PVS-14 Budget Night Vision Monocular Review

PVS-14 Budget Night Vision Monocular Review Let’s take a look at one of the most popular “entry level” NV devices. It is primarily used as a helmet mounted night vision […]

TNV/PVS-14_Night_VisionPVS-14 Budget Night Vision Monocular Review

Let’s take a look at one of the most popular “entry level” NV devices. It is primarily used as a helmet mounted night vision solution, but can be used in a few other really cool ways. The TNV/PVS-14 Monocular Night Vision Device (Amazon link).

First… the obvious question…

What do you consider “budget”?

This little bugger will set you back around $2,000 – $3,500+ (although prices are rapidly coming down). While that doesn’t seem like a budget option to me, I am told that I used “entry level” very appropriately, according to those in the NV industry that tend to look at NV gear as a tool to keep you alive. There are a wide range of lower cost options that are marketed as “Night Vision”, and some actually work, to some degree. However, I am told that the technology employed by the budget “consumer” NV devices pales in comparison to that of “military grade” NV gear in terms of image brightness, image clarity, and especially durability. 

August 2016 Budget NV Update:

The consumer “budget” night vision market is changing with “Smart Optics” taking over for the old “intensifier tube” based NV gear. Products like the ATN X-Sight HD 2 (Amazon link) and ATN Binox HD have brought the cost of real night vision gear down to the $475-$700 range. These new night vision products use an infrared light source to illuminate whatever is in view instead of just amplifying existing light. However, they offer a wide range of additional features like digital high definition image and video recording, wifi and bluetooth connectivity, GPS tagging, telemetry, etc. Here are our latest NV reviews:

TNV/PVS-14 night Vision green shootingIs this a “Mil-Spec” PVS-14?

There are rules about what can be called a PVS-14 by military procurement standards. I am told that only a manufacturer who has a government contract to sell PVS-14 and subjects their gear to mil-spec minimum standards testing can officially claim that the products made specifically for that contract are real PVS-14. There are other manufacturers that produce similar devices that look, feel and operate just like the “official” units, but aren’t “official”. In the case of the TNV/PVS-14, the unit is made by Tactical Night Vision Company (TNVC.com), hence TNV before the model name. TNVC reports that this model is not an “official” PVS-14, as it was not made under a military procurement contract. However, the TNV/PVS-14 is expected to function just as the “official” PVS-14 and is made to the same milspec standards.

TNV/PVS-14 night Vision WMDGuns AR500armorClear as mud?

Is MilSpec better?

This is where things get really interesting. Not being mil-spec can be a good thing. Often mil-spec night vision units are built only to meet the military specifications, and nothing more. If you served in the US military then you are, no doubt, all too familiar with the phrase “made by the lowest bidder”. Sometimes dubious quality control evident in military issued gear.

Consumer oriented night vision gear needs to be competitive in the market. This often means consumer NV gear is held to higher standards than similar mil-spec gear. Non-milspec night vision gear can also evolve quicker. Military specifications can be slow to change as technology evolves.

Why the TNV/PVS-14?

TNV/PVS-14 night Vision d-740 dbal-i2I left the decision of which products to send for review to TNVC.com. THey provided all of the equipment for this and our Night Optics USA D-740 and DBAL-i2 reviews. As the first NV devices for Gear-Report.com to review, the PVS-14 is a logical starting place. It has been one of the most popular, most flexible entry-level night vision devices for a while. In current use with the US military and countless Agencies, the PVS-14 platform is a battle proven and flexible NV solution that is also rather simple to operate (this is really important for me). As a monocular, it is a relatively safe way to learn the ropes of a head mounted Night Vision system since only one eye is covered by the night vision device.

How TNVC.com describes the TNV/PVS-14: 

“The TNV/PVS-14 is a U.S.-made Generation 3 night vision monocular based on the standard issue AN/PVS-14. It is made in-house by TNVC.

PVS-14 mounted behind a day optic via Larue Tactical mount

PVS-14 mounted behind a day optic via Larue Tactical mount

Specs from TNVC.com:

Manufacturer: TNVC
Dimensions: 4.5″(L) x 2.0″(W) x 2.25″(H)
Weight: 12.4oz.
Finish: Corrosion Resistant- Matte Black, FDE, or Crye MulticamTM
Power: One (1) Standard AA Battery
Battery Life: Approx. 50 Hours at Room Temp.
TNV/PVS-14 night Vision WMDGuns AR500armor 1Waterproof: 60′ for 2 Hours
Warranty: 5 Year Warranty
Generation: U.S. Gen3 L3 MILSPEC OMNI VIII
Resolution: 64-72 lp/mm Typical
SNR: 24:1 (Minimum)
Halo: 1.0 (Maximum)
Film: Thin-Film
Gate: Auto
TNV-PVS-14_night_vision (126)Gain: Adjustable/ Variable
Magnification: 1X +0.03
FOV: 40º + 2º
Objective Lens: F/1.2
Ocular Lens: EFL 26mm
Diopter: +4 to -6
Focus: 10″ to Infinity
Basic Kit:
TNV/PVS-14_Night_VisionTNV/PVS-14, PVS-14 Adapter (J-Arm)- Color-Matched to Goggle, Rubber Eye Cup, Daylight Filter, Sacrificial Window, Demist Shield, Neck Cord, Soft Carry Case, Two (2x) AA Batteries, Lens Cleaning Tissue, Military Maintenance Standards, Warranty Registration Card
TNVC uses dry nitrogen purging to ensure no moisture inside the housing, as well as the same coatings and housings as mil-spec PVS-14 units. Intensifier tubes are hand graded to mil-spec standards. TNVC offers multiple OMNI VIII Gen3 equivalent image intensifier tube options, including the Gen3 U.S. ITT PINNACLE and U.S. Gen3 L3 MILSPEC OMNI VIII intensifier tubes.

