Tips & tricks for the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition (Note 4, 2014)
The first consumer version of the Oculus Rift isn't quite here yet, but Galaxy Note 4 owners can already get an Oculus-powered experience on Samsung's Gear VR. If you're among the early adopters rocking Samsung's virtual reality headset, read on for Gizmag's tips and tricks.
Update: This article only refers to the Innovator Edition dev kit that shipped in late 2014. For the most updated version, you can check out our new tips for the consumer Gear VR.
Avoid lens fog
Lens fogging is an issue on every VR headset, whether it's Oculus, Google Cardboard or the Gear VR. You can always remove the headset and give it a quick wipe with a microfiber cloth, but that only fixes the problem for a few seconds (and it doesn't exactly help with the virtual reality illusion).
The best lens fogging fix we've found came from Oculus CTO (and gaming legend) John Carmack: a product called Clarity Defog It wipes. Since we started using them, our Gear VR has been completely fog-free. Just wipe the eye-facing sides of both lenses before you put the headset on, and you'll have a clear window into your virtual world.
It's possible there are other products that will meet the same end, but we'd recommend steering clear of anti-fog sprays and wipes designed for car windshields: they use chemicals that were never meant to sit within a few millimeters of the human eye.
Keep overheating at bay
If you use the Gear VR without a cooling system in place, you might not get through 20 minutes of a game like HeroBound without receiving a message telling you that the phone needs to cool down (there are two Gear VR overheating messages: one that tells you performance needs to slow down, and another that forces you to stop playing altogether). We have one overheating tip that will let you play even the most demanding games for as long as your Note's battery will allow.
Hopefully we'll see future versions of the Gear VR (i.e., future Samsung phones) that have better cooling systems in place for virtual reality, but in the meantime you'll want to treat your headset like it's a custom-built PC, and use a fan. Aiming a quality fan directly at your head while you're playing – with the Gear VR's cover and Note 4's battery cover removed – is the only consistent overheating fix we've found. Your phone's internals will be exposed, but, even with plenty of head movement, we haven't had any problems with the battery falling out.
The fan approach will let you play for hours at a time, leaving your phone's battery life as the only consideration for long VR sessions.
Keep it clean
On the Oculus Rift, you only have to worry about keeping the eye-facing sides of the lenses clean. But on the Gear VR, you also have forward-facing sides of the lenses, as well as the Galaxy Note's screen, to contend with.
Before starting a Gear VR session, we take a minute or two to thoroughly clean both sides of the lenses and the Note's screen. Moist wipes designed for lens and screen care (like those from Zeiss) do the trick, and we also like to keep a dry microfiber cloth handy for touchups. And if you have a compressed air canister lying around, that works even better for blowing dust particles off your lenses.
Get an Android-friendly Bluetooth controller
Videos and some games let you get by using the Gear VR's touchpad, but for the best experience you'll want to invest in a gamepad. Samsung sells one for US$80, but we haven't had any compatibility problems with a $60 Moga Hero Power controller (just be sure to set it in "B" mode when pairing with your phone).
Play in a swivel chair
Games like HeroBound face (mostly) in one direction, and can easily be played on a couch or recliner. But for titles like Dreadhalls and Anshar Wars, where the action happens on all sides, you'll have a more immersive experience in a rotating swivel chair. Any typical office chair or rotating stool will do the trick.
Just make sure no pets – or other innocent bystanders – get caught in your spinning ring of fire.
Pay attention to comfort ratings
The Oculus app rates each app based on its comfort level. For example, HeroBound is "comfortable for most," while Dreadhalls is "comfortable for few." The difference can be profound, as the latter is impossible for us to play without feeling queasy.
This rating can be found under each app's listing in the Oculus store.
Experiment with Comfort Mode
If you find that lengthy VR sessions bother your eyes, you can try Oculus' Comfort Mode. It casts a slightly blue hue over the screen to make the screen's lighting a bit easier on the eyes.
Comfort Mode is found on the far right of Oculus' settings screen, which you can access from anywhere by holding down the Gear VR's back button for a few seconds.
This may be a no-brainer, but you'll have a much more immersive experience if you plug in some headphones or earbuds instead of using the Note's speaker. This has the added bonus of not broadcasting your game's audio to everyone within earshot.
Know the demos from the full games
There are a few full-length games among the Gear's launch lineup, but many of the available games (like Viral Lite, above) are short demos. You can hit up our roundup of the Gear VR's launch lineup for more detail on this.
If you haven't yet bought Samsung's virtual reality headset, but are thinking about it, you can check out Gizmag's full Gear VR review to help make up your mind.