Eye tracking and subtitles in 360 environments

Susannah Fraser, Mar Brescia Zapata (UAB)

17th February 2022

Participants wearing the VIVE Pro virtual reality headset

How can accessibility be applied in virtual reality?

The TransMedia Catalonia research group (UAB) having been running experiments using eye tracking technology to test the readability of subtitles in 360 degree environments. With a focus on audiovisual media accessibility, the group investigate ways to make innovative technologies more inclusive from the point of design, so that diverse audiences can gain access.

Human interaction with technology has accelerated during the pandemic, making the digital gap in society more apparent than ever. This has led to the development of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda for the post-COVID era, and “Leaving no one behind” is one of the key principles on the agenda. It is with this in mind that UAB developed tests using eye tracking technology. The objective being to understand the best subtitle disposition in immersive environments, in order to ensure that text is as easy to follow as possible in this new medium.

After a first pilot test carried out last April 2020 in Olot (Spain), larger, improved experiments were organised this month at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the TRACTION General Assembly at the Digital Hub in Dublin. During the data collection, participants with different technological backgrounds were invited to watch two subtitled 360º videos using the VIVE Pro Headsets. Immediately after each visualisation, participants filled in a short questionnaire to evaluate level of comprehension and task load index (NASA-TLX). The results will be analysed to find the least disruptive subtitle reading experience towards protecting immersion and reality simulation.

The tests will also be performed in the UK (Salford University) and Poland (SWPS University of Humanities and Social Sciences), aiming at 75 participants. Repeating the same experiment in different parts of the world will help us to incorporate diverse preferences when consuming audiovisual material into the design. With a better understanding of the best way to produce and consume subtitles in immersive environments, it can become a medium that can be benefitted from by all.