Tobii EyeX review: We test out the EyeX – a gaming-centric peripheral from eye-tracking technology specialists, Tobii.
The Nintendo Wii, PlayStation Move and more recently the arrival of Oculus’ Rift and HTC’s Vive have all heralded a shift in computer interaction; Tobii’s EyeX tracker pulls the focus in yet another interesting direction.
Just as web cameras have evolved to now reside within the bezel of your computer’s display, Tobii has reached an inflection point with the EyeX, which still stands as a standalone peripheral, but can also be found as an integrated component on MSI’s GT 72 Dominator Pro Tobii gaming laptop; a move we’re suspecting signals the start of a much bigger push to build the company’s technology into products from other manufacturers. It’s IS4 module, currently in development, is even smaller and more precise, reinforcing this idea too.
Whilst the standard EyeX tracker is technically a freestanding unit, it does require a level of permanence, mounting to the frame of your computer’s display via an adhesive plate that you’re required to bond directly to the bezel, which in turn magnetically attaches to the tracker. In truth, we initially tried out the EyeX perched on a speaker in front of our test computer’s display (at the optimum 20-degree angle) and it didn’t appear to affect performance, so you don’t have to attach it to your other PC hardware if you don’t want to, as it’s an option that won’t be to everyone’s liking.
The EyeX measures approximately 32.5cm x 1.8cm x 2cm wide, deep and high, making it fairly unobtrusive when sat below your screen, so long as you factor in the 1.8m USB to miniUSB cable, which connects on the left end of the tracker, adding a little extra bulk for those looking to create a cohesive, tidy desktop setup.
When in use, the EyeX has three specialised infrared LEDs that can be a little distracting if you’re not specifically using the EyeX at the time.
Tobii’s EyeX software is designed to not only enhance video games but also augment the underlying Windows 10 experience.
One of the newest features is Windows Hello support, adding an element of biometric security to your computer by letting you skip a password or PIN entry screen, simply by standing at your PC. Within the OS itself, you can grant the EyeX partial control over your cursor too, having it warp to wherever it is that you’re looking on-screen at the time or highlight the application or feature you want to access whilst using the task switcher or Action Centre.
Setup and calibration of the software is wonderfully quick and simple, with the ability to add user profiles that you can then individually configure to taste and that the EyeX will automatically detect when a registered user comes into range.
The Gaze Trace feature also adds a visual representation of the tracking area, so you can see just how responsive and accurate the EyeX is as you move around your computer, however, the gaze ‘bubble’ can become a little distracting, so it’s best to use it to show others the EyeX’s tracking, before switching it back off.
Whilst Tobii offers a range of eye-tracking products, the EyeX is the only one that’s designed with gaming in mind. Tobii’s website directs gamers to titles that offer support for the EyeX, either as the primary means of interaction or as a way to augment the existing gameplay experience. The company’s also established a number of partnerships with the likes of Ubisoft, to ensure tight integration with AAA titles such as Assassins Creed: Syndicate and Tom Clancy’s The Division.
Like a taste of the future
We played through The Division using the EyeX and whilst the additional functionality it adds to gameplay might appear small, in practice, it felt like it offered a notable tactical advantage in combat and when navigating the terrain. The EyeX frees up your hands to focus on weapons or enemies and whilst navigating from one point of cover to another using just your gaze, saving precious seconds. The ability to push the camera to survey your peripheries for threats as you traverse the dangerous streets of Manhattan, find cover just by looking at it, select POIs on the map and mark enemies all using gaze alone not only felt natural but like a taste of the future.
The EyeX takes an impressively short amount of time to get used to, but when it doesn’t behave, you notice it. You may find yourself staring intently at an icon or an in-game object, only to find it’s unable to accurately track your eyes because you’ve slumped down in your chair. The software also caused occasional issues with the Windows 10 interface, although this could equally be as a result of Microsoft’s tinkerings, rather than Tobii’s.
We think we’ve pinned camera control in games down to a fine art, but then companies like Tobii waltz in and show us something new, and potentially better. The Tobii EyeX is an imperfect, but exciting peripheral that has the potential to change the way we use computers in everyday scenarios as well as gaming.
The best thing about it is that the technology has already been iterated on and improved, with new, more refined trackers from the company already coming to market. If the EyeX was the first step, we’re excited to see what’s next.