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Gear VR to Get ‘Airplane Mode’ Turning Off Head-Tracking ‘imminently’

Head-tracking is a pivotal part of the virtual reality (VR) experience, allowing users to simulate turning their head within a virtual environment. It’s a key feature that the likes of Oculus VR and others have spent years trying to perfect. It may surprise some, then, to learn that the company will soon be allowing players to turn off the head-tracking feature in its mobile head-mounted display (HMD), the Gear VR.

Gear VR for Samsung Galaxy S6

Max Cohen, Oculus VR’s Head of Mobile, recently revealed as much in an interview with Heavy. Though this might seem like a strange idea, Gear VR users have been requesting this feature for use with the likes of the Oculus Cinema app, allowing them to watch content without worrying about moving around.

Cohen described this as the Gear VR’s ‘Airplane mode’. “This will be released imminently; it’s our version of Airplane mode,” he said. “This was surprisingly difficult to do right — we first experimented with just turning off head–tracking, and it’s really uncomfortable if you’re on a bus or a plane that’s going up and down. What happens when you need to operate the controls — you need head-tracking to use gaze-and-tap on the controls, so how long do you leave it back on?

“So we then tried a number of methods like locking the yaw, having the screen float back to where you’re looking, having it float back fast, and so on, and we’re finally happy with it. We’ll also be pairing this with the ability to resize the screen to any arbitrarily size, which I think people will be excited about. You can get that huge-screen experience without the neck pain. You’ll see these features in the Void theatre [sic] very soon.”

Obviously this mode would cause issues for other VR applications, but certainly sounds like a useful feature for those looking to watch traditional video in a VR environment. Could the Oculus Rift HMD one day feature a similar mode for its support for Xbox One streaming?

VRFocus will continue to follow Gear VR closely, reporting back with the latest updates on its progress.