Tobii Tracker 4C ReviewGuest_Jim_* -
Category: Input Devices
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Tobii Tracker 4C Introduction:
What's this, a hardware review from Jim, the game guy? Yes, I am reviewing a peripheral this time that adds an interesting way to interact with a number of current games and upcoming titles. This peripheral is the Tobii Eye Tracker 4C, the successor to the EyeX, and, as you can guess, it tracks your eyes and can feed this information into various games. There are currently over 40 games that have Tobii eye tracking support and by the end of 2017 the company expects to see over 100 such titles. Tobii is a leader in the world for eye tracking technology and while some of the research-grade systems can be in the thousands of dollars, the gamer-focused Tracker 4C is priced at $149, and the older EyeX is on sale currently for $99. While you can pre-order the Tracker 4C today, it will not be shipping until November 25.
Among those 40 games with Tobii support are Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Tom Clancy's The Division, Master of Orion, Elite: Dangerous, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. I have tested it in all of these, except Syndicate, with differing results between games, and have used the Gaze Overlay. The Gaze Overlay was created as a side project for the EyeX and allows one to record an indicator for they are looking at the screen. It is actually a neat piece of software and I am very glad to see it working with the new hardware.
We have a number of things to go through before the conclusion, so time to get to it!
Tobii Tracker 4C Specs, Closer Look, and Software:
When the Tracker 4C arrived it came in a simple brown cardboard box, but neatly packed inside of that was the actual product box. After cutting the seal I lifted up the lid and there was the tracker, nestled securely in a piece of foam, cut and stacked specifically to hold it. Not immediately visible was the USB cable sticking out of the tracker's right side, as it was wrapped around the foam. Beneath the foam is a long piece of paper with pictograms showing how to place the magnetic mounting strips, and two of these strips. You only need one, so you have a spare.
Sticking one of the strips on my monitor was very easy, once I decided where I wanted that, and thanks to Samsung putting its name on the center of the bottom bezel, I already had a target. The tracker does need to be mounted on the bottom of the monitor. Also the adhesive on the back of the strips seems to be rather strong, so make sure you place it correctly the first time, because a second chance may be difficult to get.
Before mounting the Tracker 4C, there was something else I needed to do, but you might not need to. The tracker's USB cable is just 80 cm long, which for my setup is definitely too short, so I needed to run a USB extension cable from the back of my desktop, around the back of my desk, to under my monitor. Pretty easy process for me, which is good, because I needed to repeat the process after I discovered the USB extension cable I had lying around was not compatible with the tracker. Swapped it out for a different cable and the connectivity issues vanished. (I am not certain but my guess is the first cable I had was not able to supply all of the power the Tracker 4C wanted. The Tracker 4C uses the USB 2.0 BC 1.2 standard.)
Now with the magnetic mounting strip and extension cable ready, I can place the Tracker 4C on my monitor. All it takes is sliding the tracker around over the strip until the cutout on its back lines up with the strip. It then neatly falls into place, but I will admit I want some kind of mechanical satisfaction to it, like a click or snap. Magnets do not offer that, but at least these are strong enough that I have no concerns about the tracker not staying in place.
By the way, the end of the tracker and the cable does cover some of the touch-buttons on my monitor. Luckily not the power button, but even then the tracker is easy enough to pull off and put back when I need it.
Before moving on to how the tracker works and the software, here are some of the physical specs:
|Size:||17x15x335 mm (0.66x0.6x13.1 in)|
|Max Screen Size:||27 in with 16:9 aspect ratio or 30 in with 21:9 aspect ratio|
|Operating Distance:||50-95 cm (20-37 in)|
|Track Box Dimensions:||40x30 cm at 65 cm away (16x12 in at 26 in away)|
|Connection:||USB 2.0 BC1.2|
|Power Consumption:||1.5 W|
|Illuminators:||Near Infrared (850 nm)|
The way this and other Tobii trackers work is by shining a pattern onto one's face and eyes with infrared light. The sensors in the tracker then pick up this pattern and that information is processed to identify the reflection off of our corneas and pupils. From this information a vector can be calculated to determine where one is looking, and a physiological 3D model of the eye is also employed to more accurately determine the position of the eye in space and its gaze.
