It’s time for part two of my hardware review of the Tobii Eye Tracker 5. If you missed part one, an unboxing and setup review, you should check that out here. Now, to part two I give my early impressions of the eye tracker and begin to work on an answer on if this is a true replacement for systems like TrackIR. I also answer several of the questions that came up in part one. And, if that wasn’t enough, Tobii have also decided to allow me to put together a give-away. Check at the bottom of this review for details on that. So, on with my early impressions!
What’s it like
For the most part, Tobii works just like a TrackIR/OpenTrack setup where moving your head slightly will be multiplied depending on your settings so that you can look to the side or behind your aircraft with just a slight head movement.
So far in my testing, the Tobii Eye Tracker 5 has performed very well. It’s fast, smooth, responsive but it does take time to get it setup just right. This isn’t that different from TrackIR or a VR setup, however, I feel like some reviews have given the setup the short end of the stick by not working with the available tools to get it dialed in right for their preferences. Admittedly, it might take a bit longer to sort out than other options.
Part of that dialing in process is because the Tobii doesn’t just track your head position but also your eye position. In some applications, tracking your eyes more than your head would be preferential, however, in my experience with flight sims you want the opposite. Finding just the right configuration is important or you could get a very jittery experience which is what I think some have experienced with the Tobii. Get it right, however, and its as I said above: fast, smooth, and accurate. On my system, I’ve experienced little to no lag with the system either and certainly nothing that seems to be any slower or faster than my OpenTrack setup.
There are two quirks. The first is that there’s always seemingly a center deadzone. I prefer it this way but I know some people like to have their head a little more free floating and I haven’t found a way to do that. Second, while up and down and left and right work very smoothly, going on the diagonal sometimes feels a little sluggish. It’s less of an issue with a civil sim but with a combat sim like DCS it may be a bit awkward at times. This may yet again be an issue that I just need to tweak in my settings.
On the flipside, because the tracker doesn’t rely on three IR LEDs on the side of your head like with TrackIR/OpenTrack solutions, the movement left and right is essentially symmetrical and there are no deadspots provided that the tracker can see you and its mounted properly. Like with all solutions, if your cat decides to sit infront of the tracker or if your joystick setup gets in the way of seeing your head this might be a problem.
Tweaking the setup
In my setup, I have set it up so that my head is doing roughly 90-95% of the work moving my overall viewpoint around the screen. This feels very much like a TrackIR/OpenTrack setup and in this configuration it feels just as responsive with only a small amount of lag in my experience. Others have reported more lag here but I frankly haven’t felt it.
Then, while using my eyes, I also have the ability to fine tune what I’m looking with their position adjusting the view in much smaller amounts. I did find reversing the configuration with my eyes doing most of the work to offer a more jumpy experience – that may very well be just how my eyes are scanning the screen and your experience will differ.
Your hardware setup might matter too. According to Tobii, the provided mount will fit and work on a curved screen provided there is a flat surface to attach to. They also say that there is a limited range of supported screensizes. According to Tobii, 27 inches with a 16:9 Aspect Ratio or 30 inches with a 21:9 Aspect Ratio are the recommended size. My Gigabyte M32U monitor is 32 inches and 16:9 and the Tobii tracker is able to read my eyes right to the edge of the screen. So this seems to be of limited issue – at least for simming.
You may be wondering what the tracking looks like in action so I have prepared three videos with a brief montage of what the tracking looks like in action. Starting with DCS World.
Then, see it in action with X-Plane 11.
Finally, check it out with Microsoft Flight Simulator.
I know some of these may be of limited use as you can’t see my head, however, I thought it important to show that the movement can be smooth and precise.
Tobii lists 169 games on their website as having Tobii Eye Tracker support. That, as it turns out, is a bit more complicated than it may first appear. There are plenty of titles listed as having support, however, not all of them support every piece of hardware or software revision. Some titles, as I discovered, may have limited or no longer have support anymore. There’s a caveat for us flight simmers on that point too so hang on for just a moment while I explore this point.
The three that I do have the setup working with currently are Microsoft Flight Simulator, X-Plane 11 and DCS World.
Microsoft Flight Simulator was a bit difficult to manage at first but the solution was simpler than I expected. I used the Tobii Game Hub to try and find the MSFS executable only to be stymied by the unique way that the Windows Store installs software. I thought all hope was lost but then realized that the Tobii device is actually listed and recognized within the sim itself. The available sensitivity adjustments within MSFS also more than adequate to dial in a setting that works for you.
DCS World proved a challenge too although its not the Tobii eye tracker that was at fault. This may affect some of you while others won’t be affected at all so I wanted to document it. Turns out, in DCS World, my OpenTrack install was conflicting with the Tobii Game Hub software and preventing tracking. Even with OpenTrack not running it still seemed to be dominant over the head tracking in DCS. Removing OpenTrack from my system solved the problem immediately and head and eye tracking adjustments are done from within the Tobii Game Hub.
