How HTC’s Eye-Tracking Headset Could Change Virtual Reality

Eye tracking has long been heralded as a future component of mainstream virtual reality technology and that took one step closer at CES 2019. VR headsets have been a staple feature at the Las Vegas festival for a number of years but on this occasion, HTC unveiled something rather special. The company’s new headset features eye-tracking software which will surely change the way VR tech is used.

The Vive Pro Eye works in very much the same way as HTC’s previous model – save the inclusion of its new eye-tracking technology. In order to capture eye movement, the headset emits pulses of light to track where the user’s focus is pointed. Unlikely as it sounds this goes unnoticed by the user with most barely noticing it is happening.

The technology itself is hardly revolutionary. A Japanese start-up introduced a similar product almost five years before HTC’s unveiling. The FOVE headset reached its $250,000 crowdfunded goal within four days of the product announcement and started shipping models a few years later. What makes HTC’s product unique is the relative mainstream nature of the Vive headset.

But what are the practical adaptations of this technology? Well, like most advancements in the world of VR, the video gaming industry will surely benefit. Eye-tracking software will obviously give more information on where the player’s interest is and companies can adjust accordingly.

The Pro Eye features support for something called foveated rendering, a rendering technique which has the potential to create more detail and better graphics in-game. It’s an excellent idea. The game will be able to view which direction the player is looking at to render and load it in greater detail. Some virtual reality games already use a similar technique to this but their products will load and render whichever part of the screen they assume the player will be looking at. Eye-tracking will allow for more accuracy here.

But this isn’t just good news for game developers who want to put more detail into their imagined worlds, the average consumer will see perks too. A device which can track eyes will allow for more customisation for the user. Eye-tracking VR headsets could instantly identify who is using the device if it is used communally and adjust the experience accordingly. This could be expanded to create a custom varifocal display for those without 20/20 vision, something which Facebook and Oculus have been developing.

The world of medicine is no stranger to virtual reality but eye-tracking headsets could certainly help matters. The Californian company SyncThink has spent millions of dollars using eye-tracking software to identify signs of a concussion. One of the most basic concussion tests is to ask the patient to follow a finger’s movement with their eyes. SyncThink has created EYE-SYNC, a portable VR headset which can identify these signs in a hurry, increasing the chances of a successful diagnosis for events like professional sports.

There is also the strong possibility that things will feel more realistic in the VR world. Oculus has developed Expressive Avatars which certainly do feel more realistic once users’ eye moments are tracked. This opens up a new avenue and will make something like VR poker feel much closer to the real thing. This will be good news for the online casino business after brands like Betway transitioned to include more virtual reality content.

But perhaps the industry which will benefit from this technology more than any other is the world of advertising. For decades, advertisers have been eager to create the most eye-catching posters and television ads they can. A VR headset which can track eye movements will gift a whole new set of data and research to the industry. This will allow advertisers to find out what works and what doesn’t.

It’s an exciting new product from HTC. Their new Vive Pro Eye with eye-tracking technology doesn’t feature anything too revolutionary but is still an important development in the world of VR. Eye-tracking opens up a whole new avenue of possibilities for so many of the industries which have taken to virtual reality in recent years. We can expect more detailed video games, a more customised user experience, and even some advancement in the world of medical research and diagnosis. It’s too soon to tell but this could be a big moment for VR.


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