Tobii Eye Tracking Setup & Experience

The setup process for the Tobii eye tracking feature of the Z27 is quite simple. Connecting the display and its included USB cable to your PC will result in automatic recognition of the Tobii eye tracker by Windows 10, but in order to use it more than just as a camera (we'll get to that later), you'll need to download Tobii's software (a sticker on the front of the Z27 helpfully points you to the correct URL, but it's easy enough to find via Google).

Tobii currently offers three applications that are relevant to the Acer Z271T. The first is the Tobii Eye Tracking Core Software, which allows the PC to track and interpret the user's eyes. This is the first thing you'll install and you'll be walked through a quick setup, calibration, and demo process that starts with training the software by instructing the user to stare at certain dots on the monitor and ends with a rather neat demo that has you piloting a spaceship through an asteroid field.

It's here that you'll experience the basics of controlling a game environment with your eyes (you shoot the asteroids by looking at them) as well as see how eye tracking can enhance the gameplay experience by changing the display based on what the user is looking at (when you look out of your cockpit and towards the sun, everything else in the shade automatically dims, just like how your pupils constrict when you take a peak at the real sun — but don't try that!).

The second application is the Tobii Game Hub, an optional installation that shows you a list of all of the games currently supporting some form of eye tracking. As there are several different ways that eye tracking can be implemented — not all of them great or useful — the Game Hub helpfully displays a list and description of exactly how each game uses eye tracking, and how to enable it.

Eye tracking support is still relatively limited (Tobii claims support for "over 100" games), so the Game Hub's ability to quickly show you which games not only support the technology, but support it well, is quite useful. Even as a technically optional application, I therefore recommend that all users interested in Tobii eye tracking for gaming purposes install the Game Hub.

The final application is the Tobii Streaming Gaze Overlay, another optional install that lets the user toggle a visual representation on the screen of how the eye tracker is measuring and interpreting the user's eye movement. Just like screen recording software that has the option to show where the user is clicking or tapping, the Streaming Gaze Overlay lets you record or stream video in a way that conveys to your audience exactly what you're looking at and how Tobii is interpreting your eye movement. This is not only great for streamers, but it can also help you visualize and troubleshoot what's going on with your Tobii eye tracker if you're having issues with accuracy or responsiveness.

Tobii Eye Tracking Experience

My initial impressions of the Tobii eye tracking system were quite positive, especially during the introductory training and demo. When it's properly calibrated and working well, the Tobii tracker is remarkably quick at figuring out just what you're looking at.

The problem, as mentioned previously, is that not all Tobii-enabled games know what to do with the feature. Some games merely allow you to slightly adjust the camera view via your eye movement. For example, in games like Elite: Dangerous and Euro Truck Simulator 2, you can move the camera around your cockpit/cab by glancing in a particular direction, similar to head tracking but without needing to move your head.

Unfortunately, I found this type of implementation to be more annoying that useful, as even at the lowest sensitivity settings the camera view would shift further than desired at the mere hint of an eye movement. For example, when driving in Euro Truck Simulator, I sometimes want to glance down at my truck's dashboard-mounted GPS display, which is still visible at the bottom-right of the screen while looking ahead at the road. Absent Tobii eye tracking, I simply glance quickly down at the GPS and then back to the road. With Tobii's Gaze setting enabled, quickly glancing down at the GPS shifted the entire camera view down, giving me a nice centered view of the GPS screen but completely removing my view of the road. In a true virtual example of the dangerous of distracted driving, this unwanted camera motion caused me to crash my truck on more than one occasion.

While the "gaze" control options like those described above are currently the most common types of Tobii eye tracking implementations in games, there are thankfully a few games with much more useful features. For example, in games like Ghost Recon Wildlands or Dying Light, there are several useful Tobii features:

Clean UI: dims or minimizes UI elements (ammo, objectives, map, etc.) until you look at them, which gives the user a cleaner, more immersive interface.

Aim at Gaze: when bringing up a weapon, the aim/positioning automatically jumps to the target the user is looking at.

Dynamic HDR: looking at bright light sources, like the sun, washes out the screen, while looking at dark sources — building shadows, caves, etc. — raises the shadow light levels, just like how your pupils constrict and dilate to real-world light changes. This effect, while often subtle, greatly enhances the visual realism of the game world without the need to use a true HDR display (although it's even more effective when paired with such).

Auto Pause: games can be configured to automatically pause when you look away from screen or walk away. The games then automatically resume when the Tobii sensor detects your eyes again.

There are additional Tobii eye tracking features in these games, such as the ability to select an on-screen prompt by looking at it and pressing a button on the keyboard or controller, but I found that these types of features weren't faster or more accurate than simply using traditional physical controls.

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