Hands are old news. VR navigation, control and selection is best done with the eyes--at least that’s what HTC Vive is banking on with the upcoming HTC Vive Pro Eye, a VR headset initially targeting businesses with integrated Tobii eye tracking. I tried out a beta version of the feature myself on MLB Home Run Derby VR. It’s still in development and, thus, was a little wonky, but I can’t deny its cool factor.
HTC announced the new headset Tuesday at the CES tech show in Las Vegas. The idea is that by having eye tracking built into the headset, better use cases, such as enhanced training programs, can be introduced. The VR player also says users can expect faster VR interactions and better efficiency in terms of tapping your PC’s CPU and GPU.
Of course, before my peepers could be tracked I needed to calibrate the headset for my special eyes. It was quite simple, after adjusting the interpupillary distance appropriately, the headset had me stare at a blue dot that bounced around my field of view (FOV). The whole thing took less than a minute.
With the power of eye tracking, I was able to look at different menu options. Without the need to turn my head, not even for accessing items in the lowest parts of my FOV, I could place the cursor just by staring. When I maintained my gaze, a small circle appeared--in this case shaped like a basell--and once the circle filled with color after a couple seconds, I made my selection.
I tried highlighting and selecting a few different menu options but only managed to properly select two. Sometimes, I tried maintaining staring where I wanted to make my selection, but found the cursor drifting out of the desired area before the choice recognized my choice. However, I was told this is a beta and that the eye tracking should be more fluid upon the headset’s release in Q2.
While a lavish, futuristic-seeming feature, eye tracking can certainly come in handy while VR gaming. For example, in Home Run Derby, you play with a bat. With integrated eye tracking, there’s no need to switch between the bat and VR controllers to alter game modes or settings.
Plus, controlling things with your eyes is the superpower I didn’t know I wanted. It’s not as cool as flying or being able to teleport. But it gave me an enhanced feeling of being in control and is as close to mimicking X-men’s Jean Grey’s telekinesis without the occasional mind-splitting headaches (hopefully) that I've ever gotten.
I’d love to see how game developers create ways to use the eye tracking in actual gameplay. Imagine being able to look at the baseball and drive better accuracy with your bat, just like in real baseball (I could use the help, I managed a mere two homeruns in 30 seconds). Or being able to take down a virtual opponent with your looks. If looks could kill, right?
HTC is keeping mum on any other specs for the Vive Pro Eye at the moment. But I was told the main difference between the already-available HTC Vive Pro and upcoming HTC Vive Pro Eye is, indeed, the integrated Tobii eye tracking. So we’re expecting similar specs to that of the Vive Pro. Hopefully, though, the eye tracking won’t come at too much of a premium, especially considering the Vive Pro’s already ample $800 price tag. Otherwise, we're not so sure if the headset will make its way into practical, consumer VR gaming.