For a long time now I’ve contended that we’re living in a golden age of flight simulation. We’ve seen the hobby explode in multiple different directions over the last decade picking up from the last golden age and heading outwards into all kinds of different directions. Technologies that we’ve long taken for granted are seeing new challengers offering new and exciting alternatives. One of those spaces is head tracking and one of those challengers is Tobii.
I’ve had the opportunity to spend almost a year testing Tobii’s Eye Tracker 5 technology with a laser focus on how well it supports flight sims. After all of that testing I’m prepared to share with you my full review of the technology. Tobii hails their Eye Tracker 5 as the next generation in head and eye tracking technology. Is it? Will it work for your flight sim experience? Let’s dive in and help answer those questions and more! Also, if you’re here to copy my settings, check out my section at the bottom where you can get the settings I’ve settled on while writing this review.
As is customary with all of my reviews I always reveal the circumstances surrounding the testing of any hardware that gets sent to me. Tobii set me up with the Eye Tracker 5 for evaluation and offered to make Stormbirds.blog an affiliate – that means if you buy from this link I get some rewards back. As much as I’d love to see that happen, my primary goal is to review the hardware and tell you what’s good, what challenges you might face, and arm you with the information to make the decision on a purchase. Tobii’s representatives get to read this review at the same time you do so they have not exercised any influence over its writing.
What is the Tobii Eye Tracker and where does it fit in the market?
For dedicated flight sim fans, having some sort of head tracking solution in place has become almost a right of passage after a powerful PC and a joystick. This is unfortunately not a cheap hobby… but most of them aren’t.
While some in the civil aviation flight simulation space can get by without a headtracker, having one is certainly more immersive. Having a head tracker in combat flight sims, though not mandatory, is necessary in some of the more highly competitive areas of that experience. It can mean the difference in in an online or offline dogfight. It also frees up hat switches or other controls to do other things like control radar, select weapons, or queue up ECM or countermeasure programs.
There are a few options out there to get you going with a headtracking solution. TrackIR is the longtime standard for IR headtracking together with a slew of other options from other companies such as TrackHat and Delanclip offering comparable third party options at reduced prices. TrackIR has become the brand name to represent all of these IR based head tracking solutions and they all pretty much work the same way – an IR camera mounted on your desk or monitor tracks the position of IR lights or reflectors worn on your head. This is the way its been for a couple of decades now but recently I’ve started to feel like this is yesterdays technology particularly as I observe the eye and face tracking features on modern mirrorless cameras.
VR or virtual reality is another option out there. This technology has been waiting for the computing power and the killer apps to make it a success and flight sims are one of those killer apps. VR’s challenges remain with its sometimes awkward fitting gear and the challenge of running high fidelity flight sim graphics twice over to feed into the VR headset’s goggles. VR is great for some but not for everyone.
Enter Tobii and the Eye Tracker 5 fit into the mix! The Tobii solution offers headtracking and eyetracking in 3D space and lets you control the viewpoint in your chosen sim simply by moving your head and/or eyes back and forth. All of that is tracked by the sensors and translated into motion. Tobii goes an extra step above what TrackIR does and mixes eye tracking into the bag of tricks too letting you use just your eyes, just your head, or some combination of both to control the viewpoint. Best of all, it does it without you needing to wear anything on your head which simplifies your sim setup and in some cases makes this a more attractive solution.
That’s the overview so lets now look at the hardware.
The core of the Eye Tracker 5 is a thin bar looking device that can be attached to a monitor or laptop. IR lights and a sensitive camera system track your eyes and the position of your head.
The unit itself is a small and robust unit and while mounted on my desktop monitor is absolutely unobtrusive. After years of having a PS3eye web camera from my Delanclip sticking off of the top or stuck to the bottom, this feels sleek by comparison. It’s wider than TrackIR’s proprietary camera system but far thinner.
It’s attached via a Velcro system that sticks to a mounting bracket that you glue to the bottom of your monitor. So long as your monitor has a flat space you should be able to stick the bracket and the rest of the device right on. It appears to use something similar to those 3M tabs where they stick on quickly but then don’t leave a mark should you need to remove them. I can also vouch for the sticking power as this unit has stayed attached to the base of my monitor for spring, summer, fall, and winter and no reasonable amount of heat or cold seems to have affected it.