One significant advance with the Tracker 4C is that it contains the world's first eye tracking ASIC, appropriately named EyeChip. It is because of this chip that the Tracker 4C can use USB 2 to connect to a computer, because all of the data processing is done locally instead of being offloaded to the host computer's CPU. (For comparison, the EyeX required USB 3 so it could transmit 2 Gb/s of data, while the Tracker 4C sends only 100 Kb/s.) This also frees up resources on the host computer for our games to use.
Like any peripheral, especially an advanced one like this, special software and drivers need to be installed. Along with the review unit I was also supplied with this software, and checking the version numbers on the Tobii website, it looks like both the Core software and drivers and the Infinite Screen Extension application I have are beta versions. I was aware the Infinite Screen Extension application was, in order for it to provide beta support for head tracking, a feature new to the Tracker 4C. I also downloaded and installed the Gaze Overlay application, but I will get to that later.
Installing the software goes just as you would expect it would. Once done it will want to calibrate the position of the tracker on the monitor by asking you to align two arrows with two lines on the top of the tracker. After that you will actually calibrate your gaze by staring at on-screen dots until they explode. All of this can be re-done later by clicking on the icon in the Notifications area of the Windows toolbar. With that menu open, select Display Setup to re-align the tracker or the bottom section to access the User Profile menu. This is where you can test and recalibrate the tracker as well as create new profiles for other people. By the way, part of your profile is if you wear contacts or glasses, and I have worn the latter for effectively all of my life. This has not proven to be an issue.
Other items you access from this toolbar menu are a toggle for turning off the eye tracker, the Games and Experiences menu, Settings, and a Gaze Trace for making sure everything is working. (This is similar to Gaze Overlay I mentioned earlier, but with some important differences.) Under Games and Experiences you can open up the Infinite Screen Extension and access a short demo to show how a Tobii eye tracker can be used in games. I will come back to the Infinite Screen Extension application after I finish with the Core software.
Under Settings you can turn on and off several options for different kinds of interactions with Windows. You can have the display dim when you go AFK and connect the tracker to a touchpad, but as I have this connected to my desktop, neither of those options are available. What is available is a Warp on Mouse feature and using eye tracking with the Alt-Tab menu and Windows Snap feature. I have experimented with the Alt-Tab integration and it allows you to look at the arrangement of windows, highlighting what you are looking at. The issue I ran into is the highlight bouncing around between neighboring windows. Part of that could easily be my fault though, as I apparently often sit too close to my monitor, being at the inside edge of the tracker's box. Windows Snap is a feature I use, but I have several options of it disabled, which I think is the reason why the Tobii feature here does nothing for me. Finally there is the About tab where you can see your software version and check for updates.
Mouse on Warp however is a nice feature (nice enough that I am giving it a separate paragraph). The idea is very simple, you can have the mouse warp to wherever you are looking on the screen. The trigger for this behavior can be to slightly move the mouse towards your gaze or with a button press. As my issue is sometimes losing track of the cursor, so I would not know the direction to move the mouse, I went with the button combination and put it onto one of my keyboard's unused macro keys. Now with the press of a button, I can put the cursor to wherever I am looking.
The Gaze Tracer that is part of the Core software places a bubble on the screen that follows wherever you are looking, and as your gaze moves a quickly fading trail is left behind. It is not very obtrusive and really is just meant for you to make sure the gaze tracking is accurate.
The Infinite Screen Extension software is what some, but not all games use to connect to the tracker. The beta version I am running is specifically to allow Elite: Dangerous to take advantage of the Tracker 4C's head tracking capability. After I told the software where the game is installed, I basically did nothing else with it. I have not spent enough time with the tracker yet to be comfortable altering the many control settings it offers me. The only thing I have set is a button for toggling the tracking on and off, for those times I may want to only look forward in the game.
Now I want to talk about the Gaze Overlay application. This is a side project the Tobii team put together because of how many people requested it, so it is not being constantly updated. It is similar to the Gaze Trace in the Core software, but allows the trace to be configured. You can set the shape, size, trail, color, and opacity in this software, along with how much filtering is done to the data. Less causes the trace to seemingly jump around the screen while more has it move smoothly but it also looks slower and almost seems to lag. The overlay it produces can be hooked into by applications like OBS and XSplit, but is not visible on the screen, unless you toggle option that on.
With all of that covered, we can turn our attention to the games the Tracker 4C can work with.