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You can buy this eye-tracking VR headset soon, but should you?

You can buy this eye-tracking VR headset soon, but should you?

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Fove is a Kickstarter-funded VR headset whose big advantage is eye tracking — in addition to knowing how your head is moving, it can tell where your pupils are pointed. On November 2nd, the company will open preorders for its first commercial product, the Fove 0. Making the trip from prototype to near-public sale is a big move that lots of crowdfunding projects never make, so props to Fove on that. But does this mean you should buy the headset? Probably not quite yet!

The Fove 0 is a tethered headset that hooks to a gaming computer, just like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. It has slightly higher resolution than either of those headsets, the same 2560 x 1440 screen size that you’ll find on the Gear VR, but it has a lower screen refresh rate and a smaller field of view as well. I haven’t tried Fove since last year, but it’s appearing at the Tokyo Game Show with some cool-sounding demos, including an interrogation-and-escape game with a story shaped by what you look at.

But this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll actually have much to do on the Fove 0, if you buy it. The company will support the Xenko open-source game engine, and features like foveated rendering — which lets computers render what you're looking at in lots of detail, while reducing image quality everywhere else — could be used to make any experience run more efficiently. To make the most of the eye tracking, though, developers will have to specifically build for a very small VR platform. Without a strong eye-tracking portfolio, there’s not much reason to get the Fove instead of larger, more established products, since it doesn’t appear to support larger platforms like SteamVR or OSVR.

Fove also isn’t the only company working on eye tracking. Tobii, one of the biggest names in the space, has licensed its technology for the arcade-focused StarVR headset line. StarVR already touts significant advantages over Fove, like a huge field of view, although I’ve had mixed experiences with it. More competition in the VR headset space is good, but that competition might just weed Fove out.

Of course, this depends partly on when Fove is actually being released, and how much it costs, neither of which we know. Even if it’s not good for the average VR user, it could have specialized uses that make it worth buying for a subset of people. And if nothing else, Fove has a distinctive look on its side. If you need to wear a VR headset while sitting stiffly on the sofa in your gorgeously empty apartment, posing for an Anthropologie catalog, there’s no better choice.