I can have different MSFS controller profiles for the CP-34 with different types of aircraft, without having to reconfigure the unit outside the game. The FreeJoyQT software does work well with the unit and is needed at least for initial setup, and opens up a lot of advanced functionality. You could, for example, change any of the self-centering momentary switches into true toggles (like a CAPS LOCK key) that continuously transmit their button state after you move them up or down, even though they revert to the center.

    Besides the two knob encoders, there are also two wheel encoders elsewhere on the unit. Here, again, you could have several functions for each using the mode switch, but at some point that gets confusing, and I don't need all those functions yet. I have one of them mapped to cowl flaps, which feels more natural than other methods I have used to control them.

    The other feature I wanted in the G-Force is the persistent switches. These are all 2-position, and send one button push when in one position and another in the other. Using the FreeJoy software, you can set them to either just send a pulse when switched -- effectively acting as a toggle, but a non-centering one -- or holds the relevant contact closed at all times. I favor the latter, and use these switches for controls where I want to be sure they stay in position, regardless of whether I try to manipulate them in the virtual cockpit or whatever, and where I want the position of the switch to remind me of the status. So far, I am using them for the parking brake, landing lights, and fuel boost pump. There are other functions I would like to use them for, such as tailwheel lock, but MSFS does not provide the necessary control mappings. Tailwheel lock is only available as a toggle in Options/Controls, you cannot map a key to LOCK or UNLOCK the tailwheel. Even Axis and Ohs provides only toggle, and not forced ON or OFF, commands for several key functions.

    The only difference between the "pilot" and "universal" versions of the G-34 and other G-Force controllers is that the two central persistent switches have differently shaped caps on them, and are labeled "gear" and "flaps" in the pilot version. The round and spiky switch caps would provide extra help in orientation when in VR, but I opted for the universal version in part because I didn't care for the "gear" and "flaps" labels. The persistent switch really is not appropriate for operating flaps. It will continuously send either an "up" or "down" signal, driving the flaps all the way up or all the way down, with no way to set an intermediate position, as most planes with flaps have. You can configure it to send just one pulse when you flick it down, lowering the flaps just one notch, but then the switch is in the down position and you can't use it to lower the flaps another notich. A momentary switch is better for flaps. Besides, I'm already happy with the gear and flaps bindings on my HOTAS unit and have no interest in taking my hand off the throttle to operate these.

    I am also using the G-34 with P3D, and the configuration there is a bit different. P3D does not allow combination key bindings; therefore you must use the FreeJoyQT software to create additional virtual buttons if you want to use the mode selector. Also, P3D does not offer specific increment/decrement key bindings for most of the dials and knobs. Except for a few things like autopilot heading and altitude, you have to define a master upper/downer and then set other controls to switch that encoder to COM1, NAV1, etc. There are also even fewer things in P3D that can be forced ON or OFF, as opposed to toggled. All of these shortcomings can be remedied by using AAO or FSUIPC. Even without them, there is a lot of useful functionality in the control mappings provided by P3D. Notably, P3D lets you assign key bindings to most of the major GPS functions, which MSFS does not.

    So what's it like using the G-Force? Having easy knob control of the radios, navs, and autopilot settings makes flying a lot easier and more realistic while manipulating these items, whether in VR or pancake. Instead of having to lock my view onto a VC knob and get my mouse onto it, I can just twiddle the relevant knob with only a glance at the radio or gauge in my peripheral vision to confirm that I have the right setting. It's more realistic, more immersive, and results in smoother flying. I like having a dial to control the cowl flaps, and wish MSFS provided key mapping to secondary cooling controls such as oil cooler doors. So it does what I wanted, and feels good doing it. Any toddler in an activity walker would approve.


  2. #2
    Thanks for the detailed review!

    Pics are always good when talking hardware, much easier to envision what you're talking about:

  3. #3
    Yes, thanks Denny. I posted this from the road, and couldn't include links or pics.

    All of his available models can be seen here: https://gforcecontrol.com/kategoria-...ontrol-panels/


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