Eyes-On: The Tobii Eye Tracker 4C is a glimpse into the future
There’s no shortage of gaming peripherals out there, but Tobii’s new Eye Tracker 4C is, quite literally, a game changer.
This fancy new tech tracks your eye and head movements, allowing you to move, aim, and do loads of other actions in-game, without ever clicking a mouse. It also has applications outside of gaming, too - the Eye Tracker allows you to do general actions like move the mouse cursor, scroll and zoom, and switch applications just by looking at your display. This has the potential to increase your productivity, in addition to making you feel like a futuristic technogod.
It sounds like an ambitious, immersive experience, but how does it play out in real life?
Setting up the Eye Tracker 4c up was a little more involved than I was expecting. Getting the bar to stick to my monitor was a process. According to the included manual, and Tobii’s own Getting Started video, you’re supposed to attach a sticky strip on the bottom of your monitor. The Eye Tracker then magnetically attaches to the strip, snapping it into place. I first tried to do this with my laptop, as both the manual and the video have a laptop screen.
However, the bar was too big for my laptop, so it wouldn’t attach to the magnetic strip. I then tried attaching it to my desktop monitor, but my monitor’s raised logo is right in the middle where the sticky strip need to be, so I again couldn’t get it to work. I finally tried attaching the strip to the top of my monitor. This worked much better – the bar stuck on to the strip as advertised. However, all wasn’t solved. The closest available USB port was my monitor’s hub, located on the left hand side of my monitor.
But the Eye Tracker’s USB cable sticks out on the right hand side of the unit, and had to be stretched behind my monitor to plug into my USB port, causing the unit to tilt up at an awkward angle that makes it impossible to detect my eyes. So I moved it back down to the bottom of my monitor, slightly off center, but again, the USB cord dragged the bar down, making it hang lopsided.
I had to use the included USB extension, which did help, but the lopsidedness still persisted. I’m willing to concede that my setup might be the problem, but I’m not willing to reorganize my entire setup or buy a whole new monitor to get eye tracking to work.
It also doesn’t help that the adhesive loses its stick after a few failed attempts, and Tobii only includes two strips in the package. If they want their product to take off, Tobii should keep working on a better solution, such as a tray that clamps on to the bottom of the monitor or something more along those lines. I may be willing to masking tape this thing on to my monitor, but I’m not sure all gamers will.
Once I completed setting up the Eye Tracker and calibrated the sensor, the first thing I did was play the cool little asteroid shooter game Tobii includes with the unit to get you familiar with using your eyes as a controller. I have to say, as skeptical as I was going in, the game was an excellent primer, and really sold me on the concept. Even the most basic things like moving your head to look around your cockpit felt active and engaging.
I was pleasantly surprised with how good the tracking was – my eye movements registered quickly and fluidly, and I never felt like I was fighting to get the tracker to recognize movement. Using my eyes to look around feels natural and intuitive, I couldn’t believe a company hasn’t made eye tracking a thing before. I really think this technology could turn a lot of people who are put off by the twitchy, reflex-intensive nature of some games into bonafide gamers.
The Eye Tracker currently supports around 130 different games, with more being added all the time. In-game support mostly seems to be limited to stuff like moving and activated special powers based on where you look – essentially eliminating a lot of what you’d currently use the mouse for. I played a little bit of Hitman to try it out and the results were... interesting. Obviously, it took a while to get used to – years of gaming have me instinctively moving the mouse, and I never realized how much I subconsciously dart my eyes around the monitor when gaming.
Eventually, I got into a flow, and I was able to mark targets and aim with roughly the same amount of precision as with a traditional mouse. It’s surprisingly satisfying to be able to “paint” targets with your eyes, and it really immerses you into the experience. Hitman ended up being a great game to try out, because it also has a unique dynamic lighting system that adjusts the brightness of the screen depending on whether you’re looking at a light source or not. It’s a cool touch, even though I found it a bit too distracting to want to turn on regularly.
Easily my favorite feature in Hitman was looking at the bottom corner of the screen to bring up the minimap. Not only did I feel more like a hitman bringing up my map to plan out my infiltration, but getting back that extra bit of on-screen real estate was much appreciated. It was worth using the eye tracking for this feature alone.
Obviously, the biggest concern here is software support. Developers need to design their games with the Eye Tracker 4C in mind, or else all these cool features won’t work. If the software support is there, I’m optimistic about what game designers can do beyond just aiming and movement-based mechanics in the future.
While the Eye Tracker 4C is primarily for gaming , there’s also some features you can use with Windows. You can keep your computer logged in and awake when you’re in front of it, and you can automatically turn the screen on when you sit down. It can also be used to move the mouse cursor.
Tracking in Windows was not quite as consistent as when gaming, and the mouse movements were spotty at times, but it’s a neat bonus nonetheless. Twitch streamers can install a special plugin to allow their viewers to see where they’re looking on screen. If you’re trying to learn how a pro plays a game, this could be a cool way to help you get into their headspace.
If there’s one word I’d use to describe the Eye Tracker 4C, it’s “promising.”
The eye tracking technology works well in the games that support it, despite some occasional hiccups and less than perfect Windows applications. Once Tobii figures out a more efficient mounting method, I’m really excited about where this technology could go in the future.