For more about the packing and unboxing experience, check out Part One: Tobii Eye Tracker unboxing.
There are two essential components of the Tobii software setup.
First, the Tobii Experience is a mandatory piece of software that helps you do basic management of the unit. This is where you do the initial setup and calibrate the software to see your head and your eyes. It’s also where you can go back and test as well as further refine the calibration. In my experience you don’t need to do this very often or ever after the initial setup but there are probably instances where a reconfiguration is needed.
Since my initial review, the folks at Tobii addressed the one thing that was bugging me about the software. If I ever wanted to quickly enable or disable the tracker, you had to go into the software, go into a menu and then disable it. Now they’ve added an option on the system tray pop-up. Nice work folks! It’s the little things that I appreciate.
Next, there’s the Tobii Game Hub. This is an optional pack, however, for flight simmers I recommend it as this is where you identify some of the sims that are supported and make tweaks to the setup. It’s essential for use with DCS World, X-Plane 11 and X-Plane 12.
I’m adding one more piece of software to the conversation here as well. FaceTrackNoIR is a third-party head tracking software that sports modularity and that makes it a good option for adding on support for all kinds of headtracking solutions.
The developers of this software worked with Tobii’s developers to offer support for FaceTrackNoIR and this is a good thing because it basically assures that the Tobii hardware will work even with older/unsupported software that understands headtracking only via TrackIR. FaceTrackNoIR is a good bridge for that. Learn more about FaceTrackNoIR and Tobii Eye Tracking here.
Supported flight sims and compatibility discussion
I had the opportunity to test the Tobii with a variety of flight sims including DCS World, Microsoft Flight Simulator, X-Plane 11 and 12, IL-2 Sturmovik: Great Battles, as well as IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover BLITZ.
Eagle Dynamics’ DCS World has full first party support for the Tobii Eye Tracker built right into the software. Installed via a plugin inside the Tobii Game Hub, you should be good to go almost immediately after.
If you have OpenTrack or another headtracker installed you may run into some issues. As I later learned, those can cause conflicts with Tobii’s software. If you do run into trouble, you’ll want to uninstall OpenTrack and clear things out before installing the Tobii software.
There is one other “problem.” For those that like to have your headtracker control the exterior camera on your DCS module, Tobii and DCS currently do not support such a configuration. I tended to leave this capability off even with prior headtracking solutions so this wasn’t a big difference for me but some of you may want to note it.
Aside from that, DCS World works beautifully with the tracker. I have heard from Eagle Dynamics that additional support for Tobii trackers is planned at some point down the road. What this entails I’m not sure of but the implementation is already excellent.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
This is another sim that has official support. Microsoft and Tobii have done a fair bit of cross promotion and you see this sim used in a lot of the marketing materials from Tobii. With good reason as it works just as well as DCS World does with the added advantage of having exterior camera control if you want it.
MSFS is also the only sim that I tested that has native Tobii support built right into the sim. The Game Hub is not needed and is not used to adjust your settings. You need to edit and tweak settings within the MSFS configuration interface. It’s very capable but I admit that I prefer to adjust the settings in Tobii’s software setup a little bit better than the MSFS interface.
I have run into problems as FaceTrackNoIR’s TrackIR emulation tends to override the native configuration for the sim. You need to disable or uninstall that software to prevent that issue from occurring. Of course, you can also use FaceTrackNoIR for your head tracking in MSFS and that works reasonably well too.
X-Plane 11 and 12
Tobii added X-Plane 11 support in 2022 which was great to see. Later, during the X-Plane 12 beta, they produced a plugin that supports that as well which means that both recent versions of X-Plane now have native support.
The Tobii implementation works very similarly to TrackIR in X-Plane with head movement being somewhat less fixed than it is in other sims. Your head tends to float around a bit and you can easily lean out a window if you move in an extreme enough way. This is absolutely an X-Plane thing rather than a Tobii issue and its basically expected behaviour with X-Plane.
As it is, its still a very usable implementation and it works as well as DCS and MSFS with the ability to move your head in all directions. Tilt, lean, left, right, up and down.
