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Warp 9, Mr. Kaye

AGD’s Warp Feed with Pro-Team’s Universal adapter

© Ravi Chopra, 2000

The evolution of feed systems in paintball is a long and interesting tale. Those of us who have been around paintball for a decade or so remember the old 10 round NelSpots, Splatmasters, and PGPs. These pump ’guns held 10 rounds in a horizontal tube over the barrel. When you wanted to feed a new paintball, you had to tip the ’gun forward or backwards (depending on the brand) and pump it to chamber a new paintball. These were quickly supplimented with extension tubes that allowed you to jam a plastic 10 round tube in the end to up your paintball count to 15 or 20 balls.

Things really started to change with the advent of gravity feed. Some clever chap decided he could take that feed tube and turn it vertical. Better yet, he could extend it to hold 20 to 30 paintballs! Suddenly, players were freed to pump paint into their opponents with wild abandon, not having to worry about tipping the ’gun about or having to reload every few shots. Glory be! These spray & pray lunatics were known to shoot as many as 100 paintballs a game. Insanity!

Well, it wasn’t long before someone decided, hey, why stick a 10 round tube up at the top of my vertical feed when I can jam a whole oil can up there that can hold 50 paintballs or more. Thus entered the era of a humungo-feeder, with each company seeking to outdo the others with progressively larger hoppers to perch atop the now-constant-air-fed pump-guns.

The problem with gigantic hoppers is that the paint has a tendency to jam up in it, requiring a periodic shake-shake-shake of the paintgun to start it feeding again. Not too big a deal usually, but amazingly frustrating when you have a guy lined up to pop only to find your paintgun dry-firing. People tried all sorts of things to reduce hopper jams. Early on, they started building channels in the bottom of hoppers to help line paintballs up to drop into the feed tube. They also tried mechanical means to break up jams, including pneumatic pistons and twirling paddles. The one system the survived is the system cooked up by Viewloader, the VL2000 which used an optical sensor to determine when paint was not in the feed neck and spun a little paddle in the hopper to break up the jam.

The VL2000 worked remarkably well and immediately became the most popular hopper on the market. Viewloader dominated this market thanks to bullet-proof patents which locked potential competitors out. Players didn’t care much, though. VL kept their popularity high by providing some of the best customer service this sport has ever seen (and which sadly passed when VL changed ownership). Despite a total lack of competition, Viewloader revised their hoppers frequently. Why? Because people complained that the hoppers didn’t feed fast enough and they were chopping paint.

VL’s response? The Shredder. This 18 volt monster was a VL2000 wired to take two 9V batteries rather than the one the original VL2000 ran on. It also got a gigantic paddle to really stir the paint. The result? The poor servos used to spin the paddles were never built for this kind of abuse. Gears stripped, motors burned out, and batteries died faster than you could say "Duracell". But man could these things feed. Players didn’t get too worked up about dead hoppers either. VL was still fixing them and sending them back as fast as players could burn them out. Players were happy.

But VL obviously wasn’t. They were hard at work on the next generation Viewloader moto-loader: the Revolution. The Revolution was a real advance. It had a light that told you when the batteries were running dead, something that happened less often thanks to new circuitry that didn’t drain your copper-tops quite so fast. It also stepped down the voltage to 12V to help extend servo life. Despite some early glitches, the Revolution has come to be a favorite among experienced paintball players thanks to it’s superb performance and improved reliability.

But people STILL bitch that they don’t feed fast enough! For God’s sake, people, who NEEDS to shoot more than 10-12 paintballs a second?

Easy to answer: the electropneumatic manufacturers need you to. Electros are most hyped and hold the biggest advantage in ridiculous rate of fire. Angels, Bushies, Shockers, Tribals, Impulses, Matrixes - all can easily tear it up at rates of fire well over 12 per second. Never mind the fact that almost no one can actually pull the trigger that fast. The Automag RT has been hyped for potential rates of fire as high as 26 per second with no shoot-down. Now with the E-mag, people actually may be able to take some advantage of that potential. Toss enhanced fire modes (now NPPL ILLegal) into the mix and you have easy high rates of fire even for the most ham-fisted players. Believe you me, there are a lot of ham-fisted players out there willing to pay big bucks for just that kind of help.

Of course, all that potential is absolutely meaningless without a high-speed feed system that can keep up. For years now we’ve been hearing about all sorts of power-fed systems in development that were going to revolutionize the sport. For years we waited while our venerable Revolutions kept churning merrily away and people with a questionable grasp on reality continued to claim that they were out-shooting their hoppers and chopping paint. Whatever.

