Alright, so it looks like you're finally going to buy yourself a super power and pick up some night vision! Maybe you even checked out our Night Vision Buying Guide and you're trying to make the call between a single tube or dual tube night vision. It's probably the toughest decision in the night vision process, because we all wanted to make sure we got the right device with how much money we were putting down.
So we're going to run through some of our experiences and feelings toward the single vs dual tube debate, and where the pros and cons of each type unit are. Of course, the goal is to end up with both devices (and maybe some quad tubes too), but we've all gotta start somewhere.
Single Tubes: Night Vision Monoculars
Ah, the basic b*tch of the night vision world. The Honda Civic. The Glock. The PVS-14 is the true workhorse. And when we talk about a single tube device, or a night vision monocular, we're referring to the PVS-14. Sure, there are a couple housing variations of the 14, and some other monoculars, but the PVS-14 is ubiquitous.
Issued more than any other night vision unit in the United States arsenal (in fact, more than all other units combined), there are over half a million of them in service. In fact, the PVS-14 is in usage by NATO allies as well, and has been battle tested over the past twenty years in conflicts around the globe. SO when someone tells you that the 14 is an entry level device, they aren't speaking to its quality or capability, merely its cost.
Single tube night vision devices are cost effective, and give you 100% more capability to see and fight at night than a guy with no night vision unit. It's certainly a point of diminishing returns as well, as dual tubes or quad tubes certainly don't make you 2 or 4x more effective. In fact, DEVGRU operator Adam Brown famously used a PVS-14 because he only had one eye. If someone could operate at that level with a single tube device, we're sure you can manage your way around a flat range with one too.
So without rambling on any more, let's just take a look at some of the facts of life for single tube devices.
- One Eye Free: Keeping one eye free from night vision has some serious advantages. It allows you to have an eye adjusted to the ambient light in your environment, which can be very beneficial if you are switching night vision on and off frequently. It also allows you to easily discern information that might be difficult under night vision like electronic screen or anything backlit that would otherwise have a large halo on your phosphor screen.
- Packable: Packing dual tubes can we bulky, and they're sometimes less durable because of articulation joints. But a PVS-14 can go pretty much anywhere. Its compact, lightweight, and durable. It's easy to keep it in a pocket, a rucksack, or in the glovebox of your truck for quick observation.
- Cost Effective: It's the most cost effective way to get into night vision, and its value per dollar can't be overstated. You can pick up night vision monoculars for as little as $2,000, which is far below what you'll find any dual tubes devices for.
- Depth Perception: It doesn't really exist. You're going to be seeing one flat image in one eye, and you'll have to learn depth perception by the size of objects. This is one of the biggest drawbacks of a single tube device, and you can tell users getting accustomed to their new night vision by the amount of time they spend on their ass. Falling and tripping while walking and hiking is just a part of learning movement under a single tube device. However, if you spend all your time on a flat range, this may not be an issue for you.
- Headaches: This doesn't happen to everyone, but is a serious issue for some. It can be pretty confusing for the brain to be seeing two very different things at the same time, especially for hours on end. For some people, this will lead to a pretty gnarly headache. Of course, it depends how much time you're going to be spending under night vision too. If you're unlikely to go more than an hour without taking it off for a break, we wouldn't worry too much about this one.
Single Tube Housings
As we mentioned before, the PVS-14 (and it's variations) is pretty ubiquitous when it comes to single tube night vision/night vision monoculars. There's really only one other option we feel is worth exploring when it comes to single tube housings, so let's keep it down to those two.
We covered this housing a fair bit towards the beginning of our single-tube section. This is by and far the most common housing that you're going to find on the market today. From military surplus (read: fell off a truck), or new civilian builds, it's a very proven night vision choice.
PVS-14 optics are also seen on other single tube devices, as well as many dual tube devices, because they are functional, durable and proven. Overall, you can't go wrong with a PVS-14, and it's a device that many night vision hobbyists start with. In fact, even those with dual tubes often choose to pick up a PVS-14 later on, just for it'd portability and ease of carrying.
Yes, we know that looks like a dual tube device in the single tube section... let us explain. The MOD3 is a modular goggle/monocular system offered by TNVC that lets a user purchase a single device and then later purchase the other tube, and a bridge to connect them both into one complete unit. While in its monocular configuration, it uses the same mounting system as the PVS-14, as well as using PVS-14 glass/optics. It is, effectively, a PVS-14 that can become a goggle.
And before you say it, yes... we're aware you can bridge two PVS14s into a goggle setup. However, bridged PVS14s tend to be the heaviest and bulkiest dual tube setup, so the MOD3 is for users who want to buy one tube at a time, but end up with a dedicated goggle or binocular system.
