For a long time there have been this optical versus laser mouse discussions going on. In every discussion topic, questions like “laser mouse better than optical mouse?” or vice versa pop up. In this post i will be trying to present you the main necessary information about optical and laser mice, the difference between optical and laser mouse, their pros and cons and etc.. This article’s subject is about tracking styles of mice, so lets start with the basics. What’s a gaming mouse? Even more general, what is a computer mouse?
A mouse is the device that we use to transfer our physical motion to our computer interface. The simplest and fastest motion in front of our computer in our situation is the arm, wrist and hand movement. So, how does our computer understands our movement and our intentions to move the cursor in a specific direction? This is the part where mouse sensors hop into the scene.
Our mouse sensor is the device to track the movement of our mouse. There are various types of mice with different sensor types, but used majority is consisting of three main types:
– Laser sensor mouse
– Optical sensor mouse
– Ball sensor mouse (Mechanical)
They all serve to same purpose but with different technical solutions. Ball mouse is left behind at the moment and they can be seen in computer geek museums as antique pieces. That’s why we’re not gonna pay too much attention to it.
As being an engineer myself, i would have liked to provide you deep, intense information about the technical side of things, but then it will turn to a lesson of physics which will include so much overwhelming information that won’t be practical for most consumers. So here (and not only here, in most of my content) i’m aiming to provide you practical and most understandable information which you can use while searching your mouse.
Optical vs laser mouse
This optical vs laser mice battle was going on for a time now. I’m hoping to provide you enough information that there won’t be any question marks left on your mind. Now, some people during their learning process prefer the reading method while some others prefer visual engagement like videos and etc. That’s why i’m gonna share this short video that will give a little summary of what’s going to be told in this content:
Technology behind it
Actually, the main principle behind the work of both mice are almost the same. There is a light emitter in both mice. Optical mice have a red LED emitter while laser mice have a laser emitter.
In optical mouse light iluminates the surface and bounces from the surface and gets received by the IC (integrated circuit – chip). IC is consisted of Image Acquisition System, Digital Signal Procesor (DSP) and two wire serial ports. To explain it all in the simplest way, think it like a low resolution camera which takes 1500 to 6000 images per second. These images are analyzed, then position of the mouse is calculated. Bounced off light gets received by a CMOS sensor. This kind of sensor is also found on cameras of smart phones and etc.. Think it as our camera. After it gets images of the surface, it sends the image to DSP to analyze. DSP looks for patterns in images and determines in what direction the mouse moves as patterns change their coordinates. You may understand better when you look at the image below.
This image shows an example of analyzed patterns of the surface. By looking at letters “c” and “E” you can understand that pattern has moved in down and right direction, which means the mouse has moved to right and left. These directions are opposite. Bear in mind that sensor takes about 1500 images per second and DSP works with millions of instructions in a second. That is why our mouse responses so rapidly to our movements. I think it’s interesting to know the engineering behind even those little things that we use everyday.
The minuses of optical mouse are that the majority of them work on opaque surfaces. On too smooth surfaces like glass and non-opaque surfaces optical mice will not work effectively or won’t work at all. And they offer less DPI than laser mice. But now there is new infrared technology that allows optical mice to work on every surface and there are developed optical gaming grade mice that offer high DPI.
Technology of laser mice came after the optical mouse technology. Laser mouse works on a principle that is known as laser doppler velocimetry. The emitted laser bounces of the surface and returns to receiver in a different frequency. This changed frequency is then processed into a velocity signal that is integrated into a position change.
Laser mice offer higher DPI than optical mice and work on almost any surface. But their minus is they have a greater lift off distance and they usually come with mouse acceleration.
Lift-off distance thing
Lift-off distance is the distance between your surface and mouse when it stops perceiving movements when you lift off your mouse. But why does it matter? It matters in gaming. Optical mice are known for a little lift off distance while laser mice are still needed to lift off more than optical mice to cut the connection from the surface.
Lift off matters because when you’re gaming sometimes you need to pick your mouse up and get it to the middle of your pad or surface again when you reach the end of your movement space. While doing this, it is important that the cursor doesn’t move while the mouse is on the air not contacted with the surface. If this happens we can miss targets or get undesired outcomes at tight situations. And optical mice in lift off have an advantage against laser mice.
One of the main features which draws a shiny red line between optical mouse and laser mouse is the thing that we call “acceleration”. I think most of you people know what is acceleration, it’s a quantity which that defines the change of velocity of a moving object in a specific space of time. A simple example: if an object’s velocity is increasing 2 meters per second by every passing second, it’s acceleration will be 2 m/s^2 (2m/s/s). But that was just an example for you to understand the logic of acceleration.
When situation is about mice, it goes like this. When you’re using a mouse with acceleration, your mouse will displace more pixels on your screen, although you’re not moving your mouse that far, if you move your mouse with accelerated and fast movements.
So what does it mean? It means that this can lead to problems during gaming when precision matters. During gaming you’re thinking a dozen of things at background of your head and calculating the acceleration of your mouse is maybe the last of them. Especially when you’re playing a FPS game, there’s a great chance that you will miss your targets or won’t be able to achieve your desired great precision during gameplay just because your mouse is accelerating and moving the cursor farther than your target point.
Optical mouse are good in this aspect because optical sensors don’t cause this kind of problem. And this is why many hardcore gamers are good to go with optical mouse. But of course this doesn’t mean that optical is the best and laser mouse sucks. Each one has its pros and cons and people should consider which one is more suitable for their goals.
At the end of our laser mouse vs optical mouse competition we can arrive to this conclusion:
– No acceleration. Great for precision in dynamic gaming.
– Latest infrared optical mouse technology is able to work smoothly on almost any surface with great tracking.
– Really short lift off distance. Great plus when stability matters.
– Lower DPI when compared to laser mice.
– Classic optical sensors will not work on every surface.
– Has higher DPI models when compared to optical mice.
– Works well on almost every surface.
– Usually comes with mouse acceleration.
– Lift off distance is higher than optical mouse.