It is Airgun Designs, seeking to add credibility to their 20 shot-per-second E-mag and 26 per-second RT who have come out with the first practical power-feed system. This system, introduced earlier this year on the E-mag is the Warp Feed. Pro-Team Products has been charged with the development of universal adapters to allow the Warp Feed to be used on any paintgun while AGD holds the monopoly on adapters for all Automags. It was Pro-Team who sent me a blue-jewel Warp Feed with their universal adapter and pair of low-rise plugs for the Angel and Bushmaster. Expect more refinements and adapters in the near future.

HOW IT WORKS

The Warp Feed is a plastic unit about 5.5 inches long, 4.25 inches tall, and 2.25 inches across at its widest. It mounts below and to the left of the grip frame, right next to where your tank rests if mounted on a drop-forward bottom-line.

Inside the Warp Feed are a pair of rubber discs about 3.5 inches in diameter, and spaced just under one paintball’s diameter apart. These two discs are connected to a small electric motor that spins them together. As paintballs drop into a hole in the rear of the unit, the balls get sandwitched between the two discs and get dragged along with them down to the bottom of the unit and then up to the front. The two discs hold about 10 paintballs between them when the unit is fully loaded. At the front of the Warp Feed a metal plate prevents the paintballs from being carried further and the balls are driven up and out a hole at the front of the unit. Paintballs continue to be driven out of the hole in the front as long as there are paintballs sandwitched between the discs to continue pushing them out.

To feed paintballs into the unit, you place a motorized hopper like a VL Revolution in the entry port at the back of the Warp Feed. A hose is hooked up to the front port and connected at its other end to your paintgun’s feed neck. Airgun Designs has special adapters to hook the Warp Feed up to Automags. I did not have access to these at the time of this test, so I can’t really say much about them. Pro-Team included their universal adapter and three different hose styles with the Warp Feed they sent me. If you have a standard right or left-feed paintgun that requires an elbow to attach a hopper, the universal adapter slides over it and cinches down with a small set screw much like Pro-Team’s universal power-feed.

If you have a center-feed paintgun with a built-in hopper adapter, you remove the set screw and jam the entire end of the adapter into the feed tube just like you would with your hopper. Please note: it is designed to fit in vertical hopper adapters designed to fit the old VL hoppers. Paintguns like the Impulse and Matrix which have been redesigned to fit the new, smaller, Brass-Eagleized VL neck are too tight for the current universal adapter. I actually used a dremmel to grind out the inside of my Matrix’s feed neck to allow me to use the Warp Feed and my older Revolution hoppers. Pro-Team knows about this problem and is working on a solution.

If you have an Angel or Bushmaster, you’re in luck. Pro-Team includes short adapters for each of those paintguns that replaces your vertical feed tube and allows you to mount the universal adapter very close to the top surface of your paintgun.

To mount the Warp Feed to your paintgun, you use the included mounting arm which is composed of two plates attached by a pair of screws. One end of one plate is sandwitched between your grip frame and your bottom-line adapter. The other end of the second plate is screwed down to the top of the Warp Feed. The two plates can be adjusted with respect to each other to allow you to position the feed wherever you like.

There are a couple different ways that the Warp Feed can be signaled to run. With the E-mag, part of the E-mag’s circuitry send a signal to the Warp Feed telling it when to spin and when to sit. As I don’t have an E-mag to test it with, I really can’t comment on how well that works. I know that WDP is working on a similar program and adapter to allow the Angel LCD to run the Warp Feed in the same way.

The rest of us use a vibration sensor in the mounting arm. The plate that mounts to the bottom of your grip frame has a recess in its bottom-side into which a vibration sensor is placed and then capped. A wire runs from the vibration sensor to a jack in the side of the Warp Feed. The Warp Feed itself has a couple different settings that have to be made for it to work well. The first setting is a sensitivity adjusted with a small potentiometer. All the way to one side the Warp Feed runs continuously. All the way to the other side it won’t run even if you hit the ’gun with a sledgehammer. Somewhere in between you’ll find a spot where the feed only runs when you fire the paintgun. The other setting is the dwell which determines how long the Warp Feed runs when it registers a signal to spin. Obviously you want it to turn at least far enough to push another paintball into the breech.

The final way to spin the discs is to use the white priming button on the Warp Feed. Pressing this button turns the motor on and spins the discs until you let go. When you first load up your paintgun, you press this button to prime the system. When you hold the button down, it starts pulling paint out of your hopper and pushing it up the feed tube and into your paintgun. The discs will stop pushing paint up once the system is fully primed and ready to fire.