The IL-2 series
There’s a bit of a story with the IL-2 series and Tobii’s eye tracker. IL-2 Great Battles used to have direct support for the Tobii Eye Tracker but at some point this was dropped. The support was offered through VJoy but for an unknown reason no longer does while Tobii’s website still lists IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad but then explains that support is only available in older versions of the software (something I did not test).
There is a solution. With FaceTrackNoIR running in the background, you can start up IL-2 as you normally would and the Eye Tracker 5 will feed your head position into the software. It’s unclear to me if eye position is tracked but it doesn’t appear to do that which is fine because it still does a good job of head positioning.
After some significant work tweaking the settings, I was able to get something that works reasonably well. There is one caveat and its a pretty big one unfortunately. Tilting my head up and down seems to produce sluggish results and I’m not able to look fully up or down. Left and right and tilting my head is fine but looking up only works so far and then it starts jumping around all over the place.
Consulting with other users has revealed that this is unfortunately a common problem and one without a solution at the moment. Hopefully it or official support can be worked out in the future.
The same solution works for IL-2: Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover and with the same caveat.
In this video you can see a full quick mission dogfight flying the P-51D against some Fw190s and Bf109s. The head tracker is very responsive as you can see with the exception of looking up and down.
Getting your setup just right
I’ve talked a lot about the nuts and bolts of Tobii but now it’s time to talk about how it is in practical use.
Setting up the Tobii takes some time and slightly more finicky to setup than TrackIR solutions are. You have to spend the time getting your head curves right. That’s where some reviews and people have struggled with the setup as it just needs a little more time. I was committed to making it work and I’ve managed to get my settings to the point where I’m very happy with them.
In all of my configurations, I’ve moved to a 99% head tracking and 1% eye tracking. That gives the camera a small amount of low acceleration movement with the eye movement giving you just a bit of extra motion at certain times. The rest of the time its your head dictating the movement and that seems to be the best way to manage flight sims. Eye tracking on its own or as the primary method is either too slow for a dogfight or too jumpy for cockpit clicking depending on how its dialed in.
In some software, eye tracking might be a great way to interact with the game but with flight sims I find it’s the head position that is key and so the eye tracking features become less of a distinguishing feature. Maybe its because I’m so used to using my head to position my virtual pilot but I can see most other sim pilots going this way too. If you do happen to go with a primary or all eye tracking method please let me know in the comments because I’d love to know how you adjusted to that.
You also need to consider your setup in a variety of ways as your hardware scenario matters a lot. A desktop monitor with a flat space underneath makes for the ideal setup. Tobii say that a monitor that is 27 inches with a 16:9 Aspect Ratio or 30 inches with a 21:9 Aspect Ratio are the recommended size. I’ve got a 32 inch 16:9 monitor and that works fine with the tracker reading my eyes right to the edge of the screen. The system is clearly more adaptable than they suggest but if you sit too far away or too close that may also be a problem – note that this is not a uniquely Tobii issue as TrackIR solutions suffer with this too.
I’ve heard from others that curved screens are generally fine too and there are provisions for sticking the Tobii to a laptop as well although I have not tested my setup with that kind of configuration.
I talk a bit about getting my setup just right and the challenges that I faced in Part Two: Early impressions.
Some have told me that they found the Tobii slow to track but my experience has been the opposite. I’ve found the Tobii Eye Tracker 5 to be fast and highly responsive to my head and eye position. Every tracker I’ve used except for VR has always had an extremely minor delay and I’ve found the Tobii to have a comparable level of delay.
I’ve also not noticed any added delay or issues with tracking when the sunlight is streaming into my office. There may be more extreme cases such as with an extreme backlight where the sun may overwhelm the system but with my arrangement I’ve experienced no problem at all throughout the many months that I’ve spent testing it.
On a sim like DCS World where headtracking is essential in a dogfight, the Tobii works extremely well. I’ve tried it in modern aircraft like the F/A-18C Hornet, Cold War era types like the AJS-37 Viggen, and WWII types like DCS’ Spitfire IX and it works really well. In these situations, the tracker is just as good in my opinion as TrackIR.
