What is the SteelSeries Sentry Eye Tracker?
The SteelSeries Sentry Eye Tracker is the first piece of eye-tracking technology to hit the consumer gaming market. It uses Tobii eye-tracking tech to tell your PC and the game exactly where you’re looking.
This slimline peripheral doesn’t look too dissimilar to your PS4 PlayStation Camera or your Xbox One Kinect, but it’s a lot more discreet and the functionality is much more niche. It connects to your PC via USB 3.0 and you can position it on a monitor or your laptop via a series of removable magnets.
Using a camera and three sets of illuminators, the Tobii-powered SteelSeries Sentry takes picture streams of your eyes. It actually scans your eyes 50 times per second in order to get the most precise tracking possible.
Initially the SteelSeries Sentry is being aimed at semi-professional game streamers and professional eSports gamers. For game streamers, the Sentry Streaming Overlay gives viewers an additional information stream and lets you know exactly where you’re looking at in real-time when playing.
As for the professional eSports gamers, the Sentry Game Analyzer follows your eye movement, giving you replay and stat information that will help you improve your performance. And of course, help offer information for those training up to the professional level too.
However, I got a preview session with the SteelSeries Sentry Eye Tracker that showed off how the eye-tracking technology could change the way the average gamer interacts and controls their game.
In just two short demos, the SteelSeries Sentry gave me a glimpse of the next level of gameplay interaction.
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SteelSeries Sentry Eye Tracker – Set-up
But first, I had to go through a short setup process. Guided by President of Tobii Tech, Oscar Werner, I was set up as a new profile and seated in front of a gaming laptop. The SteelSeries Sentry quickly picked up my eyes, presenting them as slightly eerie, floating, glowing dots on the screen.
After this, all I had to do was follow the yellow dots with my eyes while the Sentry scanned them and I was up and running.
If you’re wondering how well the Sentry deals with eye-tracking for those who wear glasses, Werner was wearing them during the entire demo and had no issues with the technology.
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SteelSeries Sentry Eye Tracker – Assassin’s Creed Rogue
Then it was time to show off the gaming capabilities of the SteelSeries Sentry, beyond that of the initial streamer and pro gamer markets.
Step one was with Assassin’s Creed Rogue. The game is about to be released on PC and the first ever AAA game with official support for the Tobii Tech eye-tracking technology built in. You can even buy it bundled with the SteelSeries Eye Tracker, if you so wish.
The way Ubisoft Kiev has incorporated eye tracking is to provide you with what Tobii is calling “infinite screen” functionality. You use the Sentry Eye Tracker to control the camera, meaning all you need to do is look in the direction you wish to point the camera and it’ll move.
I have to admit, I was pretty amazed by how this simple feature added so much to the gameplay. Making Rogue’s protagonist run along branches and through the scenery, I just looked off to the right without moving my head to shift the camera view and thus his movement, with no need to touch the right analogue stick whatsoever.
However, if you want to quickly switch to more traditional controls at any point, then you can. I particularly found myself wanting to switch to analogue stick camera controls for fighting sequences at first, but you quickly become used to using your eyes instead.
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I will say there is a little bit of lag at times between my eye movements and the cameras responding to them.
The sailing sections were a little disorientating though, especially as Ubisoft hasn’t implemented eye-tracking controls for aiming the ship’s cannons, meaning you have to use the analogue stick. It feels a little jarring after having so much control with your eyes previously.
SteelSeries Sentry Eye Tracker – Son of Nor
I then tried a Steam title called Son of Nor, which has implemented the eye-tracking technology in a different way.
It’s the first demonstration of how eye tracking can implement multi-dimensional movement. While you’re running you can glance to the sides and pick up objects just by looking at them and clicking the left mouse button. You can then fire them off in a completely different direction by aiming with your eyes and clicking the right mouse button.
Although this was only a simple sandbox demo, it gave me an idea of how this could be implemented in AAA titles. At the moment, all you can do to pick up an item is walk up to it and press a button to pick it up, or only use one weapon or object at a time. Eye tracking could enable you to shoot in one direction and then pick up and throw a grenade in another.
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SteelSeries Sentry Eye Tracker – Future Potential
Werner informed me that currently over 1000 developers are experimenting with the SteelSeries Sentry SDK, which should mean we see a lot more games supporting eye tracking in the future. That might mean infinite screen features as we saw in Assassin’s Creed Rogue or even more complex functionality like those found in Son of Nor.
At the moment, the SteelSeries Sentry is only compatible with PC, but Werner said there was no reason why such a technology couldn’t be adapted into a wearable for a personalised PS4 or Xbox One alternative.
Going to play a game on my PC without the eye tracker now feels like a downgrade. I only used it for an hour or so, but it felt like such a natural addition to the way I control a game, it now seems like my interaction is stilted.
Eye tracking, even at the most basic “infinite screen” level, is something that will catch on quickly when gamers start to experience the ease of use.