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Does the price tag of a golf simulator/launch monitor guarantee accuracy?

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

We play indoor golf simulation with launch monitor. But we don't know how this thing works. Nobody needs to know the exact ins-and-outs of this mechanism but, if you are reading this, you might be curious to know how it actually works.

If you search online, there are a few good blog posts really digs how these things work. To (very very) briefly summarize the works of these posts, photometric golf simulators take thousands of pictures and derive measurements like ball speed, spin axis, spin rate, angle of attack, club head speed, etc. Using these data, a simulator predicts how the ball will fly in real life situation.

Image Credit: Uneekor QED

The major cost differentiator in the photometric golf simulator/launch monitors are 1) the number of cameras at work (usually between 1 and 3) and 2) the spec of the cameras (e.g., frames per second and resolution). With this hardware, the cameras read the images and takes some measurements.

In theory, the more pictures, the more accurate these measurements will be; hence, more accurate overall simulation. But our experience says otherwise. When you play two machines with nearly identical specs, you will feel the difference. Some are definitely better than others. There are some that outperform their price range. There are others that underperform their price range. Why?

The short answer is math (and physics).

No matter what kind of measurement a launch monitor takes, ultimately, a simulation is essentially a mathematical prediction (based on these samples of measurements) of a physical phenomenon. In this case, the phenomenon is the flight of the golf ball. The launch monitor's job is to take measurement of 3 to 4 feet of the golf ball's initial flight and make a prediction of how it will fly and bend over the next 250 yards.

Simply put, making prediction is just a complex mathematical formula. It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss the details of how these formulas are made or what they are. For the sake of understanding the performance difference between different golf simulator/launch monitors, one must know that no two launch monitors use exactly the same formula. It's a proprietary research information that are securely guarded trade secrets.

So, what makes a great golf ball simulation formula?

Source: Baek & Kim (2013) Flight Trajectory of a Golf Ball for a Realistic Game, International Journal of Innovation, Management and Technology, Vol. 4, No. 3.

Firstly, the formula should incorporate all the relevant variables into the formula. How do the simulator manufacturers know a variable is important or not? Through extensive research. The formula may deliberately choose not to incorporate some relevant data due to hardware (i.e., camera) spec limitations and this is why low cost models often underperform more expensive ones.

Secondly, the formula should NOT incorporate any irrelevant variables. We all know too much information can confuse our understanding about the essence of an issue. Just because a simulator can take some data doesn't mean it should. Sometimes, less is more. This is often the reason why more expensive ones underperform similarly expensive ones.

Thirdly, the formula should give each factor just enough importance in making the prediction. It's like news coverage. Good journalism covers what's relevant issue in our society, but some times, media outlets focus too much on issues nobody cares about. Conversely, media may focus too little on an issue that everybody cares about. Likely, the formula should give just the right amount of attention to each variables to be accurate.

Then how do we know which brand offers the best formula?

I'm not going to make any specific brand recommendation here because there are thousand other blog posts on the topic. The point I'm trying to get across here is that the price tag of a launch monitor may not be commensurate with your playing experience. It's more or less a reflection of the cost of the hardware, in my opinion, not the software. And some less costly ones are definitely better than some of the more expensive ones.

So go out and experience different types of launch monitors! If EA Sports has done anything right, it's their catch phrase - it's in the game. Once you begin to feel the nuances each launch monitor has to offer, you will find something that you feel right for you.

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