The only time I’ve experienced an annoyance is when you’re trying to do something while zoomed in. For some reason, the Tobii is very sensitive in these situations. Zoom in on some switches at the side of your cockpit or an MFD panel and it tends to bounce around more than it does with other trackers. I’ve not been able to tweak that twitchy feeling out. Most of the time its ok but sometimes it can make clicking something a bit challenging. In this scenario, the TrackIR solution is more steady and easier to work with.
Here again you can work with the FaceTrackNoIR which has filtering that seems to do better when zoomed in than the default Tobii setup. Is there a way for Tobii to add some sort of added filtering so its less jittery? I don’t know but I’m guessing the answer is maybe yes which gives me hope that this platform with the current technology can progress beyond where it is now.
The Tobii really shines in a couple of ways that TrackIR and VR solutions do not. Once setup and tweaked, the Tobii is just there sitting beneath your monitor at the edge of your vision and hardly noticeable.
Load up a sim like DCS or X-Plane and you’re in without messing around with a headset or setting everything up. That makes my time getting into the sim so much quicker than before where I was starting up a lot of extra software, putting on my headset, making sure my IR track clip was positioned just right, and then getting going. Tobii is just faster and more convenient.
For some time now, I’ve also struggled with a neck injury that has made heavy VR headsets and even lightweight headphones an uncomfortable and untenable solution for me. The Tobii fills the gap easily. If you’re someone who commonly struggles with that or some other issue that makes turning your head an issue, using the eye tracker might be a possible solution for you. This is a big win for me personally but its also extremely convenient and a potential solution for others.
Conclusion and final thoughts
There’s an awful lot to like about the Tobii Eye Tracker 5. Well designed software that is both aesthetically pleasing and also pleasantly easy to use is a good start and its functionality inside common flight sims makes it a top contender for non-VR headtracking in 2023.
It does falter a bit in that the setup is a bit more finicky than your average TrackIR setup and that means more time spent in the software dialing in the right settings. Because Tobii is relatively new with their solution versus the couple of decades of TrackIR support that exists you’ll find there is less first party support available. The list is growing and most major flight sims are supported these days which is great. The alternative software solution via FaceTrackNoIR is very workable but not quite as good as the first party setup and it does add to the setup time.
Throughout my time with the Tobii, I’ve been struggling to answer a few key fundamental questions. Is the Tobii Eye Tracker 5 the future of non-VR headtracking in games? If so, is that future now? Is this a knockout blow against the long established TrackIR? The answer is no, not quite a knockout blow, but its very close.
To be fair to Tobii and the Eye Tracker 5, this is a great system and it works really well in most use cases. If they could find a way to dial in the sensitivity and make it less jumpy in some specific situations, I think it would be a knockout blow as Track IR with its LED lights by comparison is an old-school way of doing things. A necessary one at the time but new technology is here and I think its only a matter of time before Tobii dials in that last little bit of capability to make it a flight simmer and a combat flight simmer’s dream.
At $259 USD, the Tobii isn’t a cheap proposition but then neither is its VR and TrackIR competition. The company does offer the occasional discounts such as the recent 20% off that they offered during the holiday season so it may be worth keeping an eye out for those sales.
Although the Tobii Eye Tracker 5 doesn’t fully unseat TrackIR from its throne as the dedicated flight sim head tracker I do think that Tobii are on the cusp of greatness here. Tobii’s Eye Tracker 5 is a solid, sophisticated, and capable head tracking solution and everyone considering a head tracker should put the Tobii system into consideration.
- Enable eye tracking: Off
- Enable head tracking: On
- Head auto center: On
- Head rotation
- Enable head roll: on
- Yaw sensitivity: 4.00
- Pitch sensitivity: 4.00
- Roll sensitivity: 1.80
- Sensitivity gradient:
- Exponent: 2.00
- Inflection point: 0.59
- Start point: 0.00
- End point: 1.00
- Head position
- X-sensitivity: 0.75
- Y-sensitivity: 0.75
- Z-sensitivity: 1.25
X-Plane 11/12 settings
- Enable eye tracking: Yes
- Responsiveness: 5%
- Enable head tracking: On
- Head auto center: On
- Head rotation
- Enable head roll: on
- Yaw sensitivity: 2.90
- Pitch sensitivity: 2.90
- Roll sensitivity: 1.00
- Sensitivity gradient:
- Exponent: 1.25
- Inflection point: 0.50
- Start point: 0.02
- End point: 1.00
- Head position
- X-sensitivity: 0.75
- Y-sensitivity: 0.75
- Z-sensitivity: 0.75
As with all things, I continue to adjust and work with my settings and so I may find other settings that work even better. If that happens I will come back and adjust the values above.
