We launched in April with a small batch of BNVD-1431 MK1 builds going primarily to pre-order customers who were eager for a binocular NV device for a decent price. All of these orders were filled and I'm pleased to say that all of our clients are happy with the systems they have received and are currently using. But what nobody saw were the number of issues, bad housings, countless shipments back and forth with the distributor, faulty housings being swapped for more faulty housings, and weeks of testing that were required to fill those orders.
Here is a list of the issues we encountered with these housings:
1) Some BNVD-1431s do not stay on and would randomly shut off or shut-off when bumped. We tested at least 10 housings in a batch by powering them all up with brand-new Photonis Echo MX-10160 two-pin tubes (standard with any housing that is an auto-gain 18mm housing) with fresh lithium batteries and placing them in a dark box. Over half of them would simply be off after 30 minutes. This is the most unacceptable issue of all and represents a huge liability issue for us - what would happen if you were running and then suddenly the image cuts out? This was confirmed to be related to the auto-off-when-stowed-vertically "feature" and very likely bad accelerometers. If the user disables the auto-off feature (by rapidly pressing the power button 5 times), the goggle became more reliable. However, because there is no memory feature on the BNVD-1431, once users removed the battery (as is common practice), the goggle would revert back to the default auto-off feature being enabled. The user would have to remember to disable the auto-off again using the rather cumbersome power button (more on that later).
2) Does not consistently power up Photonis tubes. This is the only housing I have worked with where some of the housings (and it's important to note that there was no consistency to this) would simply not be able to power Photonis tubes up. Some housings would power up one tube only, and some housings would power up both tubes, and yet some housings didn't work at all. It was maddening. All of the same tubes powered up perfectly in a non-BNVD-1431 housing. Argus assured me that this was due to the higher amperage requirements of Photonis MX-10160 format tubes and why US Gen3 tubes like L3 and ITT work. Some builders have resorted to using 3-pin MX-10160 tubes. Not only does this technically not make much sense (why put a variable-gain tube inside a fixed-gain housing?) They suggested that we use lithium batteries. This did nothing to solve the issue as we used all sorts of batteries including brand-new lithiums, rechargeable NiCD, NiMH, Alkaline, etc. One would think that the housing would be designed for the #1 ITAR-free tube manufacturer in the world, rather than ITAR-restricted grey-market tubes...Further investigation yielded that if you re-soldered parts of the PCB on SOME housings and used less solder, this issue went away. Sometimes. So this might just be a huge QC issue, more than anything.
3) Spongy, unreliable power button. Some of the power buttons would require an unnaturally firm press and there was no tactile click to register the press. As the only user-available function on the goggle, and as a secondary "programming" button that requires users to press the button "4 to 5 times quickly" to enable/disable certain features, the button left a lot of things to be desired.
4) A number of hardware issues including but not limited to: undersized hinge o-rings, cracked hinge washers, off-spec screws that stripped easily. Some housings came with missing screws also. We remedied this by installing upgraded hardware with our builds. As the only retailer at the time with a digital purge rig, we were the ones who brought the water sealing issues to the forefront and was one of the primary reasons for us dropping the housing from the product line. The housing leaks from a number of areas such as the hinge o-ring, the one-way pin at the hinge joint, the power button, various gaskets, etc. These were all confirmed via iterative testing by us and a host of other parties.
The steps to remediate the leaks include, but are not limited to:
- Disassemble back hinge plate and remove hinges
- De-solder 3 contacts on each side for the PCB
- Pull wires through so o-ring can be accessed, replace hinge o-ring (It should be noted that this point does in fact leak when the pods are rotated and applying lube does not mitigate the issue. A larger o-ring is required)
- Fish wires through hinge and re-solder
- Pop two one-way pins from the sides of the housing
- Tap a hole for a grub screw and use gasket-maker to seal opening with grub-screw
- Remove power button screw, apply gasket maker to screw
While they could all be rectified, we do not believe these to be assembler-level modifications that are easily achieved, especially for a housing that, at the time, retailed for $1350 CAD. Not to mention this only addresses one out of the other serious concerns on the housing. The waterproofness of a housing is not the sole determining factor regarding its reliability.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, weeks of testing and countless faulty housings went through our hands. Initially we brought these issues to light in private to the Canadian distributor and Argus and urged them to discontinue immediately while these issues were addressed. However, they were more than happy to continue to sell the housings despite the issues, opting instead to offer band-aid solutions and workarounds. The combination of the lack of manufacturer and distributor-level ethics and support led to our decision to drop the 1431, and publish this article.
To be fair, we were willing to overlook issues #3 and #4 as they were either easily remedied or a gripe. It was really the combination of all of the issues and Argus' unwillingness to remedy these issues that led to our ultimate decision to move on from the 1431. We had tried reaching out to Argus to address these issues but they seem to be more focused on publishing the next "Gen3" or Mk2 release of the goggle featuring an improved power knob with variable gain, a physical switch for Photonis tubes (although we're not sure why this even necessary, as it is absent on every other goggle in the market), IR illuminator and skeletonized pods. All of those features sound really great, but if the reliability is not present, then the housing is useless in our eyes.
We completely understand that most consumers are looking for a night vision goggle that powers up two tubes, uses PVS-14 optics, for a good price, but the reliability issues and astronomical failure rates makes the BNVD-1431 a non-viable product out of the box. Even if the cost of the housing retailed for less than half of what it currently is, we still would not carry it due to the major issues above. We too were fooled with the promise of a good binocular NV housing with our evaluation units and we want to apologize to everybody for hyping up the BNVD-1431, and profiting from it. That being said, we will continue to honour our 12-month warranty for these systems to the best of our ability.
We know there's a huge demand for a mid-level goggle and we're in the middle of testing some other binocular goggle housing options that will be rugged, reliable, and well-priced.