There are a wide variety of accessories available for mil-spec body housing style.”

009-IMG_20150622_175006Is the PVS-14 a good budget Night Vision option?

In short, the PVS-14 is amazing!
This particular TNV/PVS-14 unit was an “experience” loaner that TNVC.com sends to potential customer agencies for hands-on testing and evaluation. The housing bore evidence of rough use over a relatively long life. Even having grown up in that abusive environment, our test unit did an admirable job of turning pitch black darkness into a very workable operational environment. Our particular test unit’s gain control knob was no longer functioning, so we were unable to fine tune the picture, but still found it entirely usable and brighter than the white phosphor Night Optics USA D-740 that we tested at the same time.

How we tested the PVS-14

135-IMG_20150622_223457

initial PVS-14 function check in my back yard

Since this was our first crack at Night Vision, we eased into use of the PVS-14. The first tests were simply hand-held function and operational checks of the TNV/PVS-14 night vision monocular behind the Gear Report HQ building after dark. A few things we learned pretty quickly:

  • The PVS-14 presents the traditional “shades of green” Night Vision picture that we were familiar with from TV and movies. Resolution is decent, but not as crystal clear as hollywood would have you believe.
  • The PVS14 brightens the image considerably, so dark areas were suitably bright, while areas with any ambient light (like areas exposed to even a faint street light or light bleeding through the blinds in a window) were MUCH brighter. We were surprised at how little ambient light felt like too much. And yes, we were very careful to avoid exposing the PVS-14 to any full strength light that might damage the image intensifier tube.
  • After using the PVS-14 the uncovered eye maintained natural light sensitivity, while the eye that had been behind the PVS-14 had practically no natural night vision.
  • The PVS-14 is exceptionally good at detecting Infra Red (IR) light sources.
  • shooting a pistol with PVS-14 and DBAL-i2 mounted to top rail, as seen by D 740 NV scope

    shooting a pistol with PVS-14 and DBAL-i2 mounted to top rail, as seen by D 740 NV scope

    Manual focus via the objective lense focus (macro) or diopter lense focus (micro) were incredibly important. This was my biggest surprise. I had not realized how limiting the fixed focus would be when trying to visually transition between objects of varying distances.

  • Muzzle flash has to be considered when shooting with the PVS-14. We found that rifles with muzzle brakes made muzzle flash much less visible when deflected to the sides.
  • When first using the PVS-14 on the helmet mount I had a tendency to trip over things like tree roots in my path since I was not able to really see them. I found that I got more adept at detecting obstacles in my path over time.
  • Like wise a bump helmet is really nice to have for instances when you don’t see something like a tree branch in your path. The bump helmet likely saved me significant embarrassment, if not worse, when I went for a midnight walk at Boy Scout camp (I am an adult leader for my mini-me’s Troop). I walked about a mile across varying terrain to visit another campsite. Going down a steep trail with railroad tie steps was really tough to get the hang of since a monocular only gives vision in one eye… so no depth perception. On the way back, climbing the steep trail’s stairs at a more rapid pace I stepped up and into a low branch that I had not seen hanging over the trail. Even with the bump helmet I saw stars and had a sore neck for a couple of days. I imagine that without the helmet I would have knocked myself out cold and been found in the morning in the middle of the trial. Thank you for protecting me from myself Ops-Core FAST Base Jump Helmet. 🙂

TNV-PVS-14_night_vision (125)Weapon operation with Night Vision

As noted, manual focus is required on the PVS-14, which list 10”- infinite as the focus range. That range appeared accurate. Close in weapons manipulation is possible, but a bit tedious since the focus must be manually set to the appropriate distance and it is rather sensitive. Tasks requiring various distances require manual focus adjustment for each different distance. ie. if you drop a round while loading a magazine, then you either have to bend down so that you can bring the ground into focus, or manually change the focus on the PVS-14 so that you can see the ground. While this felt very unnatural at first, it didn’t take long to adjust to.

For pistol operation we found that tritium night sights like the TruGlo on my Glock 17 worked OK, although it was slower acquiring sight picture than in the daytime. Normal daytime sights were practically useless at night, even with the PVS-14.

