Review: My Experience With TrackIR and Tobii
January 29, 2023
Head tracking technology has been a game-changer for many gamers and professionals for many years, providing a more immersive and accurate experience when playing games or using certain software. In this article, we will compare the Tobii Eye Tracker and the TrackIR v5, both of which have been around since the early 2000s. While TrackIR is best known in the consumer market, Tobii has recently made its mark among gamers and flight simmers with its latest eye tracker 5. We will be discussing the pros and cons of each and how they compare in terms of responsiveness and setup.
VR vs HeadTrackers
Virtual Reality (VR) is a revolutionary technology that immerses users in a completely virtual environment, providing a highly immersive experience. However, it's not without its downsides. One of the main drawbacks of VR is that it can cause fatigue over time, and many can't fly for more than an hour or two at a time. The user is fully immersed in the virtual environment, and their eyes constantly adjust to the 3D space, which can be taxing over time. I use VR for some types of flights, but I can only use it for a limited time before experiencing fatigue.
Head-tracking technology is a great alternative for those who want an immersive experience without the downsides of VR. They allow users to move their heads and have the game or software respond accordingly, providing a more natural and intuitive experience. It’s in-between VR and a static screen where your vision can move around. Still, you can freely interact with your surroundings. If you suffer from nausea in VR, you might benefit from a head tracker, but I have heard of people getting motion sickness from head trackers. It does take some getting used to, albeit not as much as VR, in my experience.
So, while VR has its advantages, it's not always the best solution for everyone. Head tracking technology provides a great alternative for those who want an immersive experience without the downsides of VR and is a great choice for anyone who wants a more natural and intuitive experience.
For those looking for alternatives to Tobii and TrackIR, there are several free options available such as Opentrack, FaceTrackNoIR, FreeTrack, VSeeFace, and GiMeSpace Cam Control, each with its unique features and benefits. Ultimately, the best alternative will depend on the specific needs and preferences. I have no experience with any of these, so do feel free to add yours in the comments.
I have been using the TrackIR v5 since 2009 and am pleased with its performance. However, its limitations in certain setups have prompted me to explore alternatives occasionally. My simulator setup has evolved over the years as I have moved and upgraded my screens and peripherals, but not all of my setups have been ideal for the TrackIR's IR camera. In my latest configuration, the screen is too far from my head, so I have to mount the camera on my overhead microphone.
Recently, I decided to try the Tobii Eye Tracker, as I had heard that it also tracks head movements in addition to eye movements. I am not a fan of eye tracking, as it strains my eyes and confuses my brain. Both of these devices are quite expensive, so for many of you, the list of free alternatives will be the most valuable information in this review. However, as I have experience with both the TrackIR and the Tobii, I will be comparing them and discussing their pros and cons.
Priced at $160 USD plus shipping
(plus $40 USD for the Pro clip )
TrackIR comes with a small IR camera that you put on top of your monitor. The other component is a device you put on your head. Two setups are available: As standard, you get a reflective clip that you can add to a cap and additionally, you can purchase “IR antlers” that you fasten on your headset and are tethered by a USB cable. Setting up the device can be a bit fiddly, and this is where my main issue with TrackIR lies. The camera has no problem capturing the antlers or the clip in a normal setup, but if you deviate from the standard, it can be difficult for the camera to capture your head movements. The field of view becomes narrow, and your distance from and angle to the camera has a huge impact.
Once set up and working, the software is superb in its granularity and amount of settings. You will likely need to make adjustments to achieve your desired level of responsiveness and accuracy. However, once you have fine-tuned the settings, it should provide a smooth and satisfying experience. Track IR is compatible with all major Flight Simulators, and in all my years of using the device, I have never been able to enjoy my flights without it. In the end, I sacrificed the responsiveness of the ProClip with the reflective clip added to a cap. Being tethered with a cable to your head and always forced to use a headset got tiresome in the end.
My Pro-Clip also broke in a joint once, and I had to repair it with some “wonder-putty”, which made it stronger than the original. The Pro-Clip lasted for many years but has to be handled with care. It does not fit every headset either since there are limited tolerances for the clip.
Very responsive, especially with the USB IR antlers setup (ProCLip).
Very wide range of options and granular settings.
More thought-out functions in-game, like position pausing.
Tethered with a USB cable to your head when using the Pro-clip.
You sacrifice some responsiveness with freedom when using the reflective cap-clip.
The reflective clip is a bit flimsy and does not fit all headphones.
Tobii eye tracker 5
Priced at $280 USD
Setting up the Tobii is easy unless you have a curved screen. The Tobii Eye Tracker comes as a slim bar with two cameras in the middle and two IR emitters on each side. With its 30 cm length, it is impossible to attach the unit to a curved screen with the magnetic bracket. I ended up placing mine on a shelf I have under my arm-mounted monitor. This works very well. The Tobii is less responsive if you are used to the Track IR but not by much, and for normal GA or Airliner flights, it works great. Only when fast movement is necessary do I feel it lacks responsiveness. I use it in StarCitizen as well, and there I can feel that I miss TrackIR’s responsiveness at times. I have turned head tracking off on foot and in PvP situations.
(Note that I only use the head tracker function and not the EyeTracker part of the Tobii. But the responsiveness can be an issue in some situations regardless)
To my surprise, the USB cable is very short! You will need a hub or an extension if your PC is not next to your Screen/seating position. Luckily I have my PC right behind my screen, so this is not a factor. But the cable is so short that I can’t help wondering what on earth they were thinking.
A drawback I have that might be a bit niche, but still a drawback for me, is that I cannot pause the tracking in a position I like. I used to be able to position my head at an angle and pause the camera there. It would give me a good view, and I could “take a break and enjoy that view for a while. Like a nice “over-dash” or instrument view. This is no longer possible. Tobii has one fixed pause position.
Other than the mentioned points, you don't have any noticeable differences in the experience other than the freedom of not having anything attached to your head, which has become invaluable to me and why I have chosen the Tobii as my head tracker going forward.
No additional items are needed other than the camera bar.
Once set up in the Simulator or game, you never think of it again.
The IR emitters on the camera can be annoying when in your line of sight.
Somewhat confusing in the initial setup.
Short USB cable.
Position save not possible when pausing the tracker.
Both of these devices are far from cheap. And you will need some time to set them up. Once set up, the Tobii just works, while the TrackIR may need some positioning and readjusting if it feels out of whack. It’s more sensitive, in a way, to how you are positioned. And if your setup isn’t standard, you will be fiddling now and then. But I have used my TrackIR for years and could never be without it. For me, it was the only option until now.
The Tobii is easier to set up physically if you have a compatible setup. If you don’t, you will have to find some DIY solution. It is a fire-and-forget experience, but the “fire” part is somewhat complicated on its first-time setup. At least when you’re used to having an app where you set everything up. So I guess the Tobii depends more on the game developers having an easier setup within the game/sim.
In Microsoft Flight Simulator, the options are very non-intuitive to the point that I thought it did not have side-to-side and forward/backward tracking. That was unacceptable, and I returned to the Track IR for a time. Until I saw a YouTube video to configure it correctly, once that is done, it is brilliant, and you never have to think of it again. The freedom of not having anything on your head, let alone a cable tethered to your head, is worth it to the extent that I give up the responsiveness of the Track IR in a heartbeat.
Again though, this is the main gripe with both of these: Price. I find both of these overpriced for what you get. Both have drawbacks I would not have expected at either's price point. If the freeware head trackers are usable, I do not know. I have always had my TrackIR, and I am fortunate enough to get the Tobii since I can write it off as a business expense. It would be great to hear some experiences in the comments of how the freeware ones are.
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