X-Plane 11 has long been listed as having support but it is only a recent update to the Tobii Game Hub that gave it full official support. Tobii Game Hub found my X-Plane install directory, asked me if I wanted to install the plugin, and let me start using its head and eye tracking features almost immediately. X-Plane 12 I would hope will have a similar support option very soon.
IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad also appears on the list, however, support for it in the Game Hub appears to have been dropped. A message reads the following:
Please note that this game uses vJoy which is no longer supported in Game Hub 2.3.1 or later. For the last working version, download Tobii Game Hub 1.6.4. Unfortunately due to underlying issues with vJoy, Tobii cannot guarantee working functionality.
That is a bit disappointing, however, there is a potential solution out there. FaceTrackNoIR has a Tobii compatibility mode now available that should make the tracker and virtually any headtracking software that works with it functional. I have not yet tested this as a solution but some have reported it as such and this will be a feature in my full review.
Accessibility and convenience
Something that I really appreciate about the Tobii is the ease of use once it is setup. With my Delanclip setup (very similar to TrackIR), I’d need to load up OpenTrack, put the headset on, verify that the setup could see my tracking lights and then start up my sim of choice.
With the Tobii software running unobtrusively in the background I just start my sim of choice and start flying. I don’t have to wear anything on my head and I don’t need to start up anything else to get it going. If I do decide to disable the tracker until I’m ready, its just a couple of clicks in Tobii Experience to get things going. It’s a small thing but it is a nice thing to be sure!
There’s also an accessibility aspect here that may matter to some flight simmers. Not wearing something on my head is actually part of the reason why I was drawn to test the Tobii specifically.
Recently I’ve developed some back and neck issues to the point where wearing a headset for any length of time can be a painful experience. A VR headset would likely be even worse. So, something like the Tobii offers a whole other experience freeing my head from any added weight – and thus any extra pain and discomfort.
I know many simmers have different challenges with their setup and while VR is great for some, and TrackIR might be great for others, Tobii offers another option and regular readers know that I love to know what all of the options are!
Answering your questions
Several of you commented on part one with some excellent questions. I have captured as many as I could and have attempted to answer them here.
Does it amplify your head movements like the Track IR?
Yes, Tobii can be setup to work just like a TrackIR where you move your head slightly and the movement is exaggerated in the sim. You can do this with your head, your eyes, or a combination of both.
Does it recognize the game automatically?
Yes, for supported games that have been setup, you can just load in and it will automatically recognize and use your specific profile as determined either within the game or by the Tobii Game Hub.
Does it need good lighting conditions to operate?
Because the system is projecting its own IR lighting that you can’t otherwise see, no, it seems to have no problem tracking my head in the dark, in bright conditions with the sun streaming in, and everything in between. I’ve had no issues at all.
Does it lose your head when moving around?
In my experience, Tobii has been more reliable at tracking my head position than my OpenTrack/Delanclip setup. There were usually spots where the LED lights had a bit of a crossover and the tracker would get confused. No such problem with the Tobii.
How accurate does the system track compared to TrackIR?
I find the Tobii is a little bit less accurate than the TrackIR systems that I’ve previously used. That slightly less precision can be made up for by using eye tracking which seems to let you dial in your exact view a little more easily, however, it can throw you off while trying to click small switches or buttons in a clickable cockpit especially if you’re prone to more frequent eye movements. This seems to be very unique to each person who uses it.
Do the IR lights turn off?
While it tracks your head and eyes, the IR lights will be on and you will see the red glow on the front. If you leave your desk and walk away, the system will shut itself down and power off until it detects your face again. You can shut the system off in the Tobii Experience software with a quick toggle switch.
The folks at Tobii have offered up a give-away to readers of Stormbirds.blog and here’s how it’s going to work.
To enter into the contest:
- Write the following comment on this blog post: “I want to enter”
That’s it. I will wait a full week before picking the winner. I will then put everyone who commented into a list, run a random number generator, and get the winner based on the number that they come up with. I will then connect with the winner and we’ll take it from there. If I am not able to establish contact after 72-hours I will then re-roll the random number generator and pick a new winner. Fair? Fair! Good luck!
Update: To make sure this goes to a flight sim enthusiast (of any level), a skill testing question will be asked. Be ready.
More testing ahead
More testing is ahead before the final review lands, however, so far I’m impressed with this as an alternative solution that is not VR and also not TrackIR but something else altogether. This isn’t a perfect setup but I would say already that the Tobii Eye Tracker 5 is a strong contender with its share of pros and cons depending on the sim that you want to use it with.
There’s much more to dig into to see if this is a true alternative so stay tuned for more!