Dual Tubes: Night Vision Binoculars
Everyone wants dual tubes, and they either admit it, or they're a liar. Nothing wrong with a good single tube device, but everyone really is working their way towards that dual tube life. And there's a good argument for just starting with a dual tube device, since that's where the majority of people end up.
And when it comes to dual tube night vision, housing options are nearly endless. Whether you're after ruggedness, articulation, panoramic capability, weight, or just cost effectiveness, there's a dual tube option designed to fit your exact use case.
Many people don't realize this, but dual tube devices come from the aviation world. In fact, every major leap forward for night vision comes from the aviation world. Dual tubes, quad tubes, and stereoscopic vision. Then special operations forces adopted and began utilizing dual tube technology, and the rest is history. Eventually the PVS-15 was developed for ground forces, and after that new housings have been pretty frequent.
So, what exactly are you getting from a dual tube device over a single tube? Let's take a look.
- Depth Perception: True stereoscopic vision is going to give you give you depth perception, which is invaluable for hiking and navigating, as well as up close tasks. Movement over rough terrain is considerably easier with dual tube night vision. Depth perception is a huge advantage, and makes life under night vision easier as a whole.
- More Detail: With two images overlapping in your eyes you are effectively giving your brain twice the resolution. This means a higher chance of target detection, and more details in your vision, never a bad thing.
- No Headaches: Simple enough. With both your eyes seeing the same image all the time, there is no brain strain trying to impose two radically different images. Some people still find themselves straining under green phosphor after lengthy usage, but it's only about 5% of people. This is covered more in our Green vs White Phosphor blog.
- Size & Weight: This is our biggest con with multi-tubes when it comes to single vs dual tube night vision. You can keep a single tube in a jacket pocket and pull it out for quick observation, but the same thing isn't as easy for dual tube devices. And some dual tube devices can get rather heavy as well, causing neck strain, or requiring the use of counter weights (looking at you, PVS-15s). However with modern housings like the DTNVS and the PVS-31s, weight is no longer as much of an issue.
- Durability: This is only barely on the cons list, but it is worth mentioning. With articulating pods (tubes that rotate out of the way individually), the rotation joint is an additional point of failure, and the most common place for a night vision goggle to break. If you're overly concerned about this, there's always ruggedized goggles like the RNVG. Durability really shouldn't be a huge concern when choosing between dual and single tube night vision. In general, what will kill a single tube will kill duals, and vice versa.
Dual Tube Housings
We've taken a look at some of the immediate pros and cons for single tube vs dual tube night vision, and we've looked at the two most popular single tube housings. So, let's take a look at some dual tube housings.
Made by Act In Black in Luxembourg, the DTNVS is the successor to the proven DTNVG, and is the lightest dual tube device utilizing the common PVS-14 optics on the market. Retail cost runs roughly $2,800, plus optics and tubes. Features include individual pod on/off articulation, 25+ hours of runtime on a single battery, an IR illuminator, and double the required durability for the SOCOM drop test.
The DTNVS is a very popular dual tube device for users who desire articulation, but also want to select tubes in their own units, which isn't possible with the PVS-31s. This allows users to build more budget friendly options, or go all-out with super tubes.
The most "Gucci" and sought after of dual tube units, the PVS-31a by L3 Harris is exactly what is issued to troops falling under the special operations umbrella. Retail for the complete unit is roughly $14,000, because this doesn't come as just a housing. Unique features include its own platform of glass and optics, which also include a built in sacrificial lens to protect the front elements of the unit. The PVS-31a can run off of a single battery, or a battery pack, and houses L3 Unfilmed White Phosphor tubes with a minimum FOM of 2376+ (72lp/mm, and 33+ SNR).
Popular with LARPers, those who want to flex, and those who want an easy option to have the best, nobody is going to be disappointed with the PVS-31s. You're guaranteed to get great tubes, but you also likely won't be able to see the specs ahead of time. You also can't build out your own unit.
The RNVG, or "Ruggedized Night Vision Goggle" by AB Night Vision (the same guys that make the MOD3) is a dual tube night vision device with the body made out of aluminum, rather than polymer. A fantastic option for those extra tough on gear, it retails for roughly $1,000 and makes a great entry level option for those trying to build a quality dual-tube device and not break the bank also.
At SHOT 2022, AB Night Vision also released the RPNVG, a ruggedized panoramic goggle that allows you to move your tubes/pods into a wider field of view. These aren't available for sale yet, but we expect them to be the same price point as DTNVS.
Which Should I buy: Single or Dual Tube Night Vision?
Up to you! We just want to give you the information to make the decision. However, we always advocate for dual tubes. Common practice is to get a single tube and upgrade from there, but we're not sure we agree. If the idea is to upgrade, and the end goal is dual tubes, we would advocate just to start there if you can afford it. That said, if a single tube is what's in the budget, you're still gaining the super power to see at night. And we've never personally heard of someone looking through their new night vision and not falling in love, no matter which route you go.
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