For many people, virtual reality is seen as a bit of a gimmick. Something that is fun to mess around with, maybe play some Beat Saber or some VR Chat and then it sits on your desk for 6-months until it’s dusted off for another few hours of use when you’re bored next.
Sim racing is one of the few genres that virtual reality really shines in, and by really shines I mean really shines. With the technology improving with more recent headsets, the immersion that is offered for sim racing is incredible, not to mention the improvements in driving that a lot of sim racers experience.
Why Virtual Reality?
Why should you get virtual reality over a monitor? Immersion. Okay, so there are several other reasons why you might choose VR over a monitor, but immersion is by far the biggest reason to consider getting a VR headset.
When I first jumped in my cockpit and put on my Samsung Odyssey+ for the first time I couldn’t help but laugh, almost in shock, at what I was experiencing. I was in a Formula 3 in iRacing and as I was sitting there in the cockpit I could stick my head out and look at the side of the car, being able to see the suspension work and see the front wing. Being able to see the HUD on the steering wheel properly and having the mirrors correctly respond to head movements. Being able to look down and see the drivers body, cables running through the car, the pedals… It was all simply amazing. The first few laps I did was an experience that I won’t be forgetting for a long time.
One of the biggest things that most drivers will experience is that your field of view 100% accurate. If you’re coming from triples or even an ultrawide then you will probably lose some horizontal field-of-view, but the fact that you can literally turn your head to see the cars next to you makes up for that entirely. It is not dissimilar to the visibility offered by a real-life racing helmet.
Why does having the correct field-of-view matter so much? This could be an article (hint hint) in itself but the short of it is this. In real life, you are able to judge how far things are away from you pretty accurately with depth perception and you’re also able to judge how fast things are approaching you (or in sim racing, how fast you’re approaching them!). In Sim racing, you need to do the exact same thing. Being able to correctly judge the corners, speeds, cars in front and behind, walls, off-tracks, apex, etc. This is what your field-of-view represents. It essentially adjusts your view to represent what you would see given the position that you are sitting in relative to the monitor. You want it as close to real-life as possible and with VR, given that you’re ‘in’ the car, this is reflected perfectly. This is why sim racing with a single monitor can be so tricky. Imagine driving your car through a 24″ windshield.
Why Not Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is great, but it isn’t perfect and it may have some downsides that could potentially ruin the experience for some drivers.
You’re going to be wearing the headset for long periods of time. How are you going to feel with a headset strapped to your face for an hour and a half race? If can get painful at times, it can get sweaty, and it can get foggy. A lot of this comes down to the individual user and headset. I find I can do a couple of hours before I feel like I need to take it off to wipe some of the sweat off and give my head a break. The headset I currently run does leave rather annoying red marks on my head and nose after I’ve been using it for even a short period of time which can get annoying. Some of the comfort issues that I (and many other drivers) have experienced can be lessened with third party additions to your headset, particularly adding different padding. This is something that I will be experimenting with at some stage in the near future.
Keep in mind that you’re going to need a fairly decent computer to be able to run VR properly. What defines properly? 90FPS – this is where things become super smooth and lessen the potential for motion sickness. Now sometimes game optimization will play a part in this and there’s nothing that you can do about it, even I drop down under 90FPS occasionally on iRacing if it’s at an unoptimized track with a large field. If you’re not able to run the 90FPS 95% of the time then I’d suggest not getting a VR headset. When it drops to 45FPS it is super uncomfortable and the choppiness has a tendency to make people feel nauseous. It’s really not fun.
Screen Door Effect
As the technology used in virtual reality headsets improve, the screen door effect is slowly becoming less of an issue, but it is still there and at this stage, there isn’t any getting around it. The screen door effect is caused by the resolution of the headset. The lower the resolution, the larger each individual pixel will appear. It can look like you’re looking at the (virtual) world through a screen door.
This is greatly reduced in the more modern headsets through headsets like the Samsung Odysey+ offering extremely minimal screen door effects on their headsets. It’s still there if you look but when you’re racing you don’t notice it at all.
Cars in the distance can be difficult to see on some headsets and I”ll admit that it did take me a while to get used to not being able to see everything at a distance crystal clear. It’s not like you’re blind but, for example, you might not be able to tell exactly what the car 200m in front of you is. You’ll know it’s a car, but you probably won’t be able to make out exactly what model of car it is. The same can go for things like brake markers, you’ll see them long before you need them, but you’ll still struggle to make them out at a distance.
As with all things VR ‘you get used to it‘ seems to be the go-to answer, and that really is the case. For most things you just learn to live with it or, once you’re actually immersed in the experience, you don’t even notice them.
What VR Headset to Get?
I recently wrote an article with some recommendations for the best virtual reality headsets for sim racing. It’s a good starting point if you want a broader range of options.
Are you going to only be using this for sim racing? If so then great, you’ve got a lot of options and a lot of them are pretty reasonably priced. Are you going to be playing other games with VR? Then maybe you’ll have to look into options that are more compatible with that.
Long story short, in Sim Racing you’re just going to be sitting in a seat. You don’t have to worry about moving around a room. You don’t even have to buy the controllers if you don’t want. On Amazon, you’ll see headsets for sale on their own which is great for us sim racers.
I’ll let you do your own research for the headsets but here are a couple of good options that are usually on sale for a pretty good price.
This is what I run and I love it. It’s a windows mixed reality headset and a lot of people may think that this isn’t a good thing. Wrong. They’re fantastic, especially for us sim racers. The Samsung Odyssey+ offers one of the higher resolutions available which gives us a minimized screen door effect.
The HP Reverb is very similar to the Samsung Odyssey+ but with an increased field-of-view allowing you to see more that is going on around you, especially in your peripherals. Slightly more expensive than the Samsung Odyssey+ so I personally wouldn’t go spending a huge amount more for this if you can get the Samsung for a good price.
Can My Computer Run Virtual Reality?
As mentioned earlier in the article, you’re going to need a fairly decent computer to run VR. Essentially it is running two 1440p monitors at 90FPS being rendered simultaneously, so you’re going to have to have something to drive it. I’ll put the specs to my computer here as a guideline as to what I run. The main things you’ll need to be looking at is your CPU and your GPU. This is where VR will be the most taxing.
- Memory – Corsair Vengeance RGB Pro 16GB DDR4
- CPU– Intel Core i7 9700K
- Motherboard – MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon AC
- Graphics Card – GTX 2080
Virtual reality in sim racing is an amazing experience that I think everyone should try at least once. It has many upsides that, in my opinion, can make you a better sim racer, but it isn’t flawless and does present some issues as well. I don’t think many of these issues are particularly deal breakers and I think that the props far outways the cons.
If you’re thinking that VR might not be the best option for you, then have a look at this article I wrote comparing triple monitors to ultrawide monitors.
You can find many good quality VR headsets available for sim racing and I would recommend that you check out the Windows Mixed Reality headsets that are on offer. They have some of the better resolutions and field of views available at the time of writing this and are often on sale and very affordable compared to headsets like the VIVE or Oculus Rifts.