The Warp Feed can be run off either four AA batteries or a 9V battery in it’s stock configuration, allowing a feed rate of 12 shots per second. Wire in a second 9V and it can crank out 20 shots per second.

HOW TO SET IT UP

After using it some, I don’t think there’s any question that the Warp Feed is the fastest feed system on the market. Though it is limited by the feed rate of your hopper, the quick-spinning discs act to buffer your paintgun from pauses in your hopper’s feeding. The key is setting the Warp Feed up properly to ensure reliable feeding.

The first thing I set was the dwell. Dwell is set by installing jumpers on the circuit board. As few as zero to as many as four jumpers can be inserted. More jumpers inserted means a shorter dwell, and thus a shorter period of spinning every time it is signaled to feed. Obviously you want it to turn at least far enough to feed one full paintball forward, but I would argue that you want it to spin a bit further. By having it run long enough to feed 2-3 paintballs, you allow it to make up for those gaps which are inevitably going to occur when your hopper slows down or jams. I found two jumpers worked just about right when using a 9V battery to power the feed.

Setting the sensitivity is the other half of the equation. I found best results by turning the sensitivity all the way up so it spins continuously then backing it out until it stops. Fire the paintgun you have it mounted to a few times and make sure it runs with EVERY shot. If it doesn’t, adjust your sensitivity until it does.

If you have to make a decision, fault on the side of running it too-long or too-far. Since this system feeds against gravity, it MUST run with each and every shot. If it does not, you’ll find yourself dry-firing.

Another important issue is setting up the hose to channel paint to your feed neck. You want to position it such that it does not have many sharp bends. Sharp twists in the hose will result in spots through which the Warp Feed can not reliably push paint.

Finally, tape the hose ends up to ensure they can’t be easily pulled from their adapters. Without tape (or glue if you know you aren’t going to have to change it later) the hose ends can pull from their adapters far too easily. Hook your hose on a tree branch while running and you’ll be very sorry.

HOW WELL IT WORKS

If you spend the time to set your Warp Feed up properly it will feed very very reliably as long as you keep the paintgun roughly upright such that your motorized hopper can continue to feed. I hooked it up to a new Matrix I’m testing (see review this issue) and ripped on it. No problems. The vibration sensor which I was somewhat doubtful of at first worked remarkably well. It fed quickly and reliably with every shot. Fast bursts and long strings all proved to be no challenge for the Warp Feed. This will come as a welcome change for those who think they’re outrunning their hoppers since this system powers paintballs into the chamber with no hesitation and buffers any gaps that might be caused by a pause in the hopper’s feed.

It is important to note that the Warp Feed will only feed at maximum rate as long as the discs are filled. This means that, with the Warp Feed loaded with a full ten paintballs between the discs, you’ll be able to rip out nine shots as fast as those discs can spin. Once you get past that point you become limited by your hopper speed. As gaps occur due to outrunning your hopper or periodic jams, the feed rate of the Warp Feed slows as it catches up by spinning past those gaps. What this means is that you can not set your Angel to full-auto at 15 shots per second and expect to be able to empty your hopper in one long burst. With a Revolution, a continuous 9-10 shots per second is realistic, possibly one or two more if you use the new eVLution which is reputed to feed a bit faster.

Taking the hopper off the top of the ’gun helps to make you a smaller target as well. When you shoot over the top or out the right side of your cover you can just lean your barrel out. Shooting left is a bit more of a trick, though. With this massive apparatus hanging off the left side of the grip frame you obviously can’t lean out left the way you normally do. Rather than switching your stock to the other shoulder and leaning out, you just tilt the paintgun 90 degrees to the left so you’re just poking the barrel of your now-sideways paintgun out the left side of your bunker. Since it’s a power-fed system it will continue to feed as long as there is paint between the discs. Since your moto-loader is flat on it’s side, it won’t be feeding the Warp Feed anymore. This means you get about 9 shots before you need to come back into your bunker to recharge the system by either dry-firing the ’gun repeatedly or pressing the white priming button to reload the discs.

Having this whopping big mass to the left of the paintgun definitely takes some getting used to. It unbalances the ’gun to the left quite significantly. Taking your hopper off the top of the ’gun changes things a bit as well. I’ve gotten so used to having that big Revvy sitting up there it’s become part of my sight picture and I use it as a reference point for aiming. These are both things that people can used to quite easily (no more hopper obstructing your view!), but it does take a bit of adjustment before your aim becomes automatic again.