Rifle operation was similar in our tests. With no means of mounting the TNV/PVS-14 behind the scope and/or sights, we were unable to deliver aimed fire using just the helmet mounted PVS-14.

LaserMax_Micro-IR_laser

LaserMax Micro-IR pistol IR laser

IR is OK!

The TNV/PVS-14 really came to life when paired with the Uni-IR and Micro-IR lasers sent by LaserMax for review. We will review them separately, but can honestly say that the addition of an IR laser to a pistol or rifle that will be used with good Night Vision is flat-out phenomenal. While IR lasers are invisible to the naked eye, they light up very brightly when viewed through the PVS-14. I prefer lasers with a momentary pressure switch, which is an included option with both the DBAL-i2 provided by TNVC.com and the LaserMax Uni-IR rifle kit, but not on the LaserMax Micro-IR pistol IR laser.
All 3 of the IR lasers in our test pool were very easy to see and use with the TNV/PVS-14 night vision monocular. Simply point the gun towards the target, assisted by the PVS-14’s image illumination, turn on the IR laser, adjust aim so that the laser is at the appropriate aim point on your target, and fire. Even I have trouble screwing that up.

TNVC_night_vision D740 scope DBAL-i2

Night Optics USA D-740 night vision rifle scope

Speaking of IR, the PVS-14 is equipped with a forward facing IR emitter that can be momentarily activated to work much like a low powered traditional flashlight, only it is invisible to anyone without NV capabilities. This is rather handy when sorting through gear at close in distances.

We were only able to do range testing at night due to the short duration of the loan of equipment. We will take different night vision equipment with us for feral hog and coyote hunting soon and report on what we learn.

Can the PVS-14 be used during the day?

Equipped with a sacrificial window (lense cap) with a tiny pinhole, the PVS-14 can be used during daylight hours if the operator is careful not to expose the image intensifier to too much light. We did this briefly to sight the Night Optics USA D-740 night vision rifle scope, but had no need to test the PVS-14 during daylight. We did, however, notice at our first night shooting test that after a a couple hundred rounds the PVS-14 image brightness became unacceptably dim upon changing from one operator to another. We eventually realized that the first operator conscientiously placed the lense cap on the PVS-14 before handing it off to the next operator… but that was not communicated… so the immediate thought was that the PVS-14 was broken. At the time, the operator didn’t realize that the lense cap had a pinhole through which a dim image would still be displayed. Fortunately, the lense cap was detected rather quickly and the PVS-14 returned to full brightness.

eye cup pvs-14

eye cup pvs-14

Missing?

The rubber eye cup was missing from our test unit so we can not comment from experience on how useful it is. It appears that the eye cup would block out some of the peripheral motion and light that might distract the operator. We also did not have a demist shield to test and, as noted earlier, the gain control was inop.

Field reports

In addition to cycling the PVS-14 through about 10 different testers, I discussed combat use of the PVS-14 with both an active and recently retired Marine who had used the PVS-14 extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their comments were very much inline with those above. Additionally, they reported:

  • extended use of PVS-14 as a monocular or as a pair is very common and can result in vertigo for some operators, as well as washing out the operator’s natural night vision completely. Most people adjust to this rather quickly. One Marine reported significant balance issues the day after a long night raid where he wore a pair of PVS-14 for several hours. It took a day or two go get his full balance back. 
  • the PVS-14 platform is easy to learn and use, although the manual focus can cause some challenges in getting used to land navigation on foot. However, they reported that this usually only took a day or two to adjust to.
  • their experience with the PVS-14 supports claims that this is a very durable combat tool with great battery life. While they did witness PVS-14 failures in the field, they consider the PVS-14 to be a durable and reliable combat too.

TNV-PVS-14_night_vision (1)Overall

We were impressed with the TNV/PVS-14 by itself. However, we were blown away when the PVS-14 was used with the DBAL-i2, LaserMax Uni-IR and LaserMax Micro-IR. While we still find the $3500 investment too steep or most folks that we know, that investment will deliver a battle proven night vision solution that is rather flexible and offers a wide range of uses.

Gear Score
Gearswww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The PVS-14 is effective and proven, but pricey. Great option to start with Night Vision, if you have the budget.

 

Gallery of PVS-14 images

 

About Jeff

Jeff is the Editor in Chief of Gear Report and a National Shooting Sports Foundation Media member. He reports on the outdoor industry, reviews gear for camping, hiking, shooting, hunting, paddling, backpacking and other active pursuits. A USAF veteran, Jeff earned a MBA in Marketing and Health Services. He specializes in consultative selling and internet marketing. As the VP of BD & Marketing, Jeff provides sales and marketing leadership to MGECOM, Inc. and helps http://MGECOM.com acquire new clients in need of solutions for online merchants in need of Affiliate Marketing program management. Jeff founded and manages Cress Sales & Marketing LLC, offering online sales and marketing consulting and services to online merchants and service providers.