FaceTrackNoIR for IL-2
These are the settings that I’m using with FaceTrackNoIR with IL-2 Sturmovik (primarily with Great Battles but it works elsewhere too). With these settings I’ve been able to get it to point left, right, tilt, and up and down successfully although looking up is constrained – the viewpoint flickers if I go beyond the current limit. If this improves, I will adjust my settings and change the file here.
27 Comments Add yours
Looks good. Not cheap though. $400 on Amazon though there is a $50 coupon. And it comes from outside the country but it doesn’t say where.
I wish these things were more in the $150 range rather than the $350 range. At that price the POV hat seems like a reasonable alternative. I have a $10 phone app that works as a head tracker. It works, but it works in line with it’s price. You get your $10 worth, but maybe not much more.
It’s not cheap but TrackIR isn’t cheap these days either. I assume the technology packaged in is a good chunk of the expense.
That’s a good point on where it comes from. They are headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. I don’t remember where the product ships from. I’ll find out!
Why would you buy it on Amazon?
If you go directly to the manufacturers website, i.e. gaming.tobii.com, you’ll find that they are currently on sale 15% off for $220 USD.
And I don’t know if username indicates location but they do in fact ship to Canada.
Additionally, as listed on the website, the product comes from and ships out of Switzerland. Though credit where credit is due, the shipping took like 3 days to the US, so the wait was not very long.
Lastly, as someone who purchased their tobii a year ago during another sale, 100% worth the money if you spend any amount of time playing flight sims, truck sims, or space sims. It just works, and it works so well. Granted my personal use is restricted to DCS/MSFS and then some space games that utilize it, but worth it for each one let alone the group.
If you already have a HOTAS I would consider this before an additional button box or additional cockpit setup, IMO.
As a long time TreackIR user I prefer Tobii because of one main reason: TrackIR works 100% smoothly only for 30, 60 and 120 FPS. If FPS is something in between (especially between 60 – 120) in may cause (and it really often does) not perfectly smooth movement or microstuttering. I have tried a lot to dig out some solution for TrackIR but appearantly no solution exist because Naturalpoint do not intend to improve its drivers and we still have to use the very old ones… Eye tracking from Tobii on the other hand is perfectly smooth for whatever FPS.
Great and very concise review Shamrock!
Just ONE thing that’s bothering me. WHAT was my cousin doing in the plane with you on the MSFS video? She was meant to be on a ‘shopping trip’ with her best friend Margaret!!
Thanks Shamrock. Great review. One thing didn’t talk about really was size of monitor used in test. I have a large 48inch 4K gaming monitor. Can you still use Tobii 5 with this sized monitor? I note the manufacturer’s website says only up to 27 inches I think, which is ridiculously small and limited in today’s gaming world. Surely not? Grateful views. Thanks.
Hey Anzac. Thanks for the comment!
I was doubting myself for a moment but I did write about monitor sizes and compatibility under ‘Getting your setup just right.’
I could only test with my setup which includes a 32in 4K monitor. It accurately tracked my eyes right to the edge of the screen so I suspect that their system is more adaptable to larger screens than they suggest in their specs.
Will it work at 48in? I have no idea. It may depend on how close you are to the monitor.
I use 34″ Dell AW3418DW Alienware curved UltraWide LCD 3660×1440 with Tobii and no problem at all (I am sitting cca 40-50 cm in front of my LCD).
LikeLiked by 1 person
That’s really good information! Thanks for sharing that.
Wonderful review, but for that price just buy a VR! Yes, it has some issues but the difference between that and 2d screens cannot be explained without the experience. With an old RIFT (I need a major upgrade) I can lean out of the cockpit and check the rudder movement just as when I was in an actual aircraft.
In contrast, Track IR etc is like playing a DOS game.