IT AIN’T PERFECT

The Warp Feed sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Reliable high-speed feeding that can even allow you to shoot your paintgun upside-down for up to 9 shots. No more hopper sitting on top of your paintgun acting as a giant paint-magnet. Nice as this all is, it is crucial to remember that it has some limitations.

The first, and for me most irritating one is the fact that you’re limited to nine shots shooting out the left side of your bunker. This is potentially a very serious limitation for tournament players. You can easily dump 9 shots in two or three short bursts. If you need to stay out longer than that, too bad. You’ll be dry-firing if you try to keep shooting beyond that point. You can try to keep the ’gun more upright to allow your hopper to keep feeding, but then you’re exposing more of your paintgun and have to shift your stock over to an uncomfortable position somewhere around mid-chest to keep from exposing much of your left side. I with that AGD had designed the inlet neck to tilt your hopper about 30 degrees or so to the right. This would have the effect of tucking your hopper in closer to your paintgun and allow you to tip the ’gun further over left while still allowing the hopper to feed.

Second, the feed rate is heavily dependent on your battery strength. As your batteries die, the Warp feed slows down dramatically. This effects both the strength and duration of the wheel’s spinning. If you start your day with a marginal battery, as it runs down through the day, you could find half-way through a game that it is no longer feeding a full paintball with each shot, absolutely guaranteeing chopped paint. If your battery goes dead, you’re thoroughly screwed since this system absolutely requires power to continue feeding. The lesson here is, if you’re using a Warp Feed you would be very wise to drop in a new set of batteries every day to ensure you do not run into this problem. Pro-Team is looking into offering a rechargeable 10V battery pack for use with the Warp Feed which may make this problem somewhat less troublesome.

My third concern has to do with how this system hangs off the side of your paintgun. This causes two problems who have to run to their bunkers. First, since it hangs off the body-side of your paintgun you’ll find that it smacks into your side with every step as you swing your arms. Second, aggressive players slide, often face-first, into their bunkers. The way people slide in naturally puts the Warp Feed down. Imagining a NPPL player crashing head-first into his bunker with one of these plastic units strapped to his ’gun brings to mind images of race cars hitting the protective barriers at over 200 miles an hour. Finally, crawlers are likely to absolutely hate how the Warp Feed effectively doubles the thickness of their paintguns and lifts their grip frames well off the ground when on it’s left side, making it much harder to crawl and stay concealed.

My final concern is with the mounting arm. Where they hollow out a space for the vibration sensor, the plate’s thickness is cut in half. This makes a very weak point in the middle of the bracket. With all the mass of the Warp Feed, hopper, and paint hanging further out on the arm, in addition to the great deal of stress you can put on it if you fall or lean on it during the course of a game you’re looking at a recipe for disaster. I bent the arm enough to allow the vibration sensor and it’s cap to drop right out on two occasions just while putzing around with it at home. On the field, I feel fairly certain that a lot of these are going to bend. The mounting arm needs to be beefed up significantly to prevent this problem.

CONCLUSIONS

The Warp Feed is a mixed bag. There is no question that it is the fastest feed system on the market. It is fast and, as long as you have fresh batteries and keep your ’gun upright, very reliable. Hopper hits become a thing of the past - as archaic a concept as pump-guns and 12g CO2 powerlets. In addition, Pro-Team’s adapters work perfectly and should be available for even more ’guns once this article goes to print. On the other hand, tipping it over to shoot left causes a feeding interruption, a dead battery leaves you out in the cold, and it simply isn’t durable enough to take a NPPL-style front-man beating.

Front players and crawlers are definitely going to want to pass the Warp Feed by. It’s limitations make it impractical for them.

Mid and back players who shoot a lot of paint very fast may find the more reliable high-speed feeding to be worth the cost (~$190 retail) and other limitations. Some will also simply be drawn to the fact that hopper hits are no longer a worry when using this system. Not having to worry about that big hopper is awfully nice.

I am quite certain that the Warp Feed will develop a small, but very enthusiastic and dedicated following. Most, though, I think will find the limitations in its current form to outweigh the advantages.

Ultimately, I think that this is a terrifically clever idea with huge potential. The system itself is sound and Airgun Designs deserves huge accolades for bringing the first practical power-feed system to market. It’s usable in it’s current form, but it isn’t perfect. AGD needs to find a way to make it more compact and less dependent on the feed rate of an external hopper to make it more palatable to a broader variety of players.



All material at this site is © Ravi Chopra, 2001