SiOnyx Aurora Pro – Improved Poor man’s PVS-14?

Pro model next to Sport.

Last year, we got a chance to review the SiOnyx Aurora Sport. SiOnyx is the famous full-color digital night vision camera company, with tech that from first glance borders on science fiction. You may have seen images from them that look like enhanced twilight with a blue-tinted sky, only to hear it said that picture was taken in full darkness. And it is true, it does work. But it has weaknesses.

Our Sport model was the most stripped-down version they make, with the compass and GPS tossed aside in the quest to make an affordable model.  Retailing for $399 at the time of purchase, the Aurora Sport was worth the gamble. After wringing it out across every test we could think of, we came to a conclusion here at GunsAmerica Digest. It was not as good as a $3000 traditional tube PVS-14, which shouldn’t be a shock. But despite some minor flaws, it was absolutely an acceptable substitute. Especially if you don’t have $3000 laying around. I fully endorsed the Sport as a damn fine entry-level NVG, and SiOnyx appreciated that we gave them a fair shake. So much that they asked if we wanted to take a crack at the Aurora Pro model.

Familiar controls to other Sionyx models.

Which of course we did. I mean, how could we not? The Pro model is all-new for this year and alleges to have corrected a lot of the weaknesses of the Sport model. It costs a significant amount more but is still cheaper than a Gen 3 Tube model. Is it worth the street price of $999.00? (The Pro is sold out on SiOnyx own web store, but I did find it for sale at two separate camera shops for that price.)

Attachment point

With that significant increase in price, what do you get? For starters, the compass and GPS are back. The Pro will accept a larger memory card, should you actually be using it as a camera. It is alleged to have enhanced optics and improved sensor technology. The exact words they use are “Moonless starlight night vision.”  This model is weapons rated, unlike our Sport edition. And it doesn’t have a bright white shell, which is a minor point but worth mentioning.

Mounted behind Primary Arms Red Dot

The only real comparison here is to the Sport model. When I look at a product like this, for our audience, the real question I have is “Would I buy this?” And not only did I recommend purchasing the Sport, but I bought one myself. Now having seen the Pro, would I recommend you buy it instead? Keeping in mind that the Sport model is now $599, let’s find out.

Internal battery compartment

Before we go into head-to-head testing, let’s look at something a bit more difficult to figure. The Pro model is weapons rated. The Sport, even though we tested it on a rifle, is not. And while the Pro is only guaranteed for 4000 rounds of 5.56, that guarantee does mean something. Mostly that we are dealing with better electronics. And while I didn’t take apart the circuit board, I can at least give it an educated guess. Why is a Sony camcorder better than a Chinese knock off Sony camcorder? It isn’t just lenses. It’s how the wiring is done. More durable soldering and components cost more. That is just the way the world works.

Pro model vs
Sport model

So even though I would not recommend rifle mounting anyway, I can infer that the Pro has better internals. (People that do this for a living helmet mount, always. It costs you a laser as well, but worth it.) And that durability is going to be true for rattling around on dirt roads, dropping the unit, or anything else you can think of. We didn’t manage to break either the Sport or the Pro, so we can’t call that a certainty. In this day of ammo shortages, the only fair way would be to rifle mount the cameras and then shoot till they broke. We don’t have that kind of budget for 2020, so I have to make an educated guess. But my guess is, it would be worth the extra $$$$ for the improved hardness.

Sport vs
Pro model

Can you rifle mount this as an ultra-cheap option? Again, we have proven that you can. The Pro I actually tested behind my Primary Arms MD-25. You lose a little bit of peripheral vision going up against the red dot, and it isn’t ideal. But it does work. If all you can afford is a SiOnyx and a $20 Picatinny mount, it will get the job done. It is a lot better with an aiming laser and head mount though.

