Virtual reality (VR) sim racing has progressed a long way over the years. With the strength of VR sim racing’s fan base, and a lot of popular sim racing games adopting VR compatibility, it can leave sim racers wondering whether it is worth trading in their trusted monitor setup for a VR headset.
VR sim racing can be worth it. VR sim racing has a long list of positives, including its incredible immersion and visuals, realistic depth perception and the multitude of games that now support it. A headset can also be purchased for less than some triple screen or ultra-wide monitor setups.
As with many pieces of sim racing hardware, there are downsides to VR. In this article we discuss both the positives and negatives of VR sim racing, including the physical toll it can have on you, the games that are compatible with it, and whether it can actually make you go faster around the track.
Is VR Worth It For Sim Racing?
Virtual reality was long scoffed at, discarded by many as a passing fad, a gimmick that would soon adorn landfill sites alongside the 3D glasses that came before it. However, with constant improvements in hardware quality and screen resolution, it appears that virtual reality gaming is here to stay.
The Unparalleled Immersion Of VR Sim Racing
Imagine being in your living room at home, putting on a headset and suddenly being in the cockpit of high-spec racing car at the start line of a world class racetrack. Cool right? Well, this is what VR offers players, albeit without the smell of burning rubber. The truth is VR delivers an incredibly immersive and visually attractive sim racing experience.
With VR sim racing, you have a much better sense of speed, which not only benefits performance, but also helps suck you right into the action. 1-on-1 battles feel a lot more intense, the blur of the scenery as you fly past is electrifying, and the satisfaction of crossing the line in first place is further amplified. In short, you might need to take a bit of time to catch your breath after races!
Depth Perception And Peripheral Vision
A performance-based benefit of sim racing in VR is the depth perception and ability to judge corners with greater accuracy. The ability to look at your apexes and see the exact positioning of your tires on the track is hugely beneficial. With the heightened sense of speed you get with a VR headset, there’s less chance of you going into a corner too fast and spinning out.
The comparisons in whether peripheral vision on VR is better than a triple screen setup or an ultra-wide setup is fiercely debated. One side of the argument is that triple screens allow you to focus on what’s ahead of you with a natural peripheral vision, while with VR you have to turn your head constantly to see into either of your side mirrors, for example.
This point can be countered in favor of VR if you compare sim racing to real-life racing, where driver’s helmets will eliminate the natural peripherals that triple screens offer. It all comes down to whether you prefer having the camera locked into one position, or whether you prefer the freedom of vision that VR offers.
For online racing, the ability to look in any direction through the VR headset, as well as being able to judge corners with complete accuracy, greatly adds to performance. When the margins are that much finer, as they are in competitive online racing, every aspect of your performance counts.
The Physical Drawbacks Of VR Sim Racing
One of the downsides to using VR for sim racing is the effect it can have on your physical state during a prolonged racing session. Motion sickness is a very common side effect with VR gaming in general, and it is no different with sim racing.
Motion sickness is triggered when your brain believes you are moving, but your body is static. Some of the symptoms of VR motion sickness include queasiness, nausea, dizziness, headaches, and fatigue.
There are a few ways to combat these symptoms, ranging from the simplicity of getting some fresh air or aiming a fan at yourself while you play, to more medicinal techniques. Whichever method you may choose should depend entirely on the severity of your motion sickness.
Another factor to consider when VR racing is the weight of the headset you are using. Headsets are front-heavy, and often weigh around 500 g. Think of it like carrying a hardcover book on the top of your head for multiple hours. This will cause real strain on the neck if used for a prolonged time.
To combat neck strain, adjust your posture so you are upright and straight. This will require a little bit of practice, but once you get used to it, it can have positive impacts on both your gaming experience and your real-life physique. Other strategies to reduce neck pain are to take regular breaks and exercise in between sessions.
The Technological Drawbacks Of VR Sim Racing
While the performance of VR headsets is improving each year, it is still relatively new technology, and if you have ever played on a 4K monitor, the visual limitations of VR headsets will be clear to see.While the resolution of headsets may have drastically improved since they first came onto the scene, it still falls short of a good quality monitor.
In pretty much all consumer grade VR headsets, the screen door effect is apparent. This is where you can see the outlines of individual pixels, due to the proximity of the screen to your eyes. For a lot of people, this won’t be a make-or-break problem, but for others it will detract from the overall visual experience of VR.
The Cost Of VR Sim Racing
With the technology involved in manufacturing great VR headsets, it does not come cheap. To get the very best out of VR sim racing, a low-end headset just won’t be enough. It will also require a mid to high end PC to operate effectively, as VR racing with low framerates will likely leave you feeling very sick, very quick.
Pricings for VR headsets vary. One of the most famous VR headsets, the Oculus Rift S, is priced at around $400, while its competitor, the HP Reverb, costs closer to $800. At the very top of the VR tree is the HTC Vive Pro 2, priced at around $1700. Unfortunately for PlayStation users, there is currently only one compatible headset, which is the PSVR, on the market for around $300.
Obviously, there are a whole range of headsets available to PC racers and it is very important to do your research before purchasing one. The main point to consider when buying your headset is to not let low prices be a factor in your decision.This will ultimately detract from your VR sim racing experience, and it is most definitely worth saving up for a great quality headset.
Does Sim Racing In VR Make You Faster?
In terms of raw speed, VR will not make you any faster at sim racing. It can however add slight improvements to your performance within races. Eliminating distractions, providing you with a heightened sense of speed, and offering better peripheral vision can all make you a better sim racer.
As anyone who has ever put on a headset will know, once you put it over your eyes, you shut the outside world out completely. This can rid you of any external distractions, allowing you to put 100% of your focus into your driving performance.
As well as focus, a VR headset can allow you to feel closer to the track and navigate corners with greater accuracy. This will give you, as a driver, the best possible chance of nailing sharper turns and eradicating any unforced errors.
Ultimately, the speed at which you get round a track depends on your ability and knowledge of sim racing, and a VR headset won’t magically iron out all your deficiencies. However, it can definitely make certain technical aspects of sim racing easier for you.
Which Sim Racing Games Support VR?
On PC, almost all the well-known sim racing franchises including iRacing, Assetto Corsa and rFactor 2 have VR compatibility. One of the best VR experiences can be found on Project Cars. The developers of Project Cars have really doubled down on the VR aspect of their game, and it really shows. As far as immersion and visuals are concerned, Project Cars’ VR experience is second to none.
Another notable title is DiRT 2, a high-octane, must-have game for fans of rally racing. VR accentuates the intensity of the off-road twists and turns associated with rally cars, making for a truly adrenaline pumping experience.
Unfortunately for fans of the F1 series, the current game is not yet compatible with VR. This is a surprising omission from the VR sim racing list, as a fully immersive authentic F1 VR experience would no doubt be welcomed by fans.
PlayStation’s biggest racing franchise Gran Turismo has not yet added VR compatibility to its latest release Gran Turismo 7. You can however use your PSVR headset on the previous Gran Turismo title, GT Sport, on PS4 in their VR tour mode. VR on PlayStation is still fairly limited in general, and it could be a while before we see it become commonplace on PlayStation 5.
As for Xbox users, there is currently no form of VR whatsoever on any Xbox console (without using external apps).
VR sim racing can be worth it if you value immersion and realism, and if you want to really feel like you’re racing on the track. While it can take some getting used to, and motion sickness may be a problem for some, VR sim racing can definitely be very enjoyable.