Hi Blue 5, I am a fan of VR and so far I had 3 headsets (Rift S, Reverb 2 and Quest 2 and I plan to buy the new one this year). Yet, I still prefer flying 2D with Tobii for at least 50% of my flying time. As soon as the “wow” effect of VR disappear, one can see many drawbacks of the above mentioned “cheaper” VR headsets especially much worse graphic quality… May be Varjo Aero + RTX 4090 is another level but until my VR experience is not equal with that level, I would often prefer 2D… Just my own opinion.
I bought the Tobii purely based on your posts about it late last year. I’m very happy with it. I have VR, but with low frames and resolution the tobii is my go to. When and if VR performance in DCS improves I might go back to VR, but thanks for putting tobii on my radar.
Thanks, interesting article. I still prefer tracker IR seems more reliable and smoother for me. I spend a lot of time with DCS and IL2 BOX running frame rates between 100 and 120 and never have any issues – compleatly smooth with Tracker IR.
Have you tested a Tobii Eye Tracker 5 versus a TrackIR setup? I find there’s very little difference in responsiveness with the most recent hardware and software.
Funny that you mention the vertical axis going out of sync using FaceTrackNoIR since the latest build of MSFS seems to do similar as well. At least needing constant recentering, not so much going biserk -still annoying though. Agreed that software driver controlled setups tend to be more reliable anyway and other than narrower boundary limits from Track IR, I’d not experienced issues with that.
I do find the Tobii system to be very responsive though and stable other than the integrated parts in MSFS (that also lack any sensitivity control from what I can tell). So, no real complaints besides.
LikeLiked by 1 person
That’s an odd thing with the vertical axis. Hopefully that can be figured out.
In MSFS you can edit the Tobii sensitivity settings from within the sim in the controls section. Same as you would with an axis…. just with the Tobii specifically.
Looking forward to trying your settings to see if I can get Tobii to feel as responsive as trackir. I use the Tobii on my laptop and I love the portability and simplicity, but I still use trackir at home on my desktop. I would love to do away with my hat and clip someday.
I use 100%head/0% eye because I don’t like the screen moving around as I look at guages and click on things. I did like glancing around at the edges of the screen to get just a little bit of camera movement, but it wasn’t worth it. In Star Citizen you can target people with just your eyes even with just using your head for movement control. It’s really slick.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I hope that my settings help you out. I find this is really responsive and highly useful in most situations. My F/A-18 video from DCS should show that its quick and fast in a tense situation with head on a swivel. Absolutely natural to me.
LikeLiked by 1 person
That’s encouraging. The videos you posted sure look a lot more responsive than I seem to get, though without comparing it to actual head movement it’s hard to tell. I had similar issues with TIR until I really sat down with it one day and got all the curves just right. I probably just need to make a similar effort with the Tobii.
Yeah I’m not quite sophisticated enough here to have my head and the gameplay movement be recorded at the same time. But I find it to be excellent in general.
Would you mind posting your settings for MSFS?
That’s a good point. I’ll add my MSFS configuration ASAP.
Great review. I’ve just picked one up myself and very happy with it so far. My wife especially loves the fact I don’t need to wear a hat anymore!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hey! Thanks for the comment. I’m really glad to hear that its working well for you. I hadn’t factored in spousal support into my review but that’s a good point 😀
The issue with the verticle axis not working correctly in games like il2 has been the main reason I used track ir over tobii still. Theres just too many issues and not enough support for the games i am interested in playing for it to be worth the price. I sold it unfortunately for this reason as after a year and still no fix i gave up waiting. Best to put your $ towards a better VR headset IMHO
It seems unfortunately that 1CGS haven’t added support for it. The other major sims all have seemingly without trouble so unfortunately that seems to be the sticking point. Maybe some day!
Thanks Shamrock and others for replies and advice. Hmmmm. My screen is so big I have to sit away from it quite a bit; the 50-95 cm max distance might, repeat, might be an issue. but as you say Shamrock, their specs are conservative so maybe not an issue. Guess won’t know unless give it a go. I like the smoothness and precision and decoupling from refresh rates as an issue for stuttering. Thanks for really great review.
LikeLiked by 1 person