GPS and Compass. Okay, these were missing from my Sport model, and I didn’t really care. Mostly because if I am fighting with my SiOnyx Sport on my head, odds are very high I am close to home. I will say though, now that I have had the option on the Pro, I like it. Like a heads up display, the compass and GPS sit in the top right corner and constantly update. The compass only gives a general direction, not an azimuth. As in NW, instead of 283 degrees. This is close enough for most things, just don’t think it is going to guide you to a hidden cache. The GPS works very well, and I only have one complaint. It works in Lat/Long instead of military grid reference, which is not ideal. It has been over 10 years since I did anything Lat/Long, and I would bet the average consumer has done zero since elementary school. Still, it does work, and you could argue this negates your need to buy or carry a separate GPS.

The Meat

Sport with IR flashlight
Pro with IR light

The real question then becomes, does the Pro actually work better at being an NVG? You know, the whole reason we bought it. And with a side by side comparison, it does, though marginally. I will definitely contend that the Pro is not only more clear in all conditions, but has less “noise” in very dark ones. Noise in this case is the fuzzy bits on the screen that looks like snow from an old analog TV. It also has less of the lag that plagued the Sport. I don’t consider the lag a deal breaker in either model, but the Pro certainly has less.

Sionyx with Rigid IR light bar

When we tested our Sport model, the ability to drive in the dark was a big deal. Having fought a war that involved countless miles of driving under goggles, I cannot overstate how important that ability is. And for this test, a new hero rose. We reached out to Rigid Industries, the leader in Baja race truck lighting solutions. Rigid has spent more on R&D than you can imagine, which is part of the reason their lights grace all the champions of that insanely demanding sport.

Absolute game changer

Rigid has recently stepped into the IR game, which we expected to be game-changing. And our 10-inch test light bar did not disappoint. While it cost as much as the mid-grade Sionyx Camera, it did make driving infinitely better. This is also not a big surprise. Even with regular tube goggles, having IR headlights is an enhancement you cannot believe. I strongly recommend this, whatever NVG system you use.

Solid hardware attachments, proven in Baja racing

The Pro is better, but how much better? Well, that is remarkably hard to quantify. Neither is as good as a Gen3 tube model, nor I actually suspect a Gen2. (I haven’t seen a Gen2 in 20 years or more in person, but they are still for sale.) But since a Gen3 PVS 14 is $3000, and a Gen2 is $2000, we are still looking at a serious price offset. It makes the Sport at $599 to the Pro at $999 pale in comparison. So which one to buy?

If you are just going to have the SiOnxy, and don’t plan on ever buying anything else, I would call the Pro worth it. The small but noticeable gain in sensors is going to more than offset the $400 price difference over time. But if this is a stop gap while you save for a real NVG, or a backup? I have to put my money on the Sport. In that condition, the extra money is better in the piggy bank. Or to purchase an aiming laser/illuminator to go with it.

I stand by my call that this is a great value for the money, in either setup. Being able to see and shoot in the dark is an advantage that is wildly underestimated. I recommend that you get the gear to do so while the getting is good.

For more information visit SIONYX website.

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About the author: Clay Martin is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website, Off-The-Reservation.com

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Kelly Lee March 9, 2021, 11:22 am

    You mounted it behind a red dot yet provide no pic of how it looked through the unit? Also would like to have seen how an IR laser would have looked through it as well.

  • daniel March 8, 2021, 10:27 pm

    I would love to see you do a review of the digital scopes on the market these days. ATN really has a nice set up and there are a few others out there. I would love to hear what you think about this type of digital scope tech.

    Thanks

    Daniel

  • Randy Baldauf March 8, 2021, 7:30 pm

    Went to Rigid’s site no luck there finding any IR lights. ???

  • JEFFREY A GEHRIG March 8, 2021, 11:11 am

    Any chance you could post a photo with an “IR laser” on the weapon?

  • Roscoe Tarwater Beaumont March 8, 2021, 4:42 am

    WOW! This technology has come a VERY LONG WAY since my days of flying Army helicopters with the early classified versions. They told us we were using equipment that wouldn’t be released to the civilian market for 20 years. Seeing this makes me wonder what the aviators in my old unit are flying with today. Science fiction in action! These absolutely qualify as Buck Rogers stuff!

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