The use of consumer-grade electroencephalography (EEG) systems for research purposes has become more prevalent. In event-related potential (ERP) research, it is critical that these systems have precise and accurate timing. The aim of the current study was to investigate the timing reliability of event-marking solutions used with Emotiv commercial EEG systems.
We conducted three experiments. In Experiment 1 we established a jitter threshold (i.e. the point at which jitter made an event-marking method unreliable). To do this, we introduced statistical noise to the temporal position of event-marks of a pre-existing ERP dataset (recorded with a research-grade system, Neuroscan SynAmps2 at 1,000 Hz using parallel-port event-marking) and calculated the level at which the waveform peaks differed statistically from the original waveform. In Experiment 2 we established a method to identify ‘true’ events (i.e. when an event should appear in the EEG data). We did this by inserting 1,000 events into Neuroscan data using a custom-built event-marking system, the ‘Airmarker’, which marks events by triggering voltage spikes in two EEG channels. We used the lag between Airmarker events and events generated by Neuroscan as a reference for comparisons in Experiment 3. In Experiment 3 we measured the precision and accuracy of three types of Emotiv event-marking by generating 1,000 events, 1 s apart. We measured precision as the variability (standard deviation in ms) of Emotiv events and accuracy as the mean difference between Emotiv events and true events. The three triggering methods we tested were: (1) Parallel-port-generated TTL triggers; (2) Arduino-generated TTL triggers; and (3) Serial-port triggers. In Methods 1 and 2 we used an auxiliary device, Emotiv Extender, to incorporate triggers into the EEG data. We tested these event-marking methods across three configurations of Emotiv EEG systems: (1) Emotiv EPOC+ sampling at 128 Hz; (2) Emotiv EPOC+ sampling at 256 Hz; and (3) Emotiv EPOC Flex sampling at 128 Hz.
In Experiment 1 we found that the smaller P1 and N1 peaks were attenuated at lower levels of jitter relative to the larger P2 peak (21 ms, 16 ms, and 45 ms for P1, N1, and P2, respectively). In Experiment 2, we found an average lag of 30.96 ms for Airmarker events relative to Neuroscan events. In Experiment 3, we found some lag in all configurations. However, all configurations exhibited precision of less than a single sample, with serial-port-marking the most precise when paired with EPOC+ sampling at 256 Hz.
All Emotiv event-marking methods and configurations that we tested were precise enough for ERP research as the precision of each method would provide ERP waveforms statistically equivalent to a research-standard system. Though all systems exhibited some level of inaccuracy, researchers could easily account for these during data processing.