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Starbreeze, Tobii Tech Bring Eye-Tracking To StarVR

Tobii Tech has been pushing its eye-tracking technology as one of the next big things to come to gaming. At Computex this year, MSI was showcasing a gaming laptop that featured Tobii's eye-tracking hardware, and today the company announced a partnership with Starbreeze Studios that will put Tobii Tech's eye-tracking technology directly into the StarVR HMD, which is currently in development.

"VR is all about experience. When that experience is inhibited by the ability to render realistic and immersive environments, it's a roadblock to creating world-class content and experiences our customers love and consistently expect us to deliver," said Emmanuel Marquez, CTO of Starbreeze AB. “Partnering with Tobii, the clear leader in eye tracking, allows us to solve this limitation, benefitting [SIC] the VR industry as a whole, while also allowing us to deliver the highest-quality and most immersive film and gaming content ever experienced."

By integrating eye-tracking hardware into the headset, Starbreeze will be able to provide unique experiences such as eye contact with game characters, making the interaction feel more lifelike and authentic. Another example that was given is the idea of a "choose your own adventure"-type video that changes based on what the viewer focuses on. Imagine watching the same video back to back, but seeing an entirely different story simply because you were focusing on a different area of the scene.

Tobii Tech said that the integration of eye-tracking into StarVR will not only allow for different unique experiences; it will also help with performance in virtual reality, as well. By tracking where the player's eyes are trained, the scene can be rendered in much higher detail at the focus points, and the graphics seen only in peripheral vision are rendered with less fidelity.

If you're thinking this sounds familiar, it probably is. The process is called "Foveated rendering" and was first introduced during Fove's Kickstarter campaign a few months ago. Foveated rendering will come in very handy when driving the 5K resolution that StarVR's HMD will come equipped with.

Another less obvious benefit of tracking a user's eyes is that there is no need for manual calibration. The tracking technology determines the structure of each individual's eyes, and compensates accordingly. Tobii Tech also noted that eye tracking improves gaming immersion in a number of ways. Using a gaze to target something on screen is much more natural compared to using a gesture or head movement. Eye contact with in-game avatars or NPCs makes the experience feel even more realistic. Tobii Tech said characters are able to interact, or ignore users, based on eye contact.

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Kevin Carbotte is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews of graphics cards and virtual reality hardware.