The cockpit view inside a racing car with cars in front on a racing track.

Too Broke For VR?  Try Head Tracking (It’s Cheap & Awesome)

In my opinion, virtual Reality is like Gaming 2.0.  It fully immerses players into the game world.  It is like the jump from 2D to 3D.  It’s a game-changer.  I wrote about my first experience with VR (it blew my mind) and have since been fortunate enough to pick up a VR headset of my own.

If you love the idea of VR but either don’t have the money or don’t want to stop using your 4K monster TV, then head Tracking is a viable option that could significantly enhance your gaming experience.  It’s what I used before I got my VR headset.

But how does head tracking work?

Head tracking, well, tracks your head movement, and uses that to control the game.  It does this by having a camera detect infrared lights, which then in-turn determines the position of your head and your movement.

The most common use is to use it to look around, a control usually bound to the mouse or the right analogue stick on a gamepad.  While this sounds like a small thing, the benefit to immersion is substantial.

This is the video that both introduced me to Head Tracking and subsequently sold me on it (you can skip to 2:29 for the cool bit):

Going from just a gamepad to using head-tracking was an amazing experience – the video does a pretty awesome job of showing it, but it has to be experienced to truly understand the benefit.  It’s like turning your PC screen into a real window to a video game world.

Head tracking is affordable

Very affordable.

For the creatively minded, you can put together your own head tracking unit for about $20, plus your webcam.  The alternative is to buy a premade unit.  This was my preferred option because a/ it would actually work (my poorly soldered effort undoubtedly would not) and b/ it’s only marginally more expensive than doing it myself.

I went with the TrackHat Clip, a clip that secures to my headphones much in the fashion of a microphone.  The package I went for was £30, which included the TrackHat Clip and a modified PS3 Camera.

Here’s a quick video review:

There are other head tracking options, which are covered in this article, but I’ve had a lot of fun with my TrackHat Clip and would recommend it purely from my experience.  There are times when I don’t want to stick my VR headset on my face but still want a more immersive experience than normal, so I clip my head tracker onto my headset, tweak the options and go.

For example, in Elite: Dangerous, while soaring through a sea of asteroids hot on the heels of a wanted criminal, I can physically look around for any potential collisions and also track my target as he tries to outmanoeuvre me.  I still prefer VR, but the experience with head tracking is darn cool.

In Grand Theft Auto V, while roaring through the streets of Los Santos in first-person, the police hot on my heels, I can take full stock of my surroundings.  I can check left and right before crossing a busy intersection, I can search for hidden alleyways to make my escape, or I can just take in the beautiful ocean views while I ignore the red and blues in my rearview mirror.  Considering GTA doesn’t have VR, head tracking feels so natural.  It’s amazing.

It can be tailored to fit your needs

Head tracking is fully customisable.  If you want to turn your head slightly to the left and have the screen replicate it by a factor of 10, you can.  If you want the movement to be slow but rapidly increase depending on how far you turn your head, you can (this is what I do).  This technology can be tailored to your precise requirements using the bundled software.

Try it

If you are financially-challenged but want a small piece of the immersion-pie offered by VR, or just aren’t ready to commit to a platform that may or may not have longevity, please do try head tracking